Can we achieve sustainable development with outdated concepts and reused rhetoric?

The heatwave in Northern Europe and elsewhere provokes many emotions. Althoug even the most conservative among us realize that something needs to change, proposed solutions largely point in the wrong direction.

While even heat-lovers like myself start to feel uncomfortable given the continued high temperatures we are facing north of the Alps, hard hit are not those that shout first or the loudest. In Germany and Switzerland, farmers have been quick to ask for subsidies given expected harvest losses. As the majority of today’s citizens understand more about smartphones than agricultural policies and given that politicians get ever more populist, farmer lobbyists make easy prey with their pretended sorrow. Ignoring that they already receive high subsidies which are sold under the framework ‘payment for ecosystem services’, they are granted special rights to pump freshwater out of already stressed water bodies and/or using areas for production that are actually meant as habitat for nature. Once again, the one paying the bill for unsustainable behaviour are not those causing or contributing to it, but wildlife and nature.

Regardless of whether new subsidies are granted to farmers or not, even the most ignorant among us feel that something must change – the big question is how? It is true that those living from agricultural production may suffer more under the current drought, but should consequences be carried by and adaption left to them only? Of course not. We all have a stake in this game; a fact that might explain why sustainable development has become such a buzzword. Sustainable development is everywhere. From academia to NGOs, governments to the private sector, everyone has sustainable solutions, be it “CO2 neutral buses” running though Bern, “sustainable produced” toiled paper at Rewe, “sustainable investment” in major banks….everyone seems concerned to save the planet with “sustainable” products.

Understanding why climate shocks are increasing despite of all the ‘good solutions’ requires some more than blind ignorance. Many solutions sold as ‘sustainable’ are pure rhetoric. The city of Bern makes a good example. The local government which prides itself for its “left-wingish” tradition is distributing pool and soccer tables in neighbourhoods pretending that sustainable cities are built on governance that compensate losers for an overly car friendly traffic policy. Counting bicycles or building new tramways for thousands of students that are too lazy to walk the 300m from the train station to the University are equal cheap and foolish rhetoric as are access restrictions in neighbourhoods that have become affordable to only a few elites. True, closing roads as a protest against motorized vehicles sounds fun, but does it really contribute to sustainable development if the local residents that deny access to other road users can resist from owning big SUVs that serves the family to pollute nature at the weekend? Is it not another example of how the world is increasingly divided into those that have and those that don’t? What makes me really hot are not the elevated temperatures but the fact that farmers shout for monetary compensation and the Swiss government talk about new irrigation infrastructure, while northern researchers and NGOs (including Swiss) have earned lots of money ‘promoting climate adaptation measures‘ such as ‘climate smart agriculture’ a in the global South. Is what we promote elsewhere too sophisticated to use in our own countries?

Luckily, the extended heatwave we are currently facing provides the opportunity to reflect a bit longer and to question concepts that have been used again and again but seem to fail repeatedly. Do we really change society for the better by closing 40km of roads for a bicycle event that draws attention only because of all the infrastructure and extra action that has been built up explicitly? No, we do not, as counting bicycles does not increase bicycle traffic. Big challenges call for truly innovative solutions, such as Sundays without motorized vehicles across the country, traffic rules that favour pedestrians and bicycles, climate and eco smart farming practices in the global North, and finally, retailers that open their shelfs for veggies and fruit that do not look perfect[1].

[1] According to current ‘retail policies’ and an arrogance that denies a connection between sustainable consumption and environmental protection.

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Why Brussels’ position on Cataluña does the EU more harm than good

Brussels’ leaders have decided to condemn the Catalans’ fight for independence by backing a corrupt regime in Madrid. This weak, yet undifferentiated attitude may harm the EU in the long run.

What does the average EU citizen know about Spain? Not much, I would argue. Apart from tapas that are now eaten in hip bars around Europe and the infamous beaches in Mallorca or Benidorm, many do neither know Spain’s recent history, nor the different language and cultural borders within the country. One does not need to be aware that Cava and Freixenet are from Cataluña to enjoy a good and economic alternative to Champagne. What the average EU visitors enjoy about Spain are sunshine, sandy beaches, a warm and friendly atmosphere, and decent food. What they don’t know is that all their Catalan counterparts strive for is exactly the same, only that this right has increasingly been taken from them over recent years.

