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


‘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 >


‘Is it time for change in democracy as a new Senate takes its seats?’

Usually little attention is paid in the media to the election of the upper house of parliament in the Netherlands. The system is not quite as archaic as Britain's House of Lords, but hardly an example of modern democracy, writes commentator Nicola Chadwick.The senate voting system is a complicated one. Generally the result can be predicted in advance, as the provincial councillors vote for their own party. However, residual votes from one party can be passed on to another party to make up a seat. So before last week’s election, representatives of both coalition parties exhaustively drank coffee with possible waverers, as a single vote could make the difference of a whole seat.Four years ago in the lead up to the last Senate election, Rutte summoned a Zeeland provincial governor to his prime ministerial tower in The Hague to secure a majority of one seat. Johan Robesin of Provinciaal Belang Zeeland (PBZ) pledged his support in exchange for a promise not to flood a ‘polder’ (reclaimed land) in his province. Not doing so breached government agreements with the Belgians. It seems Rutte preferred damaged relations with Brussels to the risk of a minority in the Senate.Politically promiscuous Now the coalition has fallen short of 17 votes in the Senate. Although the VVD is still the biggest party, Labour has lost almost half its seats. Even with the support of the constructive three (C-3) parties, which have helped Rutte II get legislation through the Senate so far, the coalition is still two seats short of a majority. This means Rutte will probably have to become more politically promiscuous than ever, changing partners frequently to carry out the rest of his programme before his term ends in 2016. And that will be almost impossible as all the parties will demand conflicting concessions for their support.It became painfully obvious that the support of the C-3 parties no longer sufficed when D66 declined to take part in the pre-budget talks. Rutte, ever the optimist, says it will be easier to find consensus from now on, as he is planning tax reforms before his term in office ends. And everyone is in favour of tax cuts, aren’t they? Hmm, but they do not agree on WHO should benefit.Electoral reform For many years, politicians have been openly asking whether an upper house is still a valid chamber for sanctioning new laws. Up until the past few years, the senate assessed new legislation on whether it was workable or constitutional. However, it has become more and more politicised, with legislation increasingly being rejected along the lines of party dogma. Last December, three of Labour’s own senators rebelled, refusing to pass a new health bill, which threatened to remove the right to a second medical opinion. The incident brought the government to the brink of collapse.Meanwhile the government is looking to set up a commission on the future of the Netherlands’s political system… or rather on whether or not to scrap the Senate. But it has to tread carefully.  The Christian Democrats for instance enjoy a lot of regional support and do relatively well in provincial elections and therefore also in the senate - so they are not about to get rid of it. Anyway asking politicians to get rid of an albeit indirectly elected house is a bit like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.Last year, the senate approved the introduction of an advisory referendum. The odds are stacked against petitioners for change. Once a referendum has been organised, at least 30% of the electorate have to vote for the result to be valid. And then politicians can ignore the outcome. At the same time, the first passage of legislation for a corrective referendum took place. However, a change in constitution is required for a corrective referendum, and that means the initiative has to pass through both houses of parliament a second time after a new parliament has been elected. In a collective referendum, citizens can undo new laws they don’t like.The Netherlands briefly introduced referenda to elect municipal mayors, but it was scrapped due to lack of interest. Turnout was only 9% for the first mayoral election in Utrecht in 2007, as both candidates were from the same party.So if referenda do not lead to more democracy, what’s does? The organisation Meer Democratie has launched a citizen’s initiative to end political appointments for public office. It says former politicians are over-represented in all kinds of public functions. Even though anyone can apply, the jobs have often been handed to whoever’s turn it is depending on their political colour. Likewise, Dutch anthropologist turned finance journalist Joris Luijendijk warns that too often former politicians are drafted onto the supervisory boards of banks and financial firms to keep the lines short between business and government and maintain the status quoPharoah of the Netherlands Comedian Arjen Lubach recently launched a bid to become Pharaoh of the Netherlands – as a cheerful protest against the monarchy. His citizens’ initiative instantly attracted 50,000 signatures, which is enough for the Lower House to put it on the agenda. However, it is unlikely to be taken seriously in The Hague.What The Hague should take seriously is that interest in elections is dwindling. In spite of Dutch politics being relatively clean, politicians are thought to be about as trustworthy as second-hand car salesmen. There is a sense that that it makes little difference which party is in power. And many people do not feel represented when they fail to see ‘people like them’ among MPs. As a result, populist parties are filling the gap. And even a dandy leader like the late Pim Fortuyn was seen as ‘one of the people’, much like UKIP’s Nigel Farage, who although he is often seen downing a pint, is hardly your regular man in the street.In spite of its initial popularity and rapid spread to cities across the Western world, the OCCUPY movement failed to turn into a force to be reckoned with. Its aims were not sufficiently articulated and perhaps it was more an expression of discontent than a popular uprising. Not to mention the terrible situation that has arisen in the Middle East and northern Africa since the largely failed Arab Spring.Democracy “without elections”So what if legislators didn’t have to carry the burden of re-election. Would that free them to draft legislation which really cracks those tough political cookies. In Iceland, it worked. A lottery determined which citizens would draft a new constitution after the financial crisis triggered by the Icesave debacle. The event of internet and social media has made people more vocal. However, democracy is slow to reform and fails to reflect the rapid changes that are taking place in society.Dutch politics has seldom been so fragmented. In the lower house, disgruntled MPs hold onto their seats and some set up splinter parties, when they leave or are thrown out of their original parties.  Suggestions have been made to raise the electoral threshold to prevent mini-parties from entering parliament. But that would mean the end of long-standing parties like the GroenLinks, ChristenUnie, the SGP and even D66 in its less popular days.So where is democracy going? And will the current coalition be able to weather all the storms it still has to face with so little support. In a way it has too. The Netherlands is due to hold the six-month presidency of EU next January and it will be an embarrassment if the sixth coalition in a row fails to make it to full term.Nicola Chadwick is a freelance translator/journalist/editor who regularly blogs on Dutch current affairs and politics.  More >


