Opinion pieces, columns and insights into Dutch news and current affairs from key commentators


Dutch minister wants to let Big Brother watch us

Dutch minister wants to let Big Brother watch us

If home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk gets his way, Big Brother will spy on us all with impunity. It's time to ditch his draft proposal, writes journalist and internet safety expert Menso Heus.Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk chose the depths of the silly season to offer up for ‘consultation’ a draft proposal which rides roughshod over the basic rights of every Dutch citizen: the new law governing intelligence and security services, WIV. If this proposal becomes law, the intelligence and security services AIVD and MIVD will be given unprecedented authorisation to access private data.With the minister’s permission and without even a hint of suspicion of any criminal behaviour on our part, the services will be monitoring and analysing our phone conversations, email exchanges, web surfing behaviour, etc. The data gathered will be kept for up to three years and can be shared with foreign secret services.The proposal has been carefully drafted: there is no mention of ‘mass surveillance’, the kind that Edward Snowden uncovered some time ago but that, clearly, is what this is about. Instead of protecting us from such comprehensive oversight, the Dutch government now wants to participate in it.RightsThe arbitrary tapping of the means of communication used by innocent and unsuspected citizens contravenes the constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. It is also in direct opposition to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.As if this isn’t bad enough, Plasterk also allows the services extensive hacking powers. They can, for instance, use your computer without your knowledge to spy on a suspect. If you yourself are the target, the services can activate cameras and microphones in your equipment from a distance. Hacking makes systems unsafer and easier to access by criminals. But the new law doesn’t contain a provision to repair the damage, or even an obligation to acknowledge that any damage was done.ImplicationsThe implications for the freedom of the press are dire. The law offers some guarantees for the protection of journalistic sources, but as journalists and their sources are part of the government’s mass surveillance effort, that protection means exactly nothing. Journalists and their sources could never again be sure of an unmonitored exchange.Whistle-blowers who want to leak abusive situations anonymously will find it next to impossible to do so. The Dutch whistle-blowers platform Publeaks, where concerned citizens can report abuse anonymously, will also be spied on by the government. This also puts the systems of the forty affiliated media outlets in the danger zone. Reading behaviour will be monitored: the services will have no problem finding out which media platforms we are looking at, from Volkskrant.nl to Wikileaks.org.The consequences of such government spying are clear to see in the United States. The American security service NSA has been involved in mass surveillance and espionage among journalists for some time. As a result, journalistic sources are no longer as prepared to talk and the media are increasingly putting a lid on information that could lead to trouble. This is what is described in the Human Rights Watch report ‘With Liberty to Monitor All’ as the chilling effect.CourtThe Dutch intelligence services have been reprimanded repeatedly by the courts for unauthorised actions towards journalists. Not only is it unlikely that with the new possibilities at their disposal they will suddenly behave, their activities will also go largely unmonitored by the – possibly partisan and not always well informed - politicians whose responsibility this is.Free Press Unlimited is not against the modernisation of legislation concerning the intelligence and security services. We recognise that some persons or organisations which are legitimately deemed a danger to society should be subjected to efficient scrutiny. But it’s the governments which allow a blanket surveillance of their own citizens which constitute the biggest danger to society. That is what we see in the dozens of countries in which we are active.We call on all political parties – especially the ones that sport the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in their names – to return this draft to the minister forthwith.Citizens who want to comment can do so until September 1 on www.internetconsultatie.nl/wivMenso Heus is a 'technology officer' and internet safety expert at Free Press Unlimited.This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant.  More >


