Zundert: Europe in miniature
Zundert - a Dutch town known for its flower parade and a luxurious brothel called Sauna Diana. There's the Dutch retailer Hema on the left, and on the right the Maroc Bazaar - new Europe in miniature. Since the spread of the European Union, people in North Brabant and new arrivals from Eastern Europe live side-by-side. The don't really understand each other, but they can't live without each other either.
A retired gentleman, armed with a billiards cue, is on his way to Hotel De Roskam. In the car park, Polish boys are loading a case of beer into the back of their car. They've had a tiring shift at the factory.
Welcome to Zundert, a European border town and the birthplace of Vincent van Gogh. It is situated along the old Napoleon route, which crosses through this land of asparagus and strawberries. Romanians work in its fields.
Director Rob Teunissen of Ardo, a frozen vegetable factory, says,
"It's mostly Polish people who work here."
Teunissen's factory is Zundert's main employer. Most of Ardo's Polish employees now have a permanent contract.
"Without them, the factory's future would be bleak."
Benefitting from EU expansion
Business people like Mr Teunissen, who have problems finding Dutch employees, cannot go on without the Eastern Europeans. It is one of the benefits of the expansion of the European Union, says Marc Lodders, owner of a Zundert tree nursery. His company increasingly benefits from the internal European market. Eastern Europe has proved to be a growth market.
"In Eastern Europe there is a shortage of wood,"
says Lodders who took tree seed from Poland back home. He started cultivating the trees in the fields surrounding his business. As soon as the young trees are big enough they will go back to Poland. According to Mr Lodders:
"We have always seen European expansion as a threat, because production was said to be cheap in Eastern Europe, which would weaken our market position. But it proved not to be a threat, but a big opportunity instead."
The alleged gap between citizens and the EU capital of Brussels doesn't exist in Zundert. On cattle farms, in local pubs and at city hall, it is Europe who deals the cards. Tree nurseries have come together for the project TreePort, a European tree distribution centre to be built in Zundert.
"We hope to get financial assistance from Brussels,"
says Lodders. At the same time, residents of Zundert are afraid of a lack of governance in an ever-expanding Europe. Misunderstandings and irritation in the big European Union can often be traced back to cultural differences.
It's no different in Zundert. According to town councillor Jan van den Bemd, a re-division of local boundaries in 1997 meant that five small towns were 'forced' together. It still irks him to this day. The various town cultures clashed. And local government became inefficient. Every town still wanted to keep its own shooting association and football club, even if merging meant lower costs.
Own sports centre
"It is very expensive, every town with its own sports centre."
It is comparable to the situation in Europe, according to Mr Van den Bemd, where every member state holds on firmly to what it has within its own borders.
"I heard the European candidate for the Dutch Christian Democratic Party talking about all the fine things to be found in the Netherlands, and that Europe must keep its hands off. This is also how it is in Zundert, albeit on a smaller scale."
In the last number of years, Zundert has gone from being a small town at the edge of the Netherlands to its place at the heart of Europe. The sound of music during a Turkish wedding can be heard in party centre Obam. There is a Polish disco taking place further on in a Chinese wok restaurant. The Poles are starting to find their ground here. The football club Zundert 6 has a Polish keeper. And Jacek Olbrys, who came to Zundert six years ago, has bought a home here. His family's future lies here he says"
"Life is better in the Netherlands, which is why I bought a home here. We earn more here than in Poland."
Mr Olbrys is preparing for the baptism of his two-month-old daughter.
"The baptism is in the Polish church in Breda. We have a Polish priest there."
According to Mr Olbrys' employer, Lodders tree nursery, Europe offers Zundert residents more opportunities than pitfalls. Mr Lodders is ready for a new challenge: the Turkish market. Turkey offers enormous potential for the tree nurseries in Zundert. But it's still unknown territory. Would it help if Turkey quickly becomes a member of the EU?
"Of course. Then we'll get help from Brussels; that's what happened before when doing business with Eastern European countries. And subsequently new European forestry subsidies are made available. So, with Turkey in Europe - that would be a really big help."