‘Government leaves protection of online gamblers largely up to operators’

‘Government leaves protection of online gamblers largely up to operators’

The government's proposed new gambling act is leaving the protection of gamblers largely in the hands of the gambling operators. Not a very good idea, according to gaming expert Sytze Kingma, lecturer at the VU Department of Organisation Sciences.The government wants to legalise internet gambling. It makes sense: hundreds of thousands of people are gambling on (illegal) foreign-based sites. Legalisation would make it easier to protect people from deception, fraud, whitewashing, match fixing and gambling addiction. It would also increase tax revenue.The problem is that the protection of players is not a simple matter, even where ordinary casinos and gambling machines are concerned. Most gambling operators are based abroad, the technology is untransparent and players hard to trace.QuestionableIt is questionable whether the cabinet is sufficiently aware of these problems. The protection of players as described in the legislation it is proposing, for example, puts a remarkable amount of trust in the internet gambling operators. In exchange for a licence they must undertake action to prevent punters from becoming addicted to gambling. But operators must also compete and make a profit.There is much we don’t know about internet gambling. How big is the risk of addiction? Is being addicted to a digital game the same as being addicted to a physical game? Are all internet games equally dangerous? No research has been done into this so we don’t know. Internet gambling is an activity that takes place in the home in front of a computer and internet gambling addicts rarely seek help.Nor are the government’s plans very ambitious. It proposes the legalisation of 80% of the internet gambling market, leaving 20% illegal and unsupervised. In Finland, which has a total ban on foreign sites, only 7% of the gambling market remains illegal.What would constitute a socially acceptable number of gambling addicts? The cabinet has plumped for 20,000, the same number as in 2011. But there are no guarantees. The main impetus to tackle addiction will have to come from gambling operators and addiction care professionals. Together they will have to formulate a plan to keep addiction in check.MeasuresThe policy to prevent gambling addiction also leaves something to be desired. Granted, internet gambling operators have to abide by detailed measures geared towards protecting players, from imposing a minimum age and warning players, to offering players the possibility to exclude themselves from a game.But these measures are mainly creating an illusion of protection. There is technology in place to detect problem gambling, as operators are at pains to point out – but the same technology is used first and foremost to stimulate playing.Duty of careIn the present projected set-up, gambling prevention will depend too much on what the gambling operators choose to do about it. Yes, they have a duty to protect players against themselves by giving them ‘an insight into their own gambling behaviour and inform them properly about the risks of the game’, but this is no more than an obligation to put in an effort. It would be much better to have a performance-related obligation in place. Those who are unable to show the effectiveness of their prevention measures will have to withdraw from the Dutch market.Even a fund to finance care for gambling addicts and research into addiction to which operators would contribute is not as good a plan as it might seem. As long as operators are not stimulated into putting in place extra prevention measures such a contribution would be no more than a buyoff.This article appeared earlier in Trouw  More >


