Hague Letter: Dutch perceptions of inflow by foreigners skewed
Scaremongering by xenophobic right-wing parties distorts reality
Dutch right-wing anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders: warned that Dutch workers faced being priced out of their jobs. Photograph: Martijn Beekman/AFP/Getty Images
It’s an indication of the enormous gap between perception and reality when it comes to potentially explosive issues such as immigration that a new survey in the Netherlands shows EU migrants making up just 3 per cent of the country’s benefit claimants at the end of 2014.
Yes, the research is a year old, but 2014 was a particularly interesting year in terms of free movement within the EU. Romania and Bulgaria joined on January 1st, 2007, and existing states were given seven years to prepare for full access by the new members to their domestic labour markets.
So it was that in the run-up to Christmas 2013, right-wing anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders was to be found leading a protest outside the Romanian embassy in The Hague, warning not just that Dutch workers faced being priced out of their jobs but that crime rates would rise as well.
For good measure, Wilders demanded that Romania and Bulgaria should be “kicked out of the EU” because they had, in his view, never been ready for accession and were still struggling with endemic corruption and organised crime.
That anti-immigrant scaremongering has achieved exactly what was intended. It has propelled Wilders and his Freedom Party to the top of the opinion polls – virtually a lone bulwark, as their followers would have it, against “an Islamic invasion” from Iraq and Syria.
There’s no doubt about it, blurring the definitions between “anti-Islam”, “anti-immigrant” and “anti-EU” has been fertile ground for the Dutch right – as it has for Marine Le Pen in France and for Nigel Farage in the UK – successfully souring the national mood against all “outsiders”.
But then look at the reality as illustrated in this week’s survey from the National Statistics Office – which shows that neither Romanians nor Bulgarians feature in the top-three EU nationalities who’ve moved to live in the Netherlands since 2007.
The survey shows there were 439,000 nationals of other EU countries living here at the start of 2007 – and, since then, 200,000 more have arrived.
Poles, who joined the EU in 2004, are now the largest ex-pat population at 180,000, as against a Dutch population of roughly 17 million. Next come Germans, at 125,000. Third are Belgians at 50,000, and in a surprising fourth place come the British, at fewer than 50,000.
The bottom line is that the number of EU nationals living in the Netherlands has increased by 47 per cent since 2007 – but they still only make up 3.8 per cent of the population.
So not alone have Romanians and Bulgarians not overrun the Netherlands, but this survey also shows that those who have come here are not only no more likely to claim benefits than any other EU nationality – they are actually less likely to claim benefits.
It shows that six out of 10 EU migrants are employed, a figure which has been pretty stable for years, with a good deal of the balance accounted for by students and non-working spouses.
And when it comes to migrants from Central and Eastern Europe, that figure of 60 per cent employed actually increases to 75 per cent.
The simple fact is that – according to the National Statistics Office – just 3 per cent of social security claims in the Netherlands are made by nationals of other EU countries. On top of which, EU citizens have no entitlement to benefits in the three months after they arrive here.
Most worrying about this disconnect between perception and reality is that a good many Dutch appear to be losing the will to distinguish between fellow EU citizens from other countries, third-country refugees fleeing war zones and Islamist militants hidden among the influx who would, indeed, do them harm.
The creation of a “them and us” mentality is playing into a situation in which 40,000 refugees have arrived here from the Middle East during the year – sparking protests and even reprehensible rioting such as we saw in the town of Geldermalsen last week.
As the Netherlands prepares to take over the presidency of the EU on January 1st, it’s worth noting that Wilders – and not prime minister Mark Rutte – has just been voted Politician of the Year by reputable TV current affairs programme EenVandaag.
Wilders won, say the programme-makers, because he was “the only politician with an eye to public concerns about asylum seekers”. That’s a crying shame.