Available now: Imtech washer-uppers

Available now: Imtech washer-uppers

 The Imtech debacle and why nobody, including the supervisory board, saw it coming except a couple of hedge funds and a lone ABN Amro analyst. 'The whole thing is pathetic', writes Marco de Groot.Imtech has been declared bankrupt and the last CEO and CFO will without a doubt do penance, and rightly so. Still, it can’t just have been these two who pushed the company over the edge, can it?For years brokers and investors were mesmerised by Imtech’s unique ability to acquire and grow at a rate of knots, especially in Germany and the Scandinavian countries. The only place they didn’t do quite so well was in the domestic market of the Netherlands, also the home of the dispersed company’s administrative mission control.InterviewI remember the moment I stopped believing in Imtech. It was in 2012, some €1.5bn in market value ago. In an interview, CEO René van der Bruggen claimed his company had not suffered any damage from the crisis and that he saw no reason for the acquisitions to stop or continue at a slower pace. Many investors and analysts trusted him as Imtech had never issued any warning in times of economic turmoil, not in 2002 and not in 2008.And yet the first hedge funds had been going short because of rising working capital and margins. Imtech probably provided extended payment terms in exchange for higher margins which effectively meant it was playing banker to its clients. Or projects weren’t finished, obscuring losses. A pyramid scheme, in short.No talksVan der Bruggen said he would not talk to these hedge funds. Either he simply - and scandalously - refused to defend investors’ interests or he was afraid his backfiring scheme would be brought to light. ABN Amro analyst Teun Teeuwisse dared publish the figures and views of the hedge funds and was put in the stocks. The rest is history.The damage is enormous, not only to Imtech staff but also to society and the reputation of the Netherlands as an investor friendly country. Shares are worthless and banks which have supplied credit based on figures approved by accountants are left with the burden of debt.Any accountant worth his salt looks beyond the figures he’s presented with. Why didn’t they spot this? Those same accountants, no doubt protected by their disclaimers, will now be calculating just how big the damage is. The whole thing is pathetic.SupervisoryAnd what about the supervisory board? Those people with their impressive CVs and loads of experience, why didn’t they see what was happening?In England, a Libor trader recently received a fourteen-year prison sentence.  Society would have been better if he was doing a stint washing dishes in an old people’s home. At least he would be doing something useful for society. I hope the whole sorry Imtech mess will generate dozens of washer-uppers. I also hope you or your pension fund invested in one of those clever hedge funds that went short. At least your pain will not be as great.Marco de Groot is one of the founders of consultancy and coaching bureau 8daw. This column was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad    More >


Youp drives a Jeep on holiday in Scotland

Youp drives a Jeep on holiday in Scotland

Comedian Youp van 't Hek is on holiday in Scotland and finds his left-hand drive is not as easy to handle as he thought.Driving a car with the steering wheel on the right-hand side is difficult enough so why not make life easier and go for an automatic. It’ll save you from having to change gear with your left hand. So said a good friend who likes to dole out good advice. This time he was meddling with my trip to the Highlands of Scotland.I wanted to take my own antique mid-life motor but the boat to Newcastle was full. My wife agreed with my friend. We should hire an automatic. I said we’d see when we got to Glasgow. In the meantime I hired a Mini via internet. I liked the idea of bumping through the beautiful Scottish landscape in a Mini. And all that stuff about changing gear would sort itself out. I can shoot a football with my left and right leg, I write with my left hand and I throw with my left. I am ambidextrous. No problem.The automatic car turned into a bit of a thing. Lots of people were wading in. Why was I being so stubborn? Why did I always do the opposite of what everyone else wanted? What did it matter if an automatic is that much easier and thus safer? Did I want to be responsible for the death of my family? I said we’d see when we got to Glasgow.ExchangeLast Monday we arrived and I asked the Europcar lady if I could exchange my merry Mini for an oldie automatic. She searched the computer for a long time and then said they had one automatic left. I caught the word Jeep in amongst the Scottish which sounded like a promising deal. A Jeep among the Lochs. I felt like someone out of an advertisement for a really cushy pension scheme. I pictured our Jeep on the edge of a river full of jumping salmon. Perhaps I should buy a rod, some wading boots and an outdoor smoker and…The Jeep cost a hell of a lot more than the Mini. I said ok, signed 17 times on the dotted line and was given the key. The car was in spot 36B.And there, indeed, it was. The Jeep. It wasn’t one of those romantic jungle things you see in survival shows with Z list celebrities being bounced around deserts. This was a tank. I could single-handedly restore order in Syria, Yemen and Iraq in it. It was a car that would keep apart rioters and policemen on strike with ease and wouldn’t topple if required to lift a piece of bridge.Knobs and leversI climbed in and spent the next hour trying to figure out what the 921 knobs and levers were for. Windscreen wipers wiped, windscreen sprayers sprayed, seats shot back and forth, the roof opened and closed as did the boot, and the GPS could do just about everything except tell us where we were going. My wife suggested a couple of times we go back and ask for the Mini to be restored to us but I said no. Not with all that dangerous gear changing.At last we moved. We were actually driving, on the left side of the road. Or on the left side of the left side, in fact. I had to get used to the ridiculous width of the car, you see. Lots of Scots will have been be able to follow my progress. From Glasgow to Edinburgh the street lights were kissed by my wing mirror and the grass on the roadsides won’t have to be cut for years to come. I have given Loch Ness its monster.When you read this I have another two days to go. We drive at a snail’s pace as nice little Minis pass us by, beeping as they go. Will we survive? Of course. This is a tank, albeit one without wing mirrors and hubcaps, and you simply cannot get yourself killed in one. So the question for the airheads in Wassenaar and Blaricum where 90 percent of these vehicles can be found: how do you manage to do it?Youp van 't Hek is a comedian and writer.This column appeared earlier in the NRC  More >


