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


Tackling drugs requires harm reduction, not repression

Tackling drugs requires harm reduction, not repression

In April, the United Nations is meeting to discuss the worldwide policy on drugs. Junior health minister Martin van Rijn must be urged to forge a different approach, write Dutch MPs Vera Bergkamp (D66) and Marith Volp (Labour).A war on drugs is no longer compatible with modern times. Big words and repression should be replaced with measures focusing on limiting health risks. Prevention, information and care are the areas international drug policy should be concentrating on. Now that the Netherlands holds the presidency of the EU and junior health minister Martin van Rijn will soon attend a special meeting of the United nations, it is time to promote a different approach to drugs.In April this year the United Nations is organising the third United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem. During this meeting countries will discuss the measures included in the worldwide policy on drugs. In 1998 the meeting agreed on a roadmap to eliminate drugs: the so-called war on drugs.Nearly two decades on drugs are still with us and that is hardly surprising. It is impossible to eliminate drugs altogether. And so the question we need to ask is whether the war on drugs, with its emphasis on criminalising drug users, is effective.HealthD66 and the Labour Party prefer to focus on limiting the effects of drugs on health. For that, a new approach to an international drugs policy is necessary. Ditch the strong language and concentrate on what scientists call ‘harm reduction’, i.e. limiting the damage drugs do.The present policy on drugs has an enormous social impact. In many countries drug users are regarded as criminals and for this reason many go without the necessary (medical) help.Drug users who inject are still 28 times more likely to become infected with hiv but only 1 in 10 infected drug users receives medication. Youngsters on drugs are often left to deal with things themselves for lack of a specific policy on the prevention of drug use.Another aspect is the damage caused to the environment by drug production. And all the while poverty and feelings of hopelessness drive people into the arms of the big drug syndicates and organised crime.ProgressiveThe Dutch presidency of the EU and the recent shift in drugs policy in the United States, where several states are introducing progressive drugs policies, open the door to a better common approach. The forthcoming UNGASS conference provides the ideal opportunity to break the current impasse. Junior minister Van Rijn, as the coordinating government representative, would do well to take the lead in making this policy change happen.We propose that 10% of the current drugs policy budget is invested in limiting the effects on health. This money should not only be used to treat addicts but also to train substance abuse social workers.Money is also needed to fund programmes for youngsters. In Eastern Europe, 30% of users start using drugs before the age of 15. Apart from providing medical help steps also need to be taken to improve these youngsters’ living conditions.We ask the junior minister to highlight the vulnerability of those who are at risk of abuse as a result of the present drugs policy. Why not use micro financing to help make people less dependent on criminal organisations or drug syndicates? The time has come to introduce a new, realistic vision aimed at health instead of repression.This article was published earlier in Trouw  More >