‘The poor should benefit from lower interest rates too’

‘The poor should benefit from lower interest rates too’

People are paying crippling interest rates on their debts with banks and mail order companies. If the wealthy can persuade the government to lower the tax on wealth then the poor should benefit from lower interest rates too, writes Annemarie van Gaal.The Dutch are a frugal lot and for quite a while our savings have been a nice little earner for the state. For the last 15 years it has been assuming that the return on your savings is a nicely taxable 4%.No saver and hardly any investor has achieved this result in the last few years and even the supreme court called the taxed 4% return ‘an exorbitantly heavy burden on savers’.With a historically low interest rate and a negative interest rate looming on the horizon, the lobby started by the wealthy part of the nation looks as if it will be successful in convincing the government to change the tax on wealth to a more realistic level. No longer would wealth tax be a tax on ‘what could have been’ but a tax on returns that have actually materialised, a much fairer state of affairs.Far less easyThe wealthy know how to stand up for themselves. I want to talk about the people who have a far less easy time of it: families in debt, without any savings whatsoever. Filming a new series of the RLT4 programme Een dubbeltje op zijn kant (Penny-wise, DN), I once again find myself confronted with sad stories of people heavily in debt with banks, mail order companies and credit companies.Debt is expensive. Every family pays an average interest and cost of 15% to 25% on top of the amount owed. They may have accepted their bank’s generous offer of paying their debt in instalments using a credit card. It sounds pretty good, and it is for the banks, at an interest rate of 14%.OutstandingAdded to the yearly costs, this means another outstanding cost which can go up to as much as 25% of the amount owed. Mail order companies allow for payment in instalments but at Wehkamp, for instance, customers are looking at a 14% interest rate and a minimum of €8 paid into your personal ‘balance sheet account’.14% is outrageous of course, but it is within the confines of the law. Years ago credit lenders were allowed to put a top-up of up to 12% on the legal interest rate. The legal interest rate is at 2% at the moment so 14% is allowed and applied almost across the board.Over the topThat 12% may have been appropriate then but is now completely over the top, especially compared to what banks themselves pay to attract money or the interest rate they are giving to savers.If we lower the tax on wealth to a more realistic level, why can’t banks and mail order companies not adapt their interest rates to help people pay off their debts? Who will make the first move? Just see it as doing a good deed for the less well-off in our society.Annemarie van Gaal is an investor and entrepreneurThis article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


‘The Dutch government needs to do more cost benefit analyses’

‘The Dutch government needs to do more cost benefit analyses’

