Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali back in the Netherlands - and the Islam debate comes back with her

A few years ago the Somalian refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali caused a major political uproar in the Netherlands. Within a few years, she went from being a refugee to becoming a member of parliament and she spoke out fervently against the - then - tabou topic of Muslim integration. Based on a pillar system in Dutch society in which Catholics, Protestants, secularists and Muslims live in parallel and without interference to one another, the Dutch state long turned a blind eye on mistreatment of Muslim women in the Netherlands, as Ali argues in her autobiography Infidel. After she long believed in Islam during her adolescence, the treatment of women led her to become atheist and she's fought today's interpretation of Islam ever since. Her film "Submission" led to many discussions and triggered the violent murder of her director Theo van Gogh in the middle of Amsterdam - stabbed multiple times in the chest by a radical Muslim, who attached to the knife a life threat for Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She subsequently left the country and fled to the US.

Now Ali came back to the Netherlands for a week to present her second book, Nomad. Like Infidel, it carries a lot of autobiographic traits, arguing that Islam is slowly croaching upon Europe and that Christians (led by the Vatican) and secularists have to join forces to push it back. "We have to bring Muslims away from Islam", she says in this interview regarding her book. I have not read the book yet, but the comments I read suggest that she is hitting a nerve again, and polarizing without wishing to polarize. With her former liberal ally Geert Wilders campaigning for the national elections, the atmosphere in the Netherlands is tense; fear comes up that Wilders may actually win the elections in June with his anti-immigrant propositions. Ali may have distanced herself from Wilders, but the tide of the time is absolutely unfavorable to immigrants and especially Muslims.
On the other hand, in a heavily secured television debate in her former university Leiden, female Muslim students took Ayaan Hirsi Ali under fire for her criticism of Islam. "Have you ever even bothered to read the Qur'an?" was the questions she was asked most of all. To polarize matters further, during her brief stay in the Netherlands Ali also accepted an award from the youth wing of the ultra-orthodox protestant SGP party which certainly drove Christians and Muslims further apart.

News coverage doesn't suggest that there is a completely new debate in the Netherlands - but the publication of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book at this time certainly has an impact upon political thinking and the elections. If it it will be for the better or for the worse - that remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Christine Lagarde is right

It is surprising how harsh the reactions were from the German side when French finance minister Christine Lagarde told policy-makers in Berlin to step up domestic consumption. German enterpreneurs suggested other Member States "do their homework" and step up their own competitiveness so that they wouldn't need additional German investment. The government and Commissioner Günter Oettinger agreed that German products should remain cheap as not to compromise its export revenues.

But in my view, Christine Lagarde is absolutely right. As I have expressed here, Germany's so-called "competitiveness" is essentially a public bailout of the enterprises on the shoulders of the working population. Of course it is true that Germany has the strongest economy in Europe and contributes much to growth in other Member States. But that can be increased by shifting resources back from the businesses to the consumer: A legally imposed minimum wage as practiced almost everywhere in the EU would raise aggregate consumption - and note that people have proven on various occasions throughout the crisis that they did not save the money they had at their disposal - which then means
  • more consumption of domestic goods and services
  • more consumption of foreign (inter alia European) goods and services
  • more possibility to invest in enterprises at home and abroad, and thereby a greater involvement of the citizens into economic decision-making and a greater democracy in some enterprises
Yes, it also means that enterprises have less financial room for manoeuvre and investment. It means that some enterprises will relocate, to European states with a lower labor cost (beneficial for inter-EU trade) or to extra-European states (bad for the EU). But as the high-skilled services sector is taking ever-increasing importance and businesses have already come back from Asia in fear of technology theft, a large part of enterprises will not compromise the conditions that they find in the education level, social climate and infrastructure of central Europe.

Therefore, Christine Lagarde is absolutely right. For the last ten years, German entreprises, withholding pay rises of the employees despite inflation and higher product revenues, have benefitted from a society that does not take to the street except against nuclear power and right-extremists. They have benefitted from a disunited, individualized workforce that can be easily put under pressure. They have benefitted from state contributions if they employed a recipient of social security.

Let's not talk about repaying those ten years. But it is about time the employees/consumers obtained their rights for the benefit of the rest of Europe.

Update: Couldn't say it better than Robert von Heusinger in this article (translation: Google Languages/myself):

"Let's take the economic growth as the epitome of wealth and power of an economy. Here the matter is clear: France grew by an average of 1.5 percent in the last ten years, while Germany only grew by paltry 0.8 percent. Also in terms of employment as the epitome of participation and self-esteem of the people, the country across the Rhine performed better: while France's employment grew by 0.8 percent per year on average, in Germany it only climbed by 0.5 percent.

Where does this French success come from? From domestic demand, private consumption. It averaged 2.2 percent, four times as high as in Germany (0.5 percent). How did France achieve this - in spite of globalization? Through higher wages, that's the simple answer. The slightly more sophisticated one: it was achieved through an economic policy that recognizes interrelationships instead of blindly reducing national debt, shrinking the state sector, and relying merely on competitiveness."

Update 2: Christine Lagarde is completely wrong, on the other hand, if she suggests to finance consumer spending through tax cuts. That would take money away from state services like education and research and development that dearly need it. Consumer spending has to be financed through the real economy. The money has to be shifted from the enterprises to the citizens, not from the state to the citizens.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


"Liebe Aktive auch alle anderen Freunde des ICJA,

ihr habt es geschafft! Wie wir gerade erfahren haben, wird es auch ab Sommer 2010 Förderungen für internationale Freiwillige geben!