The European Union is ignoring the Dutch referendum on Ukraine

The European Union is ignoring the Dutch referendum on Ukraine

Ukraine and Brussels are busy implementing their treaty of association, even though it has not been fully ratified. The Dutch referendum on the treaty is being sidelined, write campaigners Thierry Baudet and Erik De Vlieger.We are frankly astonished at just how the European Union is ignoring the upcoming referendum in the Netherlands. Never before has there been such a massive reaction against a proposed expansion of the European Union: nearly half a million people in the Netherlands supported the GeenPeil coalition of concerned citizens, websites and think tanks. And never before has it been swept under the carpet so brazenly.  At this moment the polls show that some 75% of voters would vote ‘no’.The commission simply issued a statement to the press on December 31 saying the entire association treaty would become operational from January 1. ‘On 1 January 2016, the European Union (EU) and Ukraine started applying the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (..) the rest of the Association Agreement has already been in force since November 2014.’RatificationEarlier, Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko took to Twitter to say ‘the Brussels parliament ratified the association accord. All EU countries have now completed the ratification process.’When he visited the Netherlands he claimed – at a joint press conference with Rutte: ‘The referendum won’t block this association treaty.’ The Dutch prime minister refrained from comment.Only the fact that GeenPeil gathered enough signatures to initiate a referendum effectively stopped the Netherlands from ratifying the treaty.We, the citizens of one of the oldest democracies in the world, have still to approve the agreement. Foreign minister Bert Koenders said it himself in October 2015 in his reply to a number of parliamentary questions. He added: ‘The treaty can only become operational if all parties ratify the it.’ConsultativeMeanwhile, the government is blithely adopting the treaty. Agreed, the referendum is consultative and therefore non-binding. Nevertheless, the letter and spirit of the referendum law suggest that a possible negative outcome must be given serious consideration by the Dutch state. The government has manoeuvred itself into a position in which it is unable to do so. So suppose it’s a ‘no’ vote - could the Netherlands still opt out?This policy flouts every democratic principle. It flouts common sense. And it flouts the consultative referendum law which also states that no law can become operational while a referendum about it is being held.The fact that the European train is thundering on regardless clearly shows that the institutions in Brussels regard their democratic roots as museum pieces - or worse still, as mere decoration.The final say in the European decision-making process hasn’t belonged to the citizens for a long time. The consultation of the people is becoming a farce, a democratic shadow play, just for show. We think that is wrong.DemandsThat is why we demand the Dutch state:1 Stop the implementation of the association accord as of now until the Dutch citizens have voted.2 Explain, in its capacity as EU president, to the EU and Ukraine that the Netherlands has not ratified the treaty – in spite of what Poroshenko says.3 Formally request the EU and Ukraine to halt the implementation of the association accord out of respect for the Dutch democracy until the results of the April 6 referendum are in.4 Outline all legal and political possibilities in case the people vote ‘no’ and parliament asks the government to respect the vote;If the Dutch government does not respond satisfactorily to these demands we will initiate summary proceedings to subpoena the Dutch state and use the legal route to make sure the democratic rights of Dutch citizens are respected.Thierry Baudet is a writer and Erik de Vlieger an entrepreneur. Both were involved in the initiative to call a referendum about Dutch support for the treaty between the EU and Ukraine. This column was first published in the Volkskrant.  More >


Three ways Dutch diplomacy is different

As holders of the EU presidency for the first half of 2016, the Dutch have a chance to show off their unique sense of diplomacy on sensitive topics like immigration and refugees. So what should we expect, asks Greg Shapiro?While the Dutch are known for being tolerant, that doesn’t mean they’re not still judgmental as hell. To prepare yourself for Dutch leadership, here are three ways Dutch diplomacy is different.1) HonestyThe Dutch pride themselves on being open and direct - sometimes at the expense of politeness, or tact, or even diplomacy.I was once introducing my mother – an American - to a group of Dutch people and someone commented on her outfit. The comment wasn’t ‘nice outfit,’ but rather: 'It’s too bad American clothes are so baggy. But of course that’s because you are all so overweight.' This Is the Dutch way of saying ‘welcome.’2) ChauvinismOr, it’s actually the lack of chauvinism. The Dutch seem to be allergic to anything resembling bragging. When dealing wth the Dutch, it’s important to ‘doe normaal.’ Just act normal. Be yourself. And it’s important NOT to do ‘opscheppen’ or ‘piling it on.’ The Dutch are known for their belief in equality. Specifically, if you start talking yourself up or acting bigger than everyone else, they’ll cut you off at the knees.For example, in Dutch meetings, it is NOT okay to say ‘My idea is great!’ However - remembering Point 1) - if you say ‘Your idea is stupid’ that’s OK! And why stop there? As one Dutch meeting partner once said to a colleague: ‘Your idea is stupid. And your beard looks like you have pubic hair on your face.’3) Honesty plus Dutch courageWhen Dutch honesty is mixed with ‘Dutch Courage’ (alcohol), it’s like a truth serum that makes them share every single observation and judgment that comes into their head, no matter how inappropriate.Frequently after a show, I’ll have someone come up and say:
 ‘I saw you onstage! You were not very funny. You’re so loud! Such an American thing. I think it’s to hide the fact you’re so ignorant… That means stupid. Wow, you look angry now. Are you going to shoot me with your gun? Bang! Bang!’In America there’s the phrase ‘Never discuss politics in mixed company.’ In the Netherlands, expect uninvited political commentary in the first two minutes of your conversation.Even right after September 11, I’d have Dutch guys come up to me and say: ’You know America had it coming, right? You funded the Saudis. You armed the Afghans. You should have seen it coming.’ At the time, I wanted to punch the guy. But in retrospect, I wish there had been more drunk Dutch guys in the Bush White House.For more insights on how Dutch diplomacy is different, watch Greg Shapiro’s United States of Europe. Greg Shapiro is the author of 'How to Be Orange’ and the upcoming ‘How to Be Dutch: the Quiz.’  More >


‘The freelancer is a weed to be exterminated’