The Dutch economy: The old and the new normal

The Dutch economy: The old and the new normal

Economist Mathijs Bouman says the 2% growth rate predicted for 2015 by the number crunchers at the CPB hides a rising structural deficit.It’s taken a while but the optimism virus has now definitely spread to the economists of the CPB.Over the last year, the government forecasters have become more cheery-faced with every new projection although they hardly went overboard. Last year the CPB would not go further than a 1.25% economic growth rate for 2015.The euro nose-dived, as did oil prices, the housing market started to show signs of life and internal demand rose. But the forecast by the number crunchers in The Hague only made it 2% tops in June.There has been much bad news since. The cabinet has been scaling down gas production in Groningen, the Chinese economy is cooling down, the Brazilian and Russian economies are in recession and world trade is stagnating. But in spite of all this the CPB forecast remains at 2% for the whole of 2015.And next year it says it will be 2.4%. Should this really come about the growth rate will be higher than the average pre-crisis rate. Forget the ‘new normal’ of 1%, the Netherlands is growing again at a pace we thought was normal before the crisis.Unfortunately the ‘old normal’ is surfacing in other CPB figures: the budget deficit is going down at a slower pace than predicted. With revenues from gas down and a €5bn tax reduction, the budget deficit for next year will be 1.5% of gdp. In June the SPB prediction hovered around the 0.8% mark.Granted, 1.5% is still well under the maximum deficit of 3% allowed under the European stability and growth pact. Nevertheless, the cabinet is starting to go back to its old spendthrift ways.This is especially clear from the so-called structural deficit, or the budget deficit corrected by conjunctural ups and downs. Next year the structural deficit will go up to 1.1% of gdp. According to the budgetary rules of the European Union this figure should be around 0.5%.A hike in the structural deficit during a conjunctural up is understandable politically but not very wise from an economic point of view. Economists call it procyclical budgetary policy and they never pronounce these words without a moue of distaste. I would like to know if all the Keynsian economists in this country who booed the policy of cutbacks of this government in the last few years will be equally outraged about the rising structural deficit.Mathijs Bouman is a macro-economist.This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


