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Home » Focus, Netherlands

Luctor et Emergo

Submitted by on 12 Jul 2012 – 12:34

Peter van Dalen MEPBy Peter van Dalen MEP

Struggle as opportunity for creative and innovative solutions

The Dutch province of Zeeland has as its motto the Latin phrase: luctor et emergo. Which would be best translated as: I struggle, yet overcome (literally: I struggle and emerge). Originally it refers to the ongoing battle of this coastal province against the sea, by creating an innovative set of defences to protect against floods. I believe, however, that this motto is characteristic for the Netherlands as a whole: when we struggle, we seek creative and innovative solutions to pull through.

The recent political turmoil in the Netherlands is a good example of this attitude. On April 21, our minority government collapsed when the Wilders party suddenly ran away after seven weeks of discussing budget cuts. This posed a serious problem, because the Netherlands had to submit its austerity package to Brussels by April 30.  However, after just two days of talks, agreement had been reached by a five-party coalition (including my party the ChristenUnie) on how to reduce the Dutch budget deficit below 3%.

This type of swift cooperation between both coalition and opposition parties, all facing upcoming elections, is completely new in Dutch politics. With these measures the Netherlands will meet European targets and has shown strength of character to the financial markets.


Cisgenesis

Not just in politics the Dutch ‘struggle, yet overcome’ difficulties through innovative solutions. Take for instance the complicated debate on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). Introducing a GMO to the EU market is very expensive and combined with the social, environmental and ethical risks maybe even undesirable. Dutch researches and enterprises struggled with this, but then came up with the concept of Cisgenesis.

With Cisgenesis, only genes of the plant species itself or genes from crossable wild plants are used. These genes can also be introduced via classical breeding programmes. With Cisgenesis however, only the required genes are introduced into the variety, so that the unintentional introduction of undesirable genes is avoided. This makes Cisgenesis much faster than classical breeding programmes, but with a very similar result: durable resistance to diseases. Which makes that the use of crop protection chemicals can be reduced far quicker!

Cisgenisis is not patented. In contrast to transgenesis, it aims at innovation for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and leads to de-monopolisation. It stimulates collaboration between SMEs and public research institutes. Cisgenesis respects the order of Creation, thereby removing various ethical objections, and makes environmentally friendly cultivation possible. Recent research for the Eurobarometer confirmed this and showed that in EU countries cisgenic apples receives higher support (55%) than transgenic apples (33%). Cisgenesis achieves better ratings in terms of safety, environment and ‘naturalness’, and double the support, compared to GM food.

To sum up: Cisgenesis will lead to less use of chemicals, provides opportunities for SMEs and has a greater social acceptance. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently concluded also in its report that Cisgenesis is as safe as classical breeding. The only problem is that it currently falls within the scope of GM regulation. This has to be altered quickly. I am currently trying to achieve this through my work in the European Parliament, together with other stakeholders. The EU should support instead of hinder this innovative technique!


Pulse fishing

I would like to discuss one more example of Dutch innovation, concerning another current EU debate: the new Common Fisheries Policy. The Netherlands has always had a thriving fishing industry, but in recent years it has become more and more difficult for fishermen to ‘keep their head above water’. The Dutch (and other EU) fishermen struggle due to diminishing stocks, increasing international competition and EU bureaucracy. It is clear that to survive they must make the transition to sustainable fishing techniques and sustainable maximum yields.

To overcome this struggle, the Dutch introduced pulse fishing. The system was invented by Piet Jan Verburg from Colijnsplaat (Zeeland). With pulse fishing, the heavy tickler chains of the classical beam trawler are replaced by much lighter wires through which electric impulses are sent. The pulse net consists of a beam trawl, whereby the heavy chains which normally roll over the bottom to chase the fish have been replaced by plastic hoses with current wires that send out electrical impulses. The strength of the tension in the wire influences the size of the caught fish. If the tension is greater, larger fish can be caught. This decreases the chance of catching undersized fish.

As a result fuel consumption is 20 to 40% lower than with the classical beam trawler and there is less disturbance of the bottom, less by-catch and a greater yield. The fish caught are not killed or paralyzed by the electricity, but are only shaken up. This is in comparison with electro-fishing, which is forbidden because life is destroyed within a large range.

The advantages are abundant, but again, there is a problem with EU legislation. All electro-fishing is forbidden, pulse fishing included. The European Commission agreed that pulse fishing is different and created a temporary solution. Based on an exemption (derogation), 42 Dutch cutters are allowed to fish with the pulse technique. But there are another 48 ships on a waiting list and an estimated 40 entrepreneurs strongly consider investing in the pulse technique when a permanent or extended authorization arrives.

To make matters complicated: due to the Lisbon Treaty this exemption cannot easily be renewed and there is a good chance new legislation will come too late! Here too, I urge the EC to make haste and let not the fishermen who invested in this sustainable technique go bankrupt!

The examples show that the Dutch can ‘struggle, yet overcome’ difficulties through innovative solutions. But also that instead of being encouraged by the European  Union we are often hindered by its bureaucratic tendencies. This has to change. The EU has to stimulate innovation. Innovation is key for our continent to thrive in the 21st century. Almost anyone would agree with that, but let it this not only be a priority but also a mindset. The EU should increase the number of pilot projects and instead of creating new rules let us focus on simplifying the existing legislation. Only then we will we, as a continent: luctor et emergo!