Enlightened self-interest or just more greed?

Development Policy14 Oct 2010Bert Meertens

Bert Meertens responds to the foreign policy chapter in the Rutte-Verhagen coalition agreement (2010).

Today, the new Dutch government – VVD and CDA with support from the PVV – is being presented to the Queen. If accepted by the Queen, this new government can start implementing its ideas on all kind of issues, including foreign policy and international cooperation.

The now available draft coalition agreement states that policy on international cooperation will be fundamentally reformed and modernized. This will mainly be done according to the views stated in the WRR report Less pretension, more ambition. A shift from aid to investment will then guarantee more self-sustainability in developing countries. For that matter, the new government will focus on policy coherence, economic growth and trade promotion. In all this, there will be greater space for the private sector to participate. Unfortunately, at this stage there are no details available about how this new development policy will take shape. Commenting on it now is merely a sophisticated guess.

But is it plausible that the new government will do better than the former government concerning policy coherence? The former government was very proud about its support to some West African cotton-producing countries in their successful WTO complaint against the US for subsidizing their cotton farmers. It would have been, however, more courageous if the former government had actively blocked the reinstated EU export subsidy on pork meat, as the Netherlands is the main exporter of pork meat to West Africa. Or if it had stopped the dumping of frozen chicken parts from the Netherlands in Africa, which has distorted the markets for locally produced chicken meat.

Can we expect a government consisting of CDA and VVD to be more coherent in their foreign, economic and agricultural policies? Yes, but for the benefit of the Netherlands, not developing countries. The CDA party has always been a trustworthy patron for the interests of the agro-industry in the Netherlands, as they constitute one of their most prominent voters. The VVD, on the other hand, is the main promoter of the interests of the private sector in the Netherlands, who are their main voters.

In the draft coalition agreement, the new VVD and CDA government states that it wants to promote the trade and economic interests of the Netherlands and Dutch private enterprises. I definitely believe them on this. The new government will not undertake anything to make the Economic Partnership Agreements from the EU more development oriented towards the developing countries. It will take advantage of any possibility to stimulate and favour the Dutch economy, private sector and agro-industry. If still possible, it will do anything to keep the IMF seat of the Netherlands away from China or India. The so-called enlightened self-interest, which is advocated in the WRR report, will turn out to be just plain greed. In fact, the reformed and modernized policy on international cooperation will not differ much from previous policies, which have been dominated by greed. This has been described on .

Bert Meertens is an international cooperation consultant.