What Jesse Klaver, newly-appointed GroenLinks leader, calls ‘economism’ could well be the life-line of compassion in society instead of its nemesis, writes economist Mathijs Bouman.Lesson 1 in the Politician’s Handbook: create an enemy. Choose an element in society which will serve as a scapegoat. Provide people with a focus for their anger. Then promise to eliminate the problem.It’s not a lesson wasted on Jesse Klaver. During his first speech as the new leader of GroenLinks he revealed the party’s latest enemy: ‘economism’. Public debate in our society is dominated by it, says Klaver. Every aspect of our society is reduced to a simple cost and benefit calculation when all around us more important matters are pushed to the side lines. Justice, for instance, and sustainability. And, lest anyone forget, compassion.NihilismBeautiful words. At last here’s a party which promises to end the nihilism of the profit prophets, the efficiency preachers and the spreadsheet politicians. Down with the whiners about costs and benefits, long live compassion! This country has been ruled too long by bureaucratic bean counters whose favourite pastime is to torpedo great plans by coming up with uninspired arguments about viability and cost effectiveness. This dreary bookkeeper’s mentality is what ruined healthcare, destroyed art and changed schools into talent devouring factories.That is the perception. Now let’s have the truth. People who mind about costs and benefits are very few and far between in our government departments. Effectiveness is a paper tiger. Political interests will always prevail over economic arguments. Economism is sadly lacking in The Hague and that is why obscene amounts of money are being wasted.PoliticalPolitical, not economic, arguments convinced politicians to go ahead with the Betuwe railway line without looking into the little matter of a connection with the German railway system. It was politicians who dreamt up the expensive HSL tunnel under the empty fields in Zuid-Holland. No economist would have spent €11m on a train line sinking slowly into the muddy Dutch soil.Economists have warned for decades about the negative economic consequences of mortgage tax breaks, the poverty trap, an aging population, lack of investment in education and R&D, the failure to take environmental damage into account, obsolete labour market regulations and so on.Politicians do not make good listeners. If they take any measures at all, they usually come up with weak compromises which only address part of the problem. A bit more economism and a bit less ‘politicism’ would vastly improve policy-making.SubsidiesIn 2011, the audit office looked into the way the government evaluates subsidy schemes and it came up with some baffling results. The government spends around €6bn via 633 different subsidy regulations. Between 2005 and 2009, no more than 121 were evaluated. This is less than 20%.Most of the evaluations did not look at essential things, such as the effectiveness of the subsidy. Only 59 of the evaluations did, without much success. The audit office found only nine evaluations with a conclusion regarding effectiveness. In five cases effectiveness was deemed to be insufficient, and in four effectiveness was only partially sufficient. So of all the subsidies provided by the government we know that fewer than 1% are effective. About the rest no one has a clue.Tax cutsThe government not only doles out subsidies, it also tries to get things done via tax cuts. A lower tax on energy-saving cars and premium exemptions for small businesses are two examples. Every year the government spends €18.5bn on measures such as these. The audit office had a look at these as well.It turned out that fewer than half of the 86 tax measures in existence are evaluated for effectiveness. Of these, 28 were shown to be effective, a slightly better score than achieved by the subsidies although the government is still in the dark about whether over two-thirds of this tax expenditure is actually doing any good.If only more cost and benefit calculations were made in The Hague, of the simple kind that Klaver dislikes so much, we would have a more effective government and save a bit of money for policies, including the GroenLinks agenda. It’s economism that makes compassion affordable.This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


‘Five job killers are destroying employment in the Netherlands’

‘Five job killers are destroying employment in the Netherlands’