A blast from a distant past: the basic income

A blast from a distant past: the basic income

Economists Rick van der Ploeg and Willem Vermeend don't think the basic income, which a number of local councils want to experiment with, is a very good idea.Long ago, in the 1970s, left-wing parties dreamt of a basic income for everyone: young, old, rich and poor should all get a free, no strings attached, hand-out from the state. The amount would be around the poverty threshold, currently at around €1,000 a month.According to advocates, a flat income would do away with complicated social security schemes, such as benefits. Many would lead happier lives, their dignity intact. People on benefits would no longer have to suffer the indignities of having to apply for jobs and pesky controls would also be a thing of the past.Unfortunately for them, the idea was laughed out of parliament by a large majority of politicians. Not only would it be prohibitively expensive, it would also reward laziness, the kind of hammock scheme which would lead to fewer people in work and higher taxes for businesses and workers.And so the basic income idea – which was never implemented anywhere in the world – was quietly shelved. In the past, right-wing economist Milton Friedman proposed a similar scheme which abolished all benefits via a so-called negative income tax system. This idea, too, was relegated to the bin.It’s backNow the basic income is back. Its adherents never really gave up on the idea and here they are, 40 years on, waging a summer offensive. Over the past few weeks the media, in the middle of the silly season, offered ample coverage to enthusiastic left-wing aldermen in places like Wageningen, Nijmegen, Tilburg, Utrecht, Groningen and Maastricht wanting to experiment with local variations of the basic income in their towns.Although it is not entirely clear what these experiments entail, the fact is that they constitute an additional, far-reaching adjustment of the present benefit system. Some propose a three-year period of around €1,100 a month for people on benefits (on a voluntary basis). This money will be paid out unconditionally. There is no obligation to apply for jobs. They will receive no further financial support from the council and they will be allowed to earn extra on the side.Advocates of the scheme say that the fact their extra income will not have a negative effect on their benefits will make people want to work more. Whether this is true we will have to see but if it is, then it would be an obvious case of false competition. People with a free basic income would settle for lower pay and so take jobs from the working people who are in actual fact stumping up the money for this scheme.The lack of any controls surrounding the scheme would also promote the black economy.ContradictionThe experiments are in complete contradiction to the incentive-led social security policy the present cabinet is trying to achieve. For this reason alone the government should put a stop to these silly season schemes sooner rather than later. Surely local councils have better ways of spending their money.The tenacity of basic income adherents is astounding. They now want to impose it via the local councils. Any argument against this pie in the sky scheme is regarded as right-wing nonsense. They also claim that detractors of the scheme have a jaundiced view of humanity and that those economists who say the sums don’t add up belong to the classic (the right-wing) school of economy. But they forget that not only the left and the right of the political centre are against a basic income, the SP is as well. The socialists rightly fear that doling out free money will cause serious cracks in our current social security system.ElectionsIt is to be expected that the basic income will resurface in the election programmes of some parties in 2017. GroenLinks is almost certain to make it a campaign issue. In order to save those in favour from having to do the sums, we have done them for them. The CPB, in an earlier report, has already concluded that a basic income of half the social minimum (around €750 a month) will lead to job losses of around 350,000.A simple sum also shows that a basic income of €1,100 per month for every Dutch citizen would cost around €200bn. Minus the benefits which adherents of the scheme say can then be abolished, the cost will be much lower, around the €75bn mark. In order to cough up this money a significant hike in taxes will be necessary. Economist Raymond Gradus in his article for Mejudice put it at a staggering 25%.The adherents of the scheme don’t agree with these ‘right-wing’ figures. They think the positive effects will do much to bring down the final cost. Based on unproven and tenuous assumptions, they think many more people will return to work and that many billions will be saved on bureaucracy, care and policing.And people will be happier, they claim. That is as maybe, but adherents of the scheme must surely agree that those who have to foot the tax bill for all this free money will feel less than elated. Willem Vermeend is a former State Secretary of Finance and Minister of Social Affairs in the Dutch government and currently entrepreneur and professor at the University of Maastricht.Rick van der Ploeg is a former State Secretary for Eduction, Culture and Science in the Dutch government and professor of economics at the University of Oxford.This article appeared earlier in the Telegraaf .    More >


‘Dijsselbloem is sidelining the democratic process’

‘Dijsselbloem is sidelining the democratic process’