Als Ergebnis des Drucks, den ihr alle mit Briefen, Protestaktionen, Anrufen, etc. aufgebaut habt, wurde heute, am 12. März 2010, ein spontanes Treffen wichtiger Entscheidungsträger einberufen und gemeinsam beschlossen, dass es auch im Sommer 2010 eine Förderung für Freiwillige im FSJ geben wird!

Das ist eine super Nachricht und ist der Erfolg vieler Menschen, die ihre demokratischen Rechte wahrnehmen, hinschauen und sich gemeinsam für eine Sache einsetzen!

VIELEN, VIELEN DANK an euch alle, die ihr euch auf vielfältige Art eingebracht und engagiert habt: mit Mailings und Briefen, mit Beschwerden und Anfragen bei Abgeordneten, der Organisation von Unterschriftenlisten und der Organisation von Flashmobs! Ohne euch wäre das nicht möglich gewesen!

Bitte leitet diesen Erfolg auch an diejenigen weiter, die vielleicht nicht auf unseren Verteilern stehen. Das heißt auch, dass Flashmobs und Briefaktionen nicht mehr notwendig sind!

Euer ICJA Team"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Internationales Freiwilligenprogramm: Weitere Informationen

Nach meinem Post gestern hat Kosmopolito über die Pläne der Bundesregierung geschrieben. In den Kommentaren hat Felix das Anschreiben für die Abgeordneten etwas verändert, damit es in die Form bei passt. Abgeordnetenwatch ist eine einfache Möglichkeit, mit Bundestagsabgeordneten zu kommunizieren, allerdings muss man sich vorher registrieren. Ich kann jeden Leser nur bitten, von dieser Möglichkeit Gebrauch zu machen und auf seinen Abgeordneten und die in der Email genannten Politiker Druck auszuüben.

Die genannten Abgeordneten sind Mitglieder des Ausschusses für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend; hier geht es direkt zum Ausschuss auf Abgeordnetenwatch. Ich habe in der kurzen Spanne seit gestern abend schon drei positive Zuschriften von Abgeordneten erhalten, die das Vorhaben unterstützen und hoffe, dass es bald noch mehr werden.

Hier die aktuellen Positionen der Parteien zu dieser Frage:
  • Sönke Rix, SPD-Bundestagsabgeordneter im Ausschuss für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, setzt sich für eine Stärkung der Freiwilligendienste ein (Stand: 4. März 2010 bzw. 9. Februar 2010).
  • Florian Bernschneider von der FDP hat sich in diesem Interview mit der Welt (Stand: 3. März 2010) eindeutig für den Ausbau der Freiwilligendienste ausgesprochen: "Deswegen müssen wir die Förderung (bisher knapp 50 Millionen Euro) ausbauen, um die Stellen zu erhöhen und in ihrer Qualität zu stärken."
  • Die Position der CDU/CSU ist derzeit unklar, aber wie schon berichtet schreibt der ICJA Freiwilligenaustausch weltweit (ICJA e.V.), "dass man sich im
    Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend darauf
    geeinigt hat, noch im Mai diesen Jahres den §14c Abs. 4, in dem die Höhe
    der Fördermittel (421,50 €/TN-Mon.) festgelegt war, zu streichen".
  • Die Grünen lehnen die Mittelstreichung für den Internationalen Freiwilligendienst ab, sagt der zuständige Bundestagsabgeordnete Kai Gehring in einer Pressemitteilung: "Die Zukunft liegt im quantitativen und qualitativen Ausbau der Freiwilligendienste. Die notwendigen Mittel dafür stehen nur dann zur Verfügung, wenn die überholten Pflichtdienste endlich beendet werden."
SPD, Grüne und FDP kämen bei einer Abstimmung im Plenum auf 307 von 622 Stimmen, sofern tatsächlich jeder Abgeordnete gegen die Mittelstreichung stimmen würde. Das reicht aber noch nicht. Ich kann die aktuelle Position der Linken nirgendwo finden und habe deswegen meine Zweifel, auf welche Seite sie sich schlagen wird.

Das bedeutet im Umkehrschluss, dass Lobbyismus zwar überall zugleich ansetzen muss (wie gesagt, der persönliche Abgeordnete ist eine wichtige Macht), dass allerdings vor allem bei der CDU/CSU und der Linken Druck ausgeübt werden muss, damit sich die Positionen verändern.
Meine Hoffnung ist es, dass SPD, Grüne und FDP gemeinsam mit der organsierten Zivilgesellschaft und den Bürgern gegen die Mittelstreichung kämpfen werden damit das Ministerium seinen Vorschlag zurücknimmt.

Update: Auch europaeum hat einen Blogpost zu dem Thema verfasst.

Update 2: My apologies to all English readers of this blog. Despite an international implication, the cancellation of the international volunteer programs by the German government is essentially a domestic question. A communication campaign first has to target German politicians. This is why I chose to blog it in German.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Let's talk about EU!

Because it's not enough to talk about European politics in the hallways of the EP and the Commission. Because European politics can be entertaining, controversial and informative. Because in the EP elections last year nobody talked about Europe save for two exceptions. So let's finally talk about EU!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Dutch remain calm after Geert Wilders' election victory

After the Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders won the local elections in Almere and became second in the government city The Hague, political observers wonder what will happen at the June national elections.

Students in Maastricht are less concerned that the country may become anti-immigrant, but they see different problems if Wilders' party PVV gains votes in June.