Five job killers are destroying employment in the Netherlands. Economists Willem Vermeend and Rick van de Ploeg take a look at ways of tackling them.According to figures out last week, the Dutch economy shows a 4% growth rate for the first quarter compared to the same period in 2014. A greater rate of investment, increased exports and greater consumer spending are fuelling this growth.At the same time, unemployment is hovering around the 7% mark. In spite of the plethora of measures set out in this cabinet’s Social Accord it shows no signs of going down.New jobsIn order to change this, new jobs are needed. Civil servant jobs and jobs at big companies are in decline and it’s the small and medium-sized businesses and start-ups who will have to step into the breach. But their efforts are being hindered by out-of-date social security regulations and tax and premium demands.This cabinet’s lack of foresight doesn’t help either: new jobs through digitalisation and new technologies will turn the labour market on its head but are hardly taken into consideration.Flex workThe rise of the new labour market, increasing international competition and turnover variability will induce employers to limit the number of fixed contracts. Expectations are that the so-called flexible layer will rise to 40% or even more. Many small businesses have already stopped hiring people on a fixed basis.More and more people will have to become self-employed. This country isn’t ready for a change like this and prime minister Mark Rutte's second cabinet is fighting a rear guard action with its Work and Social Security Act and its policy of trying to limit the number of self-employed.FailuresFailure is writ large in other areas as well. For instance, in matching education with labour market demand and promoting labour participation of the over-50s.According to the World Economic Forum, the Netherlands has plummeted from 4th to 8th place in the rankings for education, knowledge infrastructure and labour market participation. This is due mainly to the fact that the over-55s mainly work limited hours and the unemployment in this age group.Small businesses and start-upsIn order to promote employment, the Netherlands depends on small businesses and start-ups. But the climate for entrepreneurs is extremely poor. This kills off jobs and makes creating new ones very difficult. The main job killers are:1. High employers’ contributions which can mount up to around 30% of gross salaries.2. Sick pay for two years ( considered to be extreme internationally).3. Rigid fixed (collective) labour contracts which offer little room for tailor-made solutions.4. Government institutions causing a disproportionate administrative burden.5. Insufficient possibilities for business loans.Job killersIf employment is to grow, these five stumbling blocks will have to be removed first. Politicians will also have to guard against the introduction of new job killers, such as measures aimed at limiting the number of (badly needed) self-employed. Incomprehensibly, the state sees these people as an expense and potential candidates for fiscal cutbacks, completely ignoring the fact that they create their own work and pay taxes.Measures which limit their number will not only harm employment but will also generate less tax revenue for the state and bigger social security benefit pay outs. According to international research, increasing the national youth wage is another job killer. Those in favour have good arguments but should be honest enough to admit there will be fewer jobs available for youngsters. A much better solution would be to ease the cost pressure on youth wages so gross wages go up.This article appeared earlier in the Financiële Telegraaf  More >


‘Moralising about drug use doesn’t help, but neither does trivialising the problems’

‘Moralising about drug use doesn’t help, but neither does trivialising the problems’

It is not a good idea to be too cavalier - or moralistic - about drug use, write Ninette van Hasselt, Ferry Goossens and Margriet van Laar, who all work for the Trimbos addiction centre in Amsterdam.The world seems to be divided into two camps where drugs are concerned: the frivolous (what harm can it do) and the moralistic (using drugs is very, very bad). Recently, Loes Reijmer used an article in the Volkskrant to turn on the latter. Her arguments made sense but were a little bit one-sided. Her stance is that a drugs policy based on fact, not moral prejudice, will lead to regulation of xtc and a reduction in the problems caused by this drug. Can it be that simple?Reijmer supports her argument for legalising xtc with a study by the public health institute RIVM in which a list of drugs is drawn up according to harmfulness. Xtc is relatively low on the list. That doesn’t mean it is a harmless substance. The risk of death from xtc is high enough not to allow the drug to be used as medication very easily.LogicFrom this perspective legalisation would not be very logical. What is more, the RIVM study is based on research done into pills with a far lower dose of the mdma active ingredient than we are seeing now. The increased dosage has led to a significant increase in the number of xtc-induced health problems. The question is where on the list xtc would be in 2015. The frivolous will say alcohol still accounts for more health problems. But is that an argument to legalise xtc as well?The threshold for using a substance is lower when that substance is legally available. It is likely that legalisation will lead to increased use and more potential incidents: legal xtc is not safe xtc either. It is not only the ‘polluted’ pills or pills with a high dosage of mdma which determine the risk, but also the circumstances in which the drug is taken and the individual sensitivity of the user.InformationReijmers states that only in a regularised market can users be properly informed and that parents are able to have an effective dialogue with their children about drugs.This is a remarkable supposition. The Dutch government facilitates independent websites and initiatives which inform people about the risks of drug-taking and ways to minimise these risks. These reach a large audience, although it could be larger. But no other country in the world provides its citizens with such comprehensive, non-moralising information on drugs.WarningsVia drug rehabilitation centres, the Dutch government also gives out warnings when dangerous pills are in circulation. There is a monitoring system in place which offers users the opportunity to have their xtc tested. This unique system is now slowly gaining ground in other countries.It is true to say that parents have not always been served well where information is concerned and more will be done to enable parents to talk to their children about xtc, to debunk myths about drugs for moralistic parents and to provide information about the risks for frivolous ones. Moralism doesn’t get us anywhere but neither does trivialising the problems.This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