The Netherlands may be proud to have one of its own mingle with the high and mighty but the fact is that Jeroen Dijsselbloem is side-lining the democratic process, write David Hollanders and Merijn Oudenampsen.Writer Milan Kundera distinguished two kinds of provincialism. The kind manifested by big countries ignores outside influences and favours its own. Small countries, however, show their provincialism by showing a great appreciation for what happens outside their borders. That outside world remains alien and unattainable, however, which is why small nations tend to embrace their influential figures as symbols of pride and stability.Kundera was referring to writers but the same is true for politicians.The re-election of Jeroen Dijsselbloem as chairman of the Eurogroup led to proud reactions in this country’s press. ‘He has the patience of an ox,’ the Volkskrant proclaimed. The journalist, barely able to contain his enthusiasm, went on to describe the ‘dominance of Holland’. The piece was accompanied by a picture of a cool looking Dijsselbloem towering over his colleagues.With Kundera’s words in mind such a reaction is not an unexpected one. But it’s obstructing a proper reflection of what is actually happening.Private creditorsIn 2010 it wasn’t Greece that was saved but the private creditors - from Deutsche Bank to ING. The troika operated like a collection agency. It took over Greek debt and has been trying to land the country with the bill ever since. The state comes armed with a weapon that banks don’t have at their disposal: the threat to destroy the Greek banking system by the European Central Bank.As everybody knows and the IMF have since admitted, the Greek debt cannot be paid back. However, the loss is not borne by the original creditors but by the European citizens. This effectively pits the Greek taxpayer and the non-Greek taxpayer against each other.The fact that Dijsselbloem is part of this set-up is not really something to be proud of. If we look at his plans for the rest of Europe more questions arise. His agenda for Europe is set out in the letter he wrote to support his candidature and is a personal election programme of sorts.CompetitivenessIn his letter Dijsselbloem proposes further integration and centralisation of European economic policy in which ‘competitiveness’ is key. Part of the programme is the flexibilisation of labour markets, deregulation of product markets and pension and social security reforms.Dijsselbloem wants a European framework of ‘national competitiveness councils’ managed by Brussels which will supervise these reforms and tell national governments what they can and cannot do. This is a programme with a clear political bias and one that, in a functioning democracy, should be put to the national vote.What Dijsselbloem is proposing is diametrically opposed to anything his Labour party stands for and should be cause for action among its members. But this is more than an internal party matter. Whether left or right-wing, all citizens should be concerned. Where is the democratic mandate for what Dijsselbloem is proposing? He is part of the Eurogroup as a minister in a government which has pledged to reduce the powers transferred to Brussels. And yet here he is, making a case for a far-reaching convergence of economic policies and handing over more national powers to Brussels.More influenceWe are being told that Dijsselbloem’s position will give us more influence in Brussels but the reverse seems to be true.The Eurogroup is accountable to who exactly? It’s an informal club with a foggy organisational structure. Its minutes are not accessible to the public. As Max van Weezel rightly noted in Vrij Nederland, national parliaments can ask questions in advance about what their ministers will propose in Brussels but they have no way of knowing what is being decided in the back rooms. Parliaments are being side-lined, a state of affairs which the Dutch Council of State warned against in 2013 when it said the strong increase of informal European coordination could have a detrimental effect on the democratic process.To ignore this because our minister is rubbing shoulders with the great and the good is provincialism of the worst kind and one that no country should display.David Hollanders teaches finance at Tilburg University. Merijn Oudenampsen is a sociologist and political scientist.This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


‘Gay wedding tourism would be good for everyone’

‘Gay wedding tourism would be good for everyone’

More can be done to make Amsterdam and the Netherlands the gay capital of the world, write D66 politicians Jan Paternotte and Sjoerd Sjoerdsma. They believe we should give gay couples from all over the world the right to get married here.Amsterdam is getting ready for its twentieth Gay Pride canal parade. The capital's waterways will once again be a showcase for freedom and tolerance. Not only is it the best party in the world, it is also a celebration of the city’s great historical tradition of allowing people to be themselves, whoever they are and whomever they love.We should be proud of a city that was the first to welcome marriage between same-sex partners. This Gay Pride marks yet another step in the emancipation of gays which started in Amsterdam. But more can be done to make Amsterdam and the Netherlands the gay capital of the world: give gay couples from all over the globe the opportunity of tying the knot in the Netherlands.There’s plenty to celebrate. In many countries the emancipation of gays is progressing apace. The United States now forbids the discrimination of LHBTs, and gays in all 50 states now have the right to marry.Even in conservative Ireland a referendum has made same-sex marriages possible. But there are still many countries in which acceptance of homosexuality is far from being a reality and where gays and lesbians are being denied even the most basic of rights, some by law but mostly by a society which will only tolerate relationships between men and women.Missed opportunityMany couples from countries such as these would like to celebrate their love by getting married. The Netherlands could help by letting LHBT couples get hitched in Holland. At the moment the law stipulates that one of the partners must have the Dutch nationality, or reside in the country. That, in our opinion, is a missed opportunity.By allowing foreign LHBT couples to get married in the Netherlands we would stimulate the worldwide acceptance of marriage for everyone. ‘Wedding tourism’ would once again put our country at the forefront of the emancipation of LHBTs, with Amsterdam as the gay capital of the world.Opening up the right to marry to people from all over the world would be of great symbolic significance but it would be more than that. In some cases it could help the legal situation of foreign LHBT couples.A court in Italy, where gay marriage hasn’t been legalised yet, recently recognised the status of a couple who got married in the United States, with all the rights this entailed. LHBT couples from Poland and other countries are contemplating doing the same and hope the case will serve as a precedent in their courts.The United Nations have been busy as well. In July 2014 the UN secretary general changed his staff policy to recognise all marriages, even if the member of staff’s home country does not allow same-sex marriages. That means that if two German or Chinese women were to get married, the UN would regard them as a married couple, even if Germany and China are still sitting on the fence.ChampionLittle by little, same-sex marriages are being recognised throughout the world. As far as D66 is concerned the introduction of ‘wedding tourism’ will make Amsterdam the champion of the right of gays and lesbians to marry. We want to improve the legal position of LHBTs worldwide, and simply give people in love a chance to get married.Let’s give really open up the institution of marriage to everybody. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if LHBT couples from all over the world would not only come here to take part in Gay Pride but also to celebrate their love by getting married?Jan Paternotte is the chairman of the Amsterdam branch of D66 and Sjoerd Sjoerdsma is a D66 MP.This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Boosting the Beach Body Index