In the EU we assume that all can enjoy their democratic rights. Not so in Spain, where a corrupt government in Madrid continues to reign despite of having repeatedly been out-voted by the majority of citizens. Party money laundering in Switzerland, real estate crimes, fueling environmental disasters that enrich businesses, everything seems possible under a right-wing regime in Madrid. However, possible doesn’t mean it is tolerated. Over and over have Spanish citizens tried to stand up for their rights, some a bit more, some a bit less. If the Catalans, who for whatever reasons seem to understand and care a bit more than many compatriots in other regions, eventually got so tired of a right-wing government in Madrid that repeatedly ignored Spain’s constitution, laws and regulations, should it really surprise us? Isn’t this latent corruption and carelessness exactly what many of us annoys when we enjoy our holidays in Europe’s far South? Why then should Catalans put up with it while being hold back from further development and hence closer ties to Europe?

If other EU leaders such as Merkel and May defend Rajoy’s dictatorship, then it’s not because of their sympathy for a united Spain. Instead, they see a chance to safe their own cases. Merkel finds herself in a position where she might need to quit her ambitions for eternal power after the outcome of Germany’s election in September and thus give up her long-term competition with her peer Recep T. Erdogan. May has experienced her share of independence aspirations in the recent past and certainly fears further tumults in her own geographic North. Of course they don’t like what is happening in Cataluña, as it further weakens their positions. Rajoy has long done what would suits them too: ignoring the masses and pleasing the few that hold power. Following suit, Merkel and May will be able to unilaterally translate their own agendas into practice as well.

However, their reaction might be of short life. Rather than opposing the movements in Spain, they should understand them as warning signs for what is increasingly building up elsewhere in Europe: we citizens are fed up with governments that don’t care for their people. Brussels has never been further away from its citizens than it is today, regardless of the thousands of kilometers of highways and high-speed trains, and the internet accesses that have been built in the EU. While citizens worry about their neighborhoods and identities steadily disappearing, bureaucrats react with ever more bureaucracy. It can’t work. Connecting with people means understanding their needs and desires. What us Europeans united in the first place is a common understanding of values such as freedom, independence and justice. Where this values are no longer protected, there is nothing to hold us together.

The beauty of the EU is that it could guarantee exactly these values and rights where corrupt governments abuse their power. Instead the EU’s leaders have now decided to do the opposite and further oppress democracy. In the long run this can only end where it all started in 1789: in chaos and with a few heads falling at the guillotine. Maybe it’s the only alternative we people have. In that sense, rather than condemning the Catalans as rebels, we should acknowledge that they are one step ahead of all of us.

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Why resurrecting fake news about Pangasius are a loss for humanity

The Vietnamese Pangasius sector has seen rough times since wrong claims back in 2011 destroyed the reputation of Panga farming in the Mekong Delta. While experts and scientists have worked hard to establish facts and to improve production practices, wrongdoers and laymen continue to destroy what was once legitimately lauded as a ‘success story’ of aquaculture development.

Back in early 2014 I wrote a post about the Pangasius industries in Vietnam and how wrong claims have had a heavy toll on a sector that provides employment and livelihoods for thousands of people in the Mekong Delta. Despite an improvement process that involved far-ranging consultation with hundreds of experts and stakeholders all over the world, Pangasius production is once more affected by wrong allegations: a TV report followed by various news articles have led to rapid declines of Pangasius imports to Spain. Whereas French supermarket giant Carrefour was quick to remove Pangasius from its shelves in other European countries as well, consumers do better listening to science than following the decisions of sharks and laymen.

Firstly, one needs to understand the parties involved in the TV report that led to renewed distrust in Europe. ‘En el punto de mira[1]’ aired by Spanish Cadena 4, is a program that most of all seeks to increase its viewer numbers. It does so by creating scandals that personally affect the majority of a largely ignorant society. It might be a coincidence that Ricardo Pardo, reporter of the Panga story, comes from Vigo which is also home to Spain’s infamous fishing fleet. A billion dollar business that has lived from exploiting worldwide fishery resources over decades thanks to heavy support from EU tax payers, Vigo’s fishery industry has vested interests in protecting its market shares and deceiving consumers over its unsustainable business ethics or the fact that it has done very little to improve its performance over the years while others did. Back in 2011, when first allocations targeted at weakening the Pangasius sector, the anti-campaign was driven by European salmon and trout farmers. Similar to their Spanish colleagues, they did not primarily look at improving the production conditions in Vietnam, but at saving their own skin and market shares, which under the increasing pressure exerted by NGOs and backed by scientific evidence became threatened. An industry that consumes more fish in the form of feed than it produces can’t be regarded as sustainable and only increases the problem of global overfishing. Therefore it needs other means to fight competitors with a scientific advantage.