The self-employed are a weed that must be exterminated as soon as possible and the Christian Democrats have found a way of doing so, writes economist Mathijs Bouman.Employers and workers are currently involved in a top-level debate about the scourge of our times: the self-employed or zzp’er. This pernicious weed is threatening to stifle everything trade unions and employers’ organisations have built together.The zzp'er is a duplicitous so-and-so who puts on his entrepreneurial hat when it suits him only to morph into an employee when that is more convenient. He won’t pay WW (unemployment) or WIA (long-term disability) premiums but insists on a fat tax break nevertheless. He dodges the terms of the collective labour agreement but feels entitled to the funds set aside for training in his sector.He uses one hand to grab whatever he thinks the tax office should give him while steering his heavily subsidised Mitsubishi Outlander with the other. Zzp’ers are scroungers who are undermining the solidarity which is keeping our country afloat.Hostage-takersAs if that weren’t enough, they are also holding the cabinet hostage. To the VVD, the zzp’er presents himself as a tough entrepreneur capable of looking after himself. A few doors down, at the offices of the PvdA, he plays the down-trodden wage slave who has no social rights at all. The confusion caused by this has thrown the cabinet into total policy paralysis. The zzp’er looks on and smiles.But there is hope for the Netherlands yet. Last week the Financieele Dagblad reported that Sybrand Buma has come up with a cunning plan. The CDA leader wants to kill two birds with one stone and tackle both the tax break for zzp’ers and the sick pay scheme for workers.Scrapping the tax break would be good news for workers who would no longer face competition from collective labour agreement dodgers. Scrapping the current sick pay scheme would be good for employers who would see a reduction in labour costs.Then employers’ and unions will meet in a conference room at the premises of the government advisory body SER  (zzp’ers are not invited) and before you can say ‘weed killer’ an agreement will be made.BrilliantIt’s brilliant in its simplicity. A simple exchange of interests prevents SER from having to worry too much about the future of the Dutch labour market, social security reforms or a modern labour contract.In 2010, when SER was pondering the pesky matter of zzp’ers in a report, it had already concluded that there was no cause for a fundamental rethink of labour relations, the tax system and the social system. The collective sigh of relief when SER penned that sentence could be heard throughout the polder.Let’s be perfectly clear about this: the rise of the zzp’er is definitely not a sign that labour market institutions need modernisation. Everything can remain as it was. If we simply scrap the tax break for zzp’ers and make them pay for a couple of compulsory insurances, the weeds will die all by themselves and then the polder garden will be neat and tidy once again.Mathijs Bouman is a self-employed journalist, who thinks irony is a great stylistic device.This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Dutch EU presidency: will Rutte show some guts?

Dutch EU presidency: will Rutte show some guts?