‘Councils are wasting public money with generous redundancy packages’

‘Councils are wasting public money with generous redundancy packages’

Local councils are wasting public money by giving over-generous and discriminatory severance packages to former staff, writes entrepreneur Annemarie van GaalLast week the Financieele Dagblad reported that the province of Zeeland may be out of pocket to the tune of several million euros because former employees of the provincial civil service are demanding a better severance deal and have gone to court to get it.I find that shocking for more than one reason. In 2012, the provincial authorities decided to cut down their permanent staff from 650 to 500 because they could do without the 150. Apparently the organisation had been carrying a quarter of its staff as surplus weight.That’s shock number one. At a time when companies are struggling and have to make the difficult decision to let staff go, the provincial authorities opted against ‘compulsory redundancies’ in favour of offering employees aged 57 or over to sit at home with 70% to 80% of their salaries until their pensions kick in.At 57 that will be at least ten years. That’s shock number two. It is government policy to get older workers back to work as quickly as possible but clearly the province prefers to write them off by paying them an exorbitant amount of money for sitting at home.Doing nothingSo 160 employees on an average income of around €66,000 are now receiving a gross income of €50,000 a month and are doing precisely nothing in return. Had they gone down the normal route they would have collected a €35,000 maximum for a period of two to three years after which they would have been on welfare benefits.That is what every Tom, Dick and Harry in this country gets but not the former employees of the provincial authorities of Zeeland. Are they better than everyone else? This sends out a wrong signal.Several former employees are now going to court: they have found out that two former directors demanded - and got - not 70% or even 80% of their previous salary but a whopping 90%. Shock number three.Savings?We have had the banks who are firing people while doling out bonuses to the top brass at the same time, but it’s as nothing compared to the discrimination practised by the provincial authorities.But here’s the last and biggest shock: ‘The scheme will save the province several million euros,’ the Zeeland provincial board claimed. The chairwoman of the board, who is responsible for the scheme, is now enjoying her pension in the knowledge that she has prevented the province from spending millions.Offloading 160 redundant workers may bring in €2-3m a year but if you are spending €8m a year on redundancy schemes then that is not saving public money but wasting it. And that is the biggest shock of all.Annemarie van Gaal is an investor and entrepreneur.  More >


‘Ban arrests of peaceful demonstrators’

‘Ban arrests of peaceful demonstrators’