Secondly, one needs to understand the culture of the country where the accusations come from. In Spain, a country disease-ridden by systematic corruption and one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, particularly among younger people, sensations and fake news make a good substrate for public outcry. This is all the more the case if people can attack citizens from countries that according to their viewpoint should be worse off than themselves but are obviously not. Envious, lazy and powerless in light of a quasi-totalitarian government, Spain’s younger generation uses youtubing, facebooking, blogging and tweeting to steam off part of the rage that derives from a lack of access and lost opportunities. In that world, likes count more than facts and badly investigated news travel quicker than brains can think. Spanish love seafood, yet the majority knows very little about sustainability and eco-footprints of fish products. The reason is the absence of a discourse as it has been held in other countries for more than a decade. In addition, where people don’t even know the difference between Switzerland and Sweden, Asia is an unknown monster famous for the production of cheap Chinese products which are sold in ‘todo a cien’ shops now predominantly run by Chinese immigrants. Needless to say that part of that hate against Chinese also affects Vietnamese, Thai, and all the other ‘chinorris’ who take over business in Spain.

Finally, one should not trust a source of information unless it is known to be sound. When Celia Ojeda, responsible for Oceans and Fishery at Greenpeace Spain, claims that Pangasius farming “destroys mangrove” and that the Panga industry was “affected by slavery” then she uses her position at Greenpeace to impress citizens that are geographically and culturally even less educated than she is, ignoring that as a freshwater species Pangasius is not farmed in mangrove areas and that the ‘human right abuses she might have heard of came from Vietnam’s neighbor Thailand. Likewise, if retail giant Carrefour is dropping Pangasius from its product range, then this says more about its sourcing policy than production methods in Vietnam. The fact that Carrefour follows claims that are almost diametrically opposed to the reality—Pangasius is one of the more eco-friendly farmed fishes, the Mekong River is by far not the most polluted river, and Pangasius that enters Europe undergoes some of the most stringent controls on the planet—suggests that Carrefour knows nothing about the sector. Part of the failure of the Pangasius sector is exactly the arrogance of retailers like Carrefour who are only interested in exploiting their ‘partners’ as a source of cheap goods rather than taking ownership in their value chains. While leading companies work together with producers to improve Pangasius production, Carrefour & Co. delegate sourcing responsibility to traders that provide the cheapest products on the market. Needless to say that such businesses lack any kind of tracebility. Turning their backs on Pangasius reflects a lack of information and consequently lack of trust in themselves, not in Pangasius producers which they probably only know from saying.

Education and science, the only way to advance humanity, can help us to shed light on a complicated Pangasius story and provide answers to complex questions. In contrast, in a wold in which poor journalism is preferred over science, humanity is doomed to fail – just as some among us who bark up the wrong tree.

[1] Spanish for ‚In the spotlight‘

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Europe and the financial mafia – a love affair

About a year ago I wrote about how US measures on curbing tax evasion had unnecessary repercussions on innocent citizens worldwide. Meanwhile I got used to be ripped off by dubious financial institutions that started controlling all sorts of money transactions in Europe.

No doubt, the majority of European citizens must support measures that stop the unethical practices of the rich to evade taxes by moving their assets to some dubious offshore financial institutions while fattening their bellies thanks to our state support. Recent observations however make me believe that European states are doing the opposite: financial transactions are increasingly becoming a source for unjustified rents by a number of strange organizations. One example is a flight ticket that I bought online from Iberia, the Spanish national Airline. Not long ago, one bought an Iberia ticket from ‘the company’ through either cash, debit card or credit card payment. Nowadays, Iberia is split into three different companies and one must first decide whether to fly Iberia, Iberiaexpress or Vueling. It’s all the same flight, only the revenues go into different pots. Once the ticket is booked and one proceeds to the online payment, a (to me unknown) third party provider pops up: SOFORT GmbH. Asked to enter my private bank user name and password to SOFORTs website I was a bit reluctant but did so eventually as I needed the ticket urgently and believed that Iberia knew what it was doing. Indeed, all went well and I was sent my e-ticket soon after.

