Samsom's Naivety

Not cunningness but naivety is the most dangerous characteristic of a politician. In Het Financieele Dagblad on September 4, the leader of the Dutch moderate socialist party (PvdA) accused the previous generation of politicians of being naïve with respect to Europe. He is right. The monetary union was not built on a solid foundation, but on quicksand. Greece did not belong in the Eurozone, but was admitted nonetheless. This was considered to be 'pro European' ten years ago.

Samsom, of all people, continues the last generation's naivety and sells it as 'being honest about Europe'. He says: "I have a clear point on the horizon for nearly everything but Europe". Samsom lacks 'Der Blick für das Kommende', as Minister Rathenau (Foreign Affairs) of the Weimar Republic once put it. It is not hard to see what Europe is heading toward: a 'debt union' in which the Netherlands and Germany are the guarantors of the European 'debt mountain'. We are talking about amounts that dwarf the Dutch budgets for healthcare, education or social affairs.

The Euro made it possible for many countries to live beyond their means. Salaries rose too fast. Competitiveness decreased. The process of structural reform - lower salaries, pensions and government budget - needs time, but also determination. If this is missing, then the Dutch would work longer in order to subsidise the early retirement of the French, by guaranteeing 'European debts'. President Hollande of France calls this 'social' and 'pro European'; Samsom does too, apparently.

Samsom is in favour of Eurobonds, for which the Netherlands would have to pay more interest than they do now. The numbers quickly add up to billions, the size of a Ministry's entire budget. The leader of the PvdA does not want to comply with a maximum ceiling on government debt at 3% of GDP, and he thinks Brussels will allow him to be exempted. If there would exist a gold medal for naivety, Samsom would win it with flying colours. Also, the financial markets would doubt the solvency of the Netherlands. The AAA status that was so painstakingly acquired would be ruined in the blink of an eye. The loss of this status would cost the country billions.

High on Samsom's wish list is a European banking union, including a resolution fund for bankrupt banks and a European deposit insurance scheme. Not only Dutch tax payers, but also Dutch savers would act as guarantors. Spain was more cunning. It merged seven bankrupt regional banks into one: Bankia. This bank is too big to fail and so Europe had to come to the rescue. "The banking union should be created as soon as possible", Samsom says. It would however be better to find out first if European banking supervision functions properly. If this is not done, haste will be dearly paid for.

On top of that Samsom thinks that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) should get a banking license, possibly supported with money from the European Central Bank (ECB). This is the dream of President Hollande. The total debt of the French banks BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale is estimated to be 250% of French GDP. European money for French banks - merci monsieur Samsom, vous êtes vraiment généreux.

Rarely was the choice of Dutch voters so essential in Europe. President Hollande considers Samsom to be an important pawn in his European game of chess being played out with Germany. France wants a European 'debt union' with rules left vague; Germany wants a 'budget union' with tight rules. The dupable Samsom might not realise it himself, but he is the poodle of Paris. The French government uses socialists in Europe to isolate Germany, which is the last economic anchor and the last line of defence against the 'debt union'. Traditionally the Netherlands side with Germany, because the Dutch economy is strongly focused on the German one. With Samsom occupying 'the tower' (the seat of the Dutch prime minister), Germany is on its own. The ally of Berlin is suddenly the lapdog of the French President. Germany will be as isolated as the Bundesbank is in the ECB. If that happens, Berlin will give in.

Samsom wants to allow more time to the Greeks. So does Hollande. Greece has already received two aid packages, for a total of 240 billion Euros. This is 21,238 Euros per capita - about 1.6 times the average year income in Greece. Even Slovakia, which has a lower income per capita than Greece, has to pay. Is this social? It would be better to draw a clear line. Samsom himself admits, in his self-declared "honesty about Europe", that a part of the money will not be repaid. Then why does he want to give them more?

Negotiations on the European playing field are very tough. Those who claim to be the most pro-European are often not pro-European at all. Germans think very romantically about Europe, although they do not show this in their attitude. The French preach about the 'European interest' while actually having their own interest in mind. If sovereignty is to be handed over - something that is inevitable in Europe - common policy goals and structures have to be reachable, workable and verifiable. If they are not, countries will see their prosperity suffer, often at the expense of their own, often lower-paid citizens. The lower class pays the price for the naivety of the ruling class.