Lawyer Willem Jebbink represents Abulkasim al-Jaberi, the man who was arrested recently for shouting 'Fuck the king’, thereby committing lese majesty, which is still a punishable offence in the Netherlands. Jebbink thinks his arrest flies in the face of civil liberty.The prosecution of my client Abulkasim al-Jaberi for insulting the king and queen has generated much discussion about the archaic law that penalises lese majesty, and rightly so. We should ask ourselves if such a law is still relevant, especially since the criminal code already contains a ‘normal’ section on defamation.Civil libertyHowever, the most important argument in Mr al-Jaberi’s case concerns civil liberty. He demonstrated with the approval of the mayor, but was nevertheless incarcerated by the police who decided he committed the offence of lese majesty. His detention reflects the quality of the state of law in this country where freedom of demonstration is concerned, and we can’t but conclude that it is in a very poor state indeed.What happened to Mr Al-Jaberi also happened to a woman named Joanna during the coronation celebrations. She had permission to make her anti-royalist feeling known on Dam square but when she did so peaceably, the police intervened all the same. In doing so, the police waived the authority of the only person who has a decisive say in these matters: the mayor.This is cause for concern because it jeopardises the personal freedom of citizens. It also demonstrates that apparently police officers do not have sufficient knowledge of the law to act according to its edicts.It looks as if the agenda of the police is one of ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’. And  that seems to be enough to waive the right to freedom of demonstration. Those who want to express their opinions are arrested forthwith and silenced, even when the arrest turns out to have been wrongful. Police officials don’t care what the mayor says and consequently do whatever they think necessary to present a ‘clean’ Dam square to the eyes of the international press.SinterklaasSomething similar happened last year during the welcoming ceremony for Sinterklaas in Gouda.The European court for human rights says authorities should be tolerant in the face of peaceful demonstrations, even when demonstrators don’t comply to the letter with the legal restrictions. The basis of this legislation is one of the pillars of a free, democratic society: citizens must be able to voice their opinions, especially if they do so in a peaceful manner.That is exactly what dozens of demonstrators did in Gouda: voice a peaceful protest against the figure of Black Pete. When the police intervened, what came across was the image of a couple of people spoiling a children’s party. The result, once again, was the incarceration of citizens who wanted to have their say. Hours later, when the demonstrators were finally released, they had the pleasure of listening to their uninformed prime minister saying that he was firmly in the children’s party camp.With one fell swoop ‘the prime minister of every Dutch citizen’ side-lined people who thought differently, among whom many with a different cultural background.International attentionMeanwhile, thanks to the prosecution of Mr Al-Jaberi, the Black Pete discussion has been resuscitated in the international press: the liberal Dutch are applying the full force of the law against demonstrators who are peacefully objecting to the ridiculing of people of colour. A bad press abroad for the freedom of opinion in this country, this is the backlash of the ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ policy of the police.The Netherlands is not used to mainstream, ‘tough’ public debates. The culture of consensus rules. Talk shows feature opinion makers who form public opinion, not people who express awkward opinions. People who provoke are ‘trouble makers’ and run the risk of arrest at demonstrations.A ban on arrests for alleged offences of expression and peaceful demonstrations might be a good way of reining in the police. Or to use the language of the demonstrators: fuck repression.Willem Jebbink is a lawyer.This column appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


‘A second opinion court to replace court verdict appeals’

‘A second opinion court to replace court verdict appeals’

Dutch judges are buckling under a heavy workload; perhaps it’s time to change the system, writes entrepreneur Annemarie van Gaal.The Netherlands is a fine country, with a fine justice system. We need to protect and nurture this system. But former Supreme Court president Geert Corstens has been warning for some time now that our judges are buckling under an increasingly heavy workload brought about by cutbacks.That makes sense, but the system itself is also to blame. In this country people on low incomes can endlessly go to court about a dispute about visiting rights involving an ex-partner’s dog or the neighbour’s pigeon house extension. If you don’t earn very much an appeal comes cheap. So there’s everything to gain and hardly anything to lose.Top of the listAccording to recent findings from the European Commission for the Efficiency for Justice, the Netherlands heads the European list not only for the number of subsidised court cases but the amount of money claimants receive in support.Of course, the cost of a case are not limited to this support. They include such overheads as the housing of the court, the coordination of sessions, and the judges who have to read all the documents, listen to counter pleas and decide the case. The real cost is thousands of euros.Taking into account the heavy workload of judges, we should perhaps not look to fewer cutbacks but to a change in the judicial system.SubstituteHow about this: suppose we substitute the appeal route for relatively simple cases with a second opinion. Defaulters, the neighbours’ very loud and irritating cockerel or labour law cases will all be dealt with by second opinion which will be pronounced by a judge working from home.Female judges who wish to stop work temporarily to spend time with their small children would be ideal for the job. They can study the files at home and proffer a second opinion, and the whole appeal rigmarole can be avoided.The advantage would be threefold. Judges will be freed up to deal with cases that are really important. Female judges who usually spend a fair number of years at home following the birth of children can keep in touch with judicial practice and so find it easier to go back to work full time. Costs will go down and workloads will become lighter.Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor.  More >