Boosting the Beach Body Index

Summer’s here and the Dutch are heading for the beach. It’s a time when it becomes very obvious indeed that physical health, self-confidence, a positive self-image as well as charisma and attractiveness really do matter, writes the SCP's Kim Putters.We tend to underestimate the importance of this sort of ‘personal capital’ for the rest of the year. In the discussions about (in)equality we immediately trot out income policy or education but very often health and a pleasant demeanour that are the crucial life and career determinants. So here’s a thought for a summer’s day.Health and beauty are not equally divided among the population, as you cannot have failed to notice as you watch the world go by from your deck chair. This has partly to do with age. Older people are or perceive themselves to be less healthy than young people, for instance when it comes to mounting the stairs, or during work.But when we look at self-confidence and self-image the reverse is usually true. Wisdom comes with age, even if young people beg to differ. Men are thought to become more attractive as they age whereas women don’t believe the same goes for them. Does any of this ring a bell yet?GenderThis brings me from age to gender. On average, men have more self-confidence and a more positive self-image than women who, again on average, are insecure and look for confirmation more often.That is why women invest more in their physical, mental and aesthetic welfare than men. They go to the gym, watch what they eat, and do mental relaxation exercises. Men suffer somewhat from hubris in the looks department, however: people don’t find them quite as attractive as they think. But men just don’t let it bother them as much.Education and income also influence health and beauty. People with relatively little education don’t go in for sports and fitness training and clothes shopping as much as their highly educated and better-paid counterparts. With more money also comes an interest in healthy eating, and the possibility to do what is needed when confronted with illness. People on higher incomes also go in for activity holidays, and have several short breaks throughout the year to relieve stress.Healthy and attractiveIn short, healthy and attractive people are more often well-educated and earn more money. Men with a lot of self-confidence are more often men with higher incomes than women, or people with a disability. They have more social contacts and are positive about their quality of life. If they’re tall, chances are they are even more pleased with themselves. Success, then, is not evenly distributed and often unrelated to education or experience.'Is this something the government should be concerned with?' ask those with an allergy to government interference. It is, of course, every individual’s responsibility to look after him or herself, live healthily and try to look presentable. But as your day at the beach will have shown, many people don’t seem as if they are handling their responsibility very well.Health and beauty are not always manageable. Physical disabilities significantly lessen a person’s chances of a job. Employers can be of help here by not fighting the 5% quota of people with disabilities in their workforce but by upping it to 10%. And if they would stop leaving people by the wayside because of their age it would make Holland an altogether happier place.Interview training is not a luxury for the long-term unemployed or ethnic minorities. Too often the focus is on additional training, or made to measure employment when it is self-confidence and demeanour that need to be worked on.It’s something to think about on the beach this summer. The question whether they can look more attractive, fitter and friendlier is not one the Dutch ask themselves often enough. Take a relaxed summer selfie and see how you can improve.Think about this as you sit under your umbrella: a more attractive, fit and self-confident population is a happier population and the best guarantee for a stable society. I wonder if this August we will come back with a tan that says we have finally breezed past the Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Swiss in the international happiness index.Kim Putters is the director of the Netherlands Institute of Social Research (SCP)This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Annemarie says goodbye

