Rules and fines

While in many countries governments are taking initiatives to stop the proliferation of regulations and rules for the business world, we are facing in this Corona-era a multitude of new (and ever changing) rules as a result of the current pandemic.

Last Monday I drove from Denmark through Germany back to the Netherlands and had to wear a mask in the German roadside restaurants, and fill in a form with my personal details. During our church visits in Denmark strict Corona rules applied. Shaking hands – let alone more intimate greetings – of friends was not allowed. This will also be the case when I preach tomorrow in the Adventist church in Amersfoort. There will be no hymn-singing by the congregation, while in Denmark this was allowed (even a hymn with no less than ten stanzas!).

So far, I have not received a Corona-fine. But this morning I found an envelope in our mailbox, sent by the Landkreis Ammerland (near Bremen). A four-page letter with complicated bureaucratic language made it clear (?) to me that I have to pay thirty euros because I drove with a speed of 97 km on a stretch of road where the speed limit had just changed from 100 to 80 km. I will pay the fine, although I don’t feel that I have endangered anyone by reckless driving. It feels strange to be fined for failing to immediately reduce your speed to 80 km, in a country where on freeways cars pass you with a speed of over 200 km.

In recent weeks rules and fines have received a lot of attention in the Netherlands, with two cases, in particular, standing out. Six years ago Geert Wilders, the leader of one of the two Dutch populist parties (which, fortunately, still have a minority of less than 25 percent in parliament), made inflammatory and discriminating remarks about Moroccan immigrants during a political rally. He was taken to court for this and very recently the appellate court finally found him guilty of insulting an ethnic group. However, he did not receive any punishment. It seems to me that this was a good outcome of this long-running case. It must be clear that discrimination will not be tolerated. But punishment would make Wilders a martyr and that is undesirable.

Another well-known Dutchman, Ferdinand Grapperhaus (our minister of justice), did not always follow the one-and-a-half-meter distance rule during his recent wedding. A photographer sent pictures to the media to prove this. As predictable, this led to a political scandal. Precisely the man who carries the final responsibility for monitoring compliance with the Corona rules and for fining offenders, allowed a group photo of the wedding guests to be taken while ignoring the required “social distance.” He also made an error of judgment in kissing his brand new mother-in-law. I was pleased that there was sufficient understanding for these failures to stick to the Corona-rules, and that this incident did not lead to a premature end of Grapperhaus’ ministerial career.

These illustrations confirm that it remains difficult to always make the right choice whether or not to impose a punishment. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to punish people. But often mildness can also prevail, and a clear disapproval does not always have to be immediately followed by punishment.

PS. It’s a pity that the Landrat of the Strassenverkehrsambt in the German Ammerland region will most likely not read this blog and will not consider turning my punishment into a warning.