Dutch Lose Confidence in their Country’s Future

Today, in Amsterdam, the trial began of Mohammed Bouyeri, the 27-year old Moroccan who murdered Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh on November 2, 2004. Bouyeri ritually slaughtered van Gogh because the latter had made a critical movie about the position of women in fundamentalist Islamic societies. The assassination of van Gogh, two years after the May 2002 murder of the popular anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn, sent shock waves through Dutch society. During the first day of the trial Bouyeri, who wore a Palestinian scarf, refused to say a word. He did not react and displayed the same calmness he had shown eight months ago whilst he slit his victim’s throat in a busy Amsterdam street.

Though many Dutch are currently vacationing abroad those who are still in the country feel the same unease that engulfed the country after the murder. Many are considering the possibility of emigration. More Dutch natives are currently moving out of the country than newcomers are moving in. Over 112,000 people left the Netherlands last year, while fewer than 90,000 immigrated in. Last April the population fell for the first time since the Second World War. The cause was emigration rather than falling birth rates. The Kingdom of the Netherlands currently has a population of 16 million, of whom already one million are Muslims. About five per cent of the latter are suspected fundamentalists. The Dutch emigrants are leaving for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Scandinavia. They say they are afraid and no longer feel safe in their native country.

The fact that highly educated people are leaving while underpriviliged fortune seekers are moving in is a problem for Dutch politicians, who wonder how they will be able to keep the welfare system affordable when the taxpayers leave and people who are likely to be benefit consumers, without ever having paid into the system, move in. This prompted the ruling Christian-Democrat Party of Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende last year to suggest that it would be a good idea not to grant the newcomers the same welfare benefits as natives and people who have lived in the country for years. Last week Wouter Bos, the leader of the Socialist Party, who is in opposition, made a similar suggestion.

According to a recent study of the Council of Europe (COE) the population of Europe is likely to fall by between 13 and 22% by 2050. In 1995 Europe (excluding Turkey, Cyprus and the Caucasus republics) had 728 million inhabitants. The “optimistic” scenario states that this number would drop to 632 million by 2050 (-13%) if fertility levels rise from the current 1.42 children per woman to 1.85. If the levels stay the same or decline Europe’s population may even fall to 564 million (-22%). The COE study only took into account the evolution of fertility rates. If, however, native Europeans begin to move out, as dramatically as they are currently doing in the Netherlands, the demographic effects in Europe might be even worse.