Annemarie says goodbye

All good things must come to an end, and that includes this column. For almost seven years I have shared my opinions, my indignation and my ideas with you. Today is the 350th and final time.I’m going to be a member of supervisory board of the Autoriteit Financiële Markten (AFM, the financial sector regulator, DN) and it wouldn’t do to cause raised eyebrows every week. Instead of commenting from the sidelines I will move into a field I love: the financial market where so much is happening, and which needs a critical eye.It’s with mixed feelings I’m saying goodbye. On the one hand this column took up much time and energy. All week long I considered each news item for column suitability. I would start writing on Friday evening and mail my piece to the Financieele Dagblad on Sunday evening. The following Monday I would start thinking about the next one. A British fellow columnist once compared writing a column to being married to a nymphomaniac: ‘as soon as you’re through you have to start all over again.’My significant other Rhandy will also miss my columns because I would ask him at least three times to read the final version as he was trying to watch the sports programme on Sunday night. It’s a bit of a shame I won’t be using my folder ‘half-finished columns’ and the list of subjects I would have liked to have written about but won’t now.Bu I will also miss the influence my columns gave me. It’s exciting to have finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem assure MPs that the AFM really doesn’t have 'a fetish for ticking boxes' because of something I wrote, or that social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher reacts to figures I have used, and MPs retweet my columns. I walk on air for a day when one of my columns has caused ministers to revise or adapt a decision. I love it when columns can sharpen and improve discussion.My new role will certainly not blunt my edge, as some have suggested. I will stay on the ball and offer my opinion as I always do.And now I will press ‘send’ for the last time.I hope I have made you frown or smile every once in a while. I will miss you.Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and a member of the AFM supervisory boardThis column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad. All her columns have been republished on DutchNews.nl with her permission.  More >


‘Prisoners should pay for bed & board while in jail’

‘Prisoners should pay for bed & board while in jail’

If the elderly are made to contribute to their care why should prisoners be exempt from paying towards their own upkeep? Some have plenty of money and prisons don't come cheap, says entrepreneur Annemarie van Gaal.The governing coalition of VVD and Labour have proposed that the inmates of prisons should contribute all of €16 a day for bed and board. It’s a drop in the ocean if you know that the true costs of each inmate’s stay in prison is over €200 a day.Unfortunately the opposition doesn’t like the plan and it’s unlikely to succeed. The Christian Democrats thinks all inmates are the same and that it’s no use trying to squeeze blood from a stone, while the Socialist Party think the poor inmates shouldn’t be made to suffer more. With attitudes like this it’s going to be hard to turn this proposal into law.WherewithalWhy are the Christian Democrats so convinced that prisoners haven’t the wherewithal to pay those €16? Plenty of inmates have partners who work, own a house or have a sizeable savings account. Take John and Linda de Mol’s blackmailer. He’s awaiting trial in his luxury penthouse in Zeist with a bulging bank account. Why shouldn’t he pay towards his upkeep when he goes to prison? Some inmates have money resulting from criminal activity which can’t be impounded because of lack of proof. A contribution would be a way to get at some of the money at least.It’s bizarre that we are having this discussion in a country where the elderly in care homes have been contributing to their own care costs for years. How is it that law-abiding citizens in need of care are expected to pay and inmates are not?Income-relatedAnd another thing. The contribution of people who need care varies with income. Elderly people in a home who rely only on their pension pay €159 a month. But if they have worked hard all their lives and have a good pension, or own a house or capital, the contribution can go up to almost €2,300.So why not introduce an income-related contribution for prisoners? Prisoners who have nothing, or whose partner doesn’t work and is on benefits pay a small amount. But prisoners who own a home with positive equity, or a savings account, or whose partner works pay more.Prisoners who are proven to have obtained money from extortion or drug trafficking pay full whack; some €6,000 a month.Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor.This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >