The Big Interview

Bart Brands: Encouraging legislators and businesses to embrace blockchain technology

Bart Brands, the chairman of the European Blockchain Foundation, explains how businesses and legislators can embrace blockchain technology for the greater good

As a former politician in the Hague, Bart Brands has a deep understanding of democracy and how the legislative process works. He is also a massive advocate of blockchain technology and Bitcoin – having first becoming interested in around 2012 or 2013.

After he got wind of Litecoin following the first fork of Bitcoin, he became aware of the Blockchain technology and began to look into what it meant by about 2016.

Now chairman of the European Blockchain Foundation, he says: “I really started being interested in the technology and what the technology could mean on a personal and policy level.”

Preaching Blockchain

The following year, in 2017, he says “everybody went totally crazy – me as well – as the price went up. Because I was preaching the Blockchain gospel, I was not so much involved from a financial point of view.

“I was focusing mainly on the technology.” He began talking to investors and people who wanted to know more in the financial district of Amsterdam and across the country.

At the end of that year, he was reinstalled as a politician and introduced a piece of policy in The Hague asking how it can accept Blockchain and consider the use of the technology to streamline processes to help strengthen cyber security. Brands’ academic background is in security intelligence and cyber security.

“I was talking about this Blockchain motion in The Hague with other elected representatives and there were 44 of them looking back at me with glassy, sober eyes as they didn’t know what I was talking about,” he says. “But when I mentioned Bitcoin they went crazy and said: ‘Yes we need to do this.'” The motion was accepted by a majority vote.

Lobby governments

He says of the Foundation, which was founded in April 2018: “Our mission is to lobby governments to pass regulation that promotes a Blockchain-friendly Europe.” They currently have six companies who are members, with many more interested. It is still early days.

They don’t solicit companies to join, but believe “there is a need to organise to make sure there is legislation.”

“We really need to see progress at government level and influencing policy,” he says. “As enthusiasts and people who believe in the technology, we are trying to make sure the technology works for the betterment of many. I believe the freedom of the technology is the answer to centralisation and it represents decentralisation.”

Clamping down

“As a former politician, I know most politicians and a lot of people in politics can keep clamping down on freedom and that is what we are seeing happening in the world.

“Blockchain can be used to track and trace everything – or nothing. It can really alter the freedom we enjoy or feel we lack.”

Blockchain technology is “like any other technology, it is something new that could deal with policies, life or buying groceries. During the hype of last year there were a lot of flawed propositions using blockchain technology for something that works perfectly well without it.”

In October last year, the Foundation proposed that the city of The Hague staff be given the opportunity to receive their wages in cryptocurrency. He urged the municipality to investigate the possibility.

He argues that the applications “reduce the dependence on large, and often corrupt, banks and bring an efficiency boost. A considerable number of companies in various countries now offer employees the opportunity to get paid in cryptocurrencies.”

Lack of understanding

The Foundation seeks to introduce and to inform as there’s a “lack of deeper understanding about Blockchain technology.”

He says when talking to politicians about Blockchain and Bitcoins, they always mention “money laundering, terrorism and the Dark Web in almost every conversation.”

But the amount laundered through cryptocurrency is “insignificantly small” when compared to the amount of money laundered globally through banks – it is 2/1000th of 1%, he estimates, which is “statistically insignificant.”

“It’s almost like the law makers and policy makers have had these arguments against cryptocurrency and Blockchain drilled into them.”

Fighting against

He feels governments “clamping down on freedom” is “something worth fighting against.”

“It’s a real challenge to influence legislation in such a way that Blockchain stays the way it is meant to be as a form of independent and decentralised freedom that will benefit people.”

Regulation, he adds, is a tough question to consider. “Even if a politician promises to deregulate, you could end up with more regulation,” he warns. “I think it’s very important that regulations are influenced in a way that honours the intent of the inventors of the Blockchain technology as a Peer to Peer decentralised and not used by third parties to influence transactions so it stays free in quite a broad way.”

With mass adoption, it is almost impossible to put a time scale as he says it would be so easy to get wrong. But he predicts that although there’s been a downturn in the financial side of Blockchain as a result of the Bear market, “applications will start to be rolled out in 2019.”

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