Will the Dutch presidency of the EU make a difference? D66 leader Alexander Pechtold and D66's parliamentary spokesperson on Europe Kees Verhoeven hope it will. But Rutte, they say, will have to show some guts.Sweden and Denmark are introducing passport controls which means open borders within the Schengen area are closing again. Poland adopted a media law which prevents public broadcasters from criticising the government. And if the EU doesn’t accept the four demands made by British prime minister David Cameron he will throw his weight behind a campaign for a Brexit at home. These are just some of the nationalistic tendencies shown by governments in the face of growing euro scepticism.It’s understandable when problems are not being solved. D66 wants to keep things simple: national governments tackle their own problems and problems which transgress borders must be dealt with on a European level. But government leaders have been reluctant to hand over national responsibilities.Even after the Paris attacks, the member states failed to agree on a compulsory sharing of information by their intelligence and security services. And even if far-reaching decisions are being made, their execution is a mess. Europe agreed to divide 160,000 refugees over the member states. Fewer than a thousand, i.e. less than 1%, have been accommodated so far.ImpotenceGovernments are opting for impotence and it is tearing Europe apart. In order to preserve both the value and the values of a united Europe we must do our utmost to keep it intact. That is the main brief for the Netherlands now that it holds the EU presidency for the next six months.Prime minister Mark Rutte will have his work cut out. Never a fan of ideologies, he leads a divided cabinet with his customary mix of pragmatism and optimism. That may work for the Netherlands but in order to turn the European tide something else is needed: guts.It takes guts to go for a European way of tackling problems that transgress borders. It takes guts to make Europe stronger by handing over national competencies. It takes guts to make a stand against the populism of the polls and explain decisions to the voters in a way that is straightforward and honest.The next six months will show if this country has guts. And as the Netherlands is a small trading nation dependent on cooperation, open borders and a single market, what is good for Europe is good for us.AgreementsWhat should the Netherlands be aiming for in the next months? Firstly, it should insist member states honour the agreements made about migration. In order to make the member states do what they promised - take in their quota of refugees and support Turkey and Lebanon financially – the Netherlands must lead by example. Wilders will blow his top but in this case it’s a matter of oncoming traffic showing us the way to go.Secondly, the Netherlands must initiate the creation of proper European border guard teams. Parliament has rejected three D66 proposals to this effect already. Many member states are uncomfortable handing over border control responsibility. The same is true about sharing intelligence information. This is not surprising in itself, but clinging on to a semblance of sovereignty will do nothing to solve the problems all member states are facing and neither will it mitigate people’s perfectly justified concerns.Energy importsThirdly, the Netherlands must press for a European Energy Union. Yes, that means countries relinquish their national energy policy for a common energy grid. This will result in savings of €40bn and wider choice for European consumers. The European Union imports €400bn worth of energy which makes it the biggest energy importer in the world. Let’s harness that buying power and make ourselves less dependent on Russia and Saudi Arabia.Fourthly, the Netherlands should step in when member states fail to honour their commitments of treaties. The financial crisis has made it very clear how painful it is to be called to order. Just ask the Greeks.But the core values of the European Union, such as freedom of the press and equal treatment, justify such an unprecedented step. The Netherlands must support the European Commission to monitor Poland and its baffling media law. And prime minister Rutte will have to explain to his friend and colleague Cameron that Britain is going too far in its intention to exclude migrants from various social benefits.Finally, all this presupposes a radical reform of the present budget system. A European budget written in stone for seven years is not going to have any margin for change when change is needed. Will the Netherlands have the guts to build bridges in Europe and bring about solutions? Or will it falter in the face of the rising neo-nationalism and put Europe in reverse? It is up to prime minister Rutte.Alexander Pechtold is the leader of the Liberal Democratic party D66. Kees Verhoeven is an MP and the party's spokesman on Europe. This column was first published in the NRC.  More >


Three ways Dutch European summits are different

Three ways Dutch European summits are different

As hosts of the EU Presidency for the first half of 2016, the Dutch have already welcomed European leaders with skimpy blocks of cheese. And if the Dutch management style is anything like the catering, the EU may be in for another rude surprise. Greg Shapiro outlines three reasons why Dutch summit meetings are different.1) How can you tell who’s in charge of a Dutch meeting?A – The one who’s most dominant. B - The one with the most expensive suit. C – The one who arrives by bike.ANSWER: CMost countries are rather hierarchical: the boss says it; you do it. Not the Dutch. Like their topography, Dutch management culture is flat as a pannekoek. Remember when the Dutch were occupied by the Germans, the French, the Spanish? No? Well the Dutch do. Ever since they revolted against the Spanish Catholics in the 1500’s, the Dutch don’t like taking orders from anyone. This still applies in many Dutch restaurants.2) Which quote best sums up Dutch meetings?A – ’Since the Dutch are non-hierarchical, everyone gets to debate everything.’ B – ‘For most cultures, a decision is the end of the discussion. For the Dutch it’s just the beginning.’ C - ‘I know what we agreed at the meeting, but I had some new thoughts about the meeting, so I think we should have another meeting about the meeting.’ANSWER: ALL OF THE ABOVE.European meetings sometimes end with ‘let’s agree to disagree.’ Dutch meetings are more like ‘let’s DISAGREE, to agree.’ There’s a phrase to describe Dutch meetings: Iedereen moet z’n plasje erover doen. Or: ‘everyone gets a chance to piss on your idea.’ It’s one thing for Brussels to have Manneke Pis; it’s another to act it out at every meeting.3) Which phrase best describes the relationship of Dutch meetings to Brussels meetings?A – Dutch meetings are short; Brussels meetings are long. B – Dutch meetings are from Mars; Brussels meetings are from Venus. C – Dutch meetings are gezellig; Brussels meetings are blasé.ANSWER: BAll summit meetings are a bit like sex. You have to seduce your negotiating partner. In that sense, Brussels meetings are more women-friendly:‘How was your journey? How are you feeling? Would you like some warm food? Perhaps some wine? A conference room? Non! No one’s thinking about that right now. Have a chocolat. What’s the rush? Tell me, what’s on your mind? “Business,” you say? Oui, oui! Let me take you to my conference room…’On the other hand, Dutch meetings are like foreplay for men: 'Here’s some coffee. Let’s get to business! Business! Business! (cheese sandwich) Business! Ahh… That was good business. Want a cigarette? The smoking area is outside. Doei!'For more insights on how Dutch Summits are different, watch Greg Shapiro’s United States of Europe. Greg Shapiro is the author of 'How to Be Orange’ and the upcoming ‘How to Be Dutch: the Quiz.’  More >


Robots are not going to steal jobs, they keep economists in work

Robots are not going to steal jobs, they keep economists in work

Economists aren't as gormless about robotisation as they used to be, writes economist Mathijs Bouman.Robots are not going to steal jobs, they are providing one for economists. After seven years of doom and gloom many economists are gagging for a subject which is not apocalyptic. Recession and unemployment do not put a spring in our step but robots do. It’s a lovely subject and there’s something for everyone: growth, productivity, distribution of income and the relationship between labour and capital. Economists, take your pick.That is why conferences on robots, which used to be all about the technology, are now frequently attended by economists. I went to one in Veldhoven last summer. On stage economists chatted happily about the pros and cons of robotics. The techno geeks in the audience looked crestfallen. What were they on about? One of them couldn’t restrain himself and called out in a German accent: ‘You don’t have a clue what a robot is!’ to the audible delight of the rest of the audience.Perhaps he was right. Economists don’t know much about technology. That is why they tend to underestimate the problems surrounding the development and implementation of robots and overestimate the rate at which the technology is progressing.But economists learn fast. Last month, two comprehensive studies into the economics of robot in the Netherlands were published. The scientific council for government policy WRR published ‘Robot de baas’ (Mastering the robot or The robot as master). There’s also ‘De match tussen man and machine’ published by the Dutch economists' association KvS, which includes a contribution by yours truly.Apart from the fact that both publications have ambiguous titles they also share a number of conclusions. The robots are coming and no one is going to stop them. But we won’t all lose our jobs. The developments will, however, impact on labour but not so quickly that society won’t have a chance to prepare for what will be a significant change. And if we’re smart about it robots will increase prosperity.There is reason for optimism but we can’t lean back and relax. There’s work to do. Education needs to be brought up to speed, with a clear focus on creativity and social skills. That is where man has the edge on the machine.I’m not going to give you a resumé of the reports. You can read them yourself. I recommend you pay close attention to a contribution by ING economist Marieke Bloem in the KvS book.She states that we should stop talking about ‘robots’. The technological changes will encompass much more than the mechanical men who come to steal our jobs. New technology won’t just change production it will change the products themselves, the needs of consumers and the markets where products and services are sold. See? Economists come in useful after all.This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


How much are we prepared to pay for drugs that fight cancer?

How much are we prepared to pay for drugs that fight cancer?

Trendwatcher Farid Tabarki wants politicians to decide what norms should govern the availability of life-extending cancer drugs.For sentient beings, people can be very illogical at times. I myself am a good example. For some months now I have been monitoring a stain on my ceiling.It’s growing, although no drops have fallen as yet. But calling in someone to repair what is undoubtedly a leak is still a step too far.DilemmaThe treatment for cancer, the fear of modern, aging man ( a third of us will get it in some form), is subject to a similar dilemma. In a way both could be considered first world problems: the fact that you have a roof over your head forces you to get to grips with it leaking, while the fact that you will probably reach a fairly advanced age forces you to take into account that you might get cancer. This in itself is good news, and it gets better.According to René Bernards of the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital, individually adapted medication will be key in turning cancer into a chronic disease instead of a deadly one within 20 years. It will be expensive. But how deep is society prepared to dig to make it happen?The committee which recommends changes to the basic health insurance policy raised the alarm the other week. It said Pertuzumab, a drug used for the treatment of breast cancer, is too expensive. Women may gain an extra 16 months of life but the costs are too high. The determining factor is price per quality-adjusted life year (QALY), or the time gained measured against quality of life.AffordablePertuzumab comes in at €150,000 per QALY, which is three times the norm in Great Britain. In the Netherlands there is no hard and fast cap on cost per QALY but a recent Dutch report speaks volumes: the Dutch see €50,000 per QALY as affordable.While that would be too much to pay to get my roof fixed,  I feel my health is worth the price.It’s time that political parties came up with a norm because that is something I would hate to leave to insurers or doctors, who, I’m sure, would rather not play arbiter themselves. Fortunately Dr