Two days later I received an email from SOFORT GmbH telling me that the transaction for my ticket had failed and that I needed to follow-up on the payment if I did not want to risk losing my seat. Alerted I logged into my online bank account[2] and saw that the transaction was on hold. I could click on it but not do anything more. Eventually, I decided to follow the instructions of SOFORT and make a manual bank transfer. Done, I contacted SOFORT and they confirmed that all was good now. Another two days later I figured that I was deducted the full amount twice, both on the same day. Again, I contacted SOFORT, but immediately got a reply that they could not help me. Rather, I should contact the merchant/provider/PSP where I had placed the order. Fxxx! So what the heck is a PSP? After some more emails back and forth I figured that the PSP might be Loviiit. However, Loviiit, ‘DOCOMO Digital’s e-commerce and m-commerce payments enabler’, which ‘provides international and multi-currency payment processing services, including e-money and mobile payment wallets for sellers and buyers, fraud and risk prevention as well as consumer financing solutions’ is a company that does not even publish an email address or any other contact information on their website. All you can do is submit an inquiry, wait and hope.

While I’m still waiting to get my Euro 400 back, I’m thinking about my purchase and the parties involved. SOFORT as I learn from their website is ‘Germany’s leading direct payment system’. And my transfer went to Loviit with seat in Lichtenstein. Why do I need a German payment system to transfer my money to a Lichtenstein company that facilitates the purchase of my online ticket from a Spanish airline? Is that what the European Union stands for: united we steal (better and more efficient)? Once a proud European I start to disrespect this place where all sorts of mafia groups have gained so much power and status that we take them for granted. Are SOFORT and Loviiit even a partner company of the current Spanish government that has taught us how to transfer millions of tax money into the pockets of its party leaders without even fearing an election loss?

I wouldn’t be so angry if that was the first time such a thing happened to me but the reality is that I was involved in all sort of bank fraud over the past few months. There was this ATM withdrawal from Euronet over the amount of 600 EUR from a EUR-account in Switzerland that they charged me in CHF regardless of me denying to have the amount converted into CHF. It costs me 60 EUR in exchange loss due to the really bad exchange rate they applied. 10% of commission for an ATM withdrawal in Europe – who would call that ethic? I also got charged EUR 21 for an inward transaction to the above mentioned online account of BBVA regardless of European law providing that SEPA payments should be free of charge between member states[1]. Europe has become a virtual nightmare with companies stealing wherever they can and nobody being around to answer our inquiries. Meanwhile as a self-employed entrepreneur working in different European countries I spend more time doing paper work and filing tax declarations for a variety of member states than I can dedicate to my actual work from which I gain my income. In the majority of cases I have to deal with highly incompetent state officials that do nothing but count the minutes until their work time ends. Or maybe, they watch the values of their Panama accounts increasing.

To sum up, it appears that Europe has degenerated into a financial Mafia land. All our bureaucrats have achieved in recent years is the private sector copying their practices and stealing time and money from citizens without providing any services in return. Truly a lovely (banking) Union.


[1] When such transaction are free of charge for domestic transactions, what they are in the case of my account.

[2] An online bank account by BBVA without support whatsoever that does all but cause me headaches.

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Donald Trump is not a joke!

Although he might appear as an antidote to my values and political views, I believe that Donald Trump is not the worst president that we have to deal with. In fact, he might be something like a new hope.

According to many newspapers, Donald Trump’s victory is a surprise, a shock – even a dark day. Is that true? While some observed that a possible win was troubling worldwide stock exchanges in the hours leading to his election, the opposite was true shortly after. And all those celebrities who threatened to leave the US when Trump would become president are now more silent than their empty promises. Rather than being shocked, media should ask themselves what they have failed to foresee.

First and foremost, the people have voted – emphasis on people and voted. Whereas in Europe, we love to talk principles, the US is still a place made of people. People voted, not their principles. And yes, they voted, they didn’t simply talk. In Europe, we talk. We protest. We suffer. Yet, we repeat the same mistakes over and over again, without eventually understanding that something needs to change if we want to improve a worsening situation. All those US citizens that gave their vote to Donald Trump did not vote for the principles or values of Trump. They are not more racists than we Europeans are. They are not more ignorant than the average Spanish is. Maybe they are not that different from us at all. Only, they decided to say ‘No’. No, finish, over. US citizens have not voted for Trump, they have voted against Hillary. They have voted against status quo. The US people are tired of the system. They had enough of all the big-mouth elites controlling their country.

In contrast to all the celebrities and multi-millionaires controlling media, average US citizens have to swallow all the big-mouth shit that the system and its supporters produce. Do you think that Samuel L. Jackson will now move to South Africa or that Cher will fly to Jupiter? Do you think that Hillary Clinton will still share her income with poor males as she promised during the campaign? For them, a vote is just a vote, like all the empty words they create out of badly-put-together letters. That’s why they love to talk big shit. In Europe, we keep talking about principles and values such as sustainable development and equity without realising that all we stand for are just empty shells. We create dogmas such as gender equity, fight for higher salaries for women but watch away when women among us are beaten to death. We manage eucalyptus mono-culture forests in very fragile Mediterranean ecosystems with the principle to create renewable energy while deforesting Asia thanks to international development programs supported by our tax-evading financial magnates. We talk shit and swallow it on a daily basis, yet we try not to suffocate rather than stop talking.

It’s true enough that Trump may likely disappoint a big majority of his voters in the near future. Yet, they gave him the benefit of the doubt. This latter point might be what has made America different from Europe ever since: Americans are more risky than we Europeans are. ‘Who risks, wins’ as the saying goes. Trump is a risk, but at least he is a hope. Even as a nihilist I believe that hope is still better than lingering in vain and holding on to empty principles while observing how a rotten system drags us all deeper and deeper into abyss. Hope is part of what makes us human and that’s why humans have made Trump their president.


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Game of Thrones in Europe

Apart from beautiful filming, Game of Thrones has also educational character. Its political content can help immature citizens understand why we need more integration, not isolation as postulated by Brexit.

Looking at recent developments, one might expect that Europe is falling apart. Shaken by terror, economic struggles, political instability and separatism, the institution EU has been questioned on the grounds that it was too bureaucratic. As repeatedly in history, populists seek cheap answers to complex problems by blaming larger cooperation for individual loss without seeing that governing shared resources asks most of all answers to distributional questions. It is this failure that has brought us to where we stand, and, tackling it is thus the key to finding a way out of the worldwide social impasse in which we are trapped. Seeking an answer in isolation is repeating history and thus a step back in time.

Backwards thinking might be attractive, but it is not a cure. Although plundering resources and enslaving entire populations in Latin America, Asia and Africa has given us Europeans power, it is not a medication with long-term effects, particularly not now that global resources are getting scarce. As many other world citizens demand their share in global benefits, many among us feel that it might be safer to restrict their access to our accumulated wealth by their exclusion. The UK, a world-leader in exploiting resources and oppressing peoples, has recently decided that while it was OK to take from European partners, sharing with them was not really what they want. Apart from the political value, what made me really sick about the whole Brexit debate were all these stupid voices desiring to have back achievements such as the ‘Great Empire’ or the freedom to ‘spoil oneself in luxury’. While slavery is sadly enough still practised in Europe, even the dumbest among us should realize that stronger light bulbs will not make even the littlest brain of whatever actress brighter.

Above all the entire Brexit debate has shown that Europe is governed by immature citizens. While we believe in democracy as the core to justice, we Europeans fail to understand that complex problems need solutions that might be unconventional and difficult to understand for non-experts. However, while we don’t bring our children to the bakery when their teeth ache, we all want to have a say in politics as we believe to have expert-knowledge in everything. Endless referendum and cyclic movements are the result. Democracy as understood by us Europeans is most of all inefficient, since it keeps us focussed on the process rather than providing solutions to our real problems. The re-merging power of populist parties in Europe can consequently be seen as a failure of citizens to understand the causes of our current problems and avoiding to provide solutions to them. Instead of overcoming well-established customs and habits, we claim democracy and more power to the peoples as the solution to economic problems.

In times of economic difficulties, we find the panacea of better performance by asking for local control and exclusion of everything ‘not from here’.  This racism in its purest form prevents us from seeing the distributional deficiencies within (the system). In Spain, a country that has become a democracy as late as the early 1980s and which has ever since been manipulated by elites and their corrupt practises, young citizens fail to see that it is the rotten system that needs to change not the countries’ relation to Europe. While the EU is probably the best tool to overthrow the establishment they have, many citizens that have been politically passive for most of their life all of a sudden stand up against the EU in order to express their frustration over lack of perspectives. Of course, it is easier to receive many ‘likes’ by re-tweeting or posting anti-German paroles than questioning some domestic deficiencies. Change means also confronting oneself with risk and requires skills and capacities that one first needs to develop. Throwing ones wife from the balcony and blaming emancipation for lack of bread is easier than becoming a noble man and an educated citizen that abides from stupid customs such as torturing animals for public amusement. Improvement within a critically sick system often requires significant change and mandates that one needs to leave their comfort zone, not something cowards really seek.

Maybe the most disturbing element of European politics is the failure to account for distributional factors. As an expat returning to Europe I am year by year more shocked by the arrogance that our pensioners expose. While their rude, selfish and ignorant behaviour resembles that of hordes of uncontrolled punks, the comparison might not be too far-fetched as these proud ‘68er revolutionists’ have mostly thought about self-fulfillment all their life long. Rhetorically rebelling against established institutions in the late 1960s they have turned their back on important environmental and social issues that became apparent in the early 1970s[1] and instead, successively in-filtered politics and bureaucracy to take over key positions that allowed them to exploit wherever they could. Negating pressing issues such as climate change and social injustice for decades, they grabbed what was within reach and waited until their retirement to ask for policies that protect the wealth of the wealthy while the poor in the developing world and future generations should pay the bill for all the environmental damage that their life-long resource exploitation has caused. It is these 68er punks that manipulate the entire political agenda across Europe in their own favour and at the expense of better outcomes. This is all the more disturbing as they don’t have to account for the long-term effects of their current votes.

Achieving sustainable development, the main target of the global development agenda, means working on inter-generational as much as intra-generational justice.  It means speaking out against politics that further skew distribution in favour of those who already have. It also means putting our fingers at our parents and might cost a bit more courage than closing the door in light of some stranger in need. How much easier is it to ignore the thousands of drowning refugees in the Mediterranean Sea while enjoying the comfort of our parent’s home – funded on stolen resources and built by the sweat of migrants? True, Game of Thrones showed us that justice is a fragile concept. While we Europeans believe in democracy as a means to justice, in reality justice not only needs to address questions around access to vote, but also distributional issues. From an equity perspective there is no doubt that Europe will never see justice as long as actresses demand privileges that have made queens untouchable. From a resource perspective, it is evident that we need more cooperation in face of increased scarcity. Put two and two together, we need more integration, not less. The EU was a good start to cooperation, now we only need to upscale it.

While the UK has taken the path of isolation, in reality the answer to its problems lies in more integration. Rather than distancing itself from Europe, it should reach out to the world and embrace nations such as China, which it forced to centuries of political isolation from Europe by starting an economic motivated war in the 19th century. Indeed, the EU and its apparent bureaucracy are not UK’s true problems, nor those of any other country. What we European need is seeing the full picture rather than following mainstream politics. Maybe the best way forward would be less democracy, not only less bureaucracy.

[1] Notably during the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment

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Europe – a bureaucratic oxymoron?

Last year I wrote about the bureaucratic struggles involved in a marriage with a foreign national in Vietnam. One year later, my wife and I are getting acquainted with the devastating bureaucracy that is sickening humans in Europe.

Having lived in Southeast Asia for a couple of years, an extended travel to my home place Europe sounded like a nice alternative to some idyllic beach honey-moon following our marriage in November last year. Given some work mandates in Europe and our consideration to moving to Europe, it eventually became more than a thought. However, as much as Schengen provides free movement for member countries, it can be a hindrance for their spouses. When sharing our travel ideas with the Swiss authorities in Vietnam, we were provided with two solutions: a) get a tourist visa valid for 3 months or b) apply for a temporary residence with the option to stay longer. Latter sounds more attractive, if one doesn’t consider a waiting time of 3 to 6 months and provided that the applicant knows where he/she is going to live[1]. Having to act on some immediate calls and intending to travel around Europe rather than sitting in some random apartment, we eventually left on a temporary visa that cost us a lot of money and effort despite an EU rule that makes Schengen-Visas for partners of European citizens free of charge[2].

Visiting Switzerland after a couple of weeks traveling and thinking we might overstay the 90 days in total, we decided to apply for a residence permit for my wife. Therefore we first needed to have a home – luckily we could register with the address of a close relative. By chance (one would think) this relative of mine lives in the municipality where our marriage application from Vietnam was processed a year back – a very important detail considering Swiss federalism[3]. To our surprise—and regardless of the three months waiting period[4] and the 700 USD that I had to pay for a paper stating that I was allowed to marry—the municipality had no clue about our marriage and we first needed to prove it. Our confusion got bigger when we showed them an email from the Swiss Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, dating 23 October 2015 and confirming that our marriage had been registered in the Swiss civil registers. Unfortunately, marriage registration ends at province (canton) level and although the municipality has full authority over citizens’ rights, it has no responsibility to access information at higher levels [sic!]. Therefore, we were required to get written proof from the authority at province level – something that in Switzerland non-surprisingly comes at a cost!

It took the authorities at province level (now, don’t get confused, I know it’s not easy) an entire month to reflect over our application, and then, ten days before the tourist visa was about to expire, we received a not-so-friendly letter asking us to provide answers and evidence of our relationship that are simply beyond human rights, regardless of whether our marriage was officially registered or not. Answers to questions such as ‘how often do you see your wife?’, ‘in what language to you communicate?’, ‘where has she [sic!] acquired those language skills?’ apart from an extract from the Vietnamese criminal records, photos showing us together etc. were simply too much. Fed-up with the racism and discrimination in this Nazi-friendly country and already having left for The Netherlands two weeks earlier, we decided to give it a go here, although we knew that one week was short. Yet, here in the Netherlands, things were way easier, straight to the point and nobody questioned a marriage that was prominently featured in the Vietnamese press[5]. From one of the competent immigration officers we also learned that the residence permit application was much smoother because being non-Dutch we enjoyed EU law. It looks much different for Dutch citizens applying for a residence visa for their spouse from a non-EU country and filing their application in The Netherlands.

Although it is often claimed that the EU made everything bureaucratic and complicated, from above experience we must acknowledge that the opposite is true. Unlike certain national policies, EU law respects human rights and tries to put citizens in the centre. That is very different in Switzerland, where an ever stronger mass of right-wing voters support even the abolition of the European Human Rights Convention. The reasons for that should be clear to us now: Swiss federalism has no room for humane policies. In 1965, Swiss writer Max Frisch famously wrote ‘We called for a workforce, but we got humans[6]’ – a quote in the foreword to a book about Italian migrants to Switzerland that brought it to the point. However, what should have been a warning to Switzerland is still unheard of 50 years later. Regardless of a very arrogant rhetoric about its role in human rights, Switzerland is nothing but a country with totally wicked values and rules that are only guided by money and greed. Humans don’t count, only their wealth does.

To conclude, while there are forces in Europe that criticize the EU for its bureaucracy or ask for a distance from the Union, one should ask why that is. Getting to the core of the issue we might discover that it is not displeasure for paper-power but rather a fear of losing control that governs these naysayers. This planet more than ever needs some humane instance which limits the power of evil, and the EU has been a good example for doing so since its birth.


[1] Unless you have a place where you can register your residence (e.g. an apartment that you rent), there is no way to apply for a long-term stay.

[2]  Like many other embassies in Vietnam, Switzerland has made joint-ventures with so called service providers. Latter charge a fee that we can’t avoid. The money is then shared between the service provider and those giving them access to this form of rent generation (yep, think twice and you’ll get it – communism is wonderful, given you have the right uncle!).

[3] A very unique feature of the Helvetic Alpen-state is the fact that the country has 26 provinces and something in the order of 2400 municipalities. All of them have distinct laws. While this might be a surprise for most readers, I suggest you read some articles about what made the country rich in the first hand. Democracy means different rights for different people!

[4] For processing my ‘marriage certificate’ application in the same municipality of origin that we were going to apply for the residence visa.

[5] My wife being a singer and celebrity, our marriage was well-documented in Vietnam’s media – a fact that has no relevance in light of Swiss authorities’ arrogance and their stupid little ‘follow-procedure-brains’. Remember Oprah Winfrey’s incidence in Zurich?

[6] Origin: ‚Wir riefen Arbeitskräfte, und es kamen Menschen.‘


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