Like the two generations before him, the 45-year-old Dutch barge captain works on it by day and sleeps on it by night. When he was 21, he kissed his future spouse on it. Now he and his wife, co-captain Miranda, are split over how to protect their livelihood from competition and secure their futures.
“Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romanians ⎯ they come here with diplomas they probably bought back home and they work as barge captains for much less money than us,” Van Meel said as he guided his vessel, the blue-and-white Tiamo, through the Rhine delta on a rainy night. He was inspired by U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign promise: “He says ‘America First,’ and I understand that. We should say ‘Netherlands First.’ Protectionism is good.”
Van Meel wants a Dutch exit from the European Union. Miranda, 44, supports more screening of migrants, but wants to remain in the seamless single market. “I want open borders for trade, not for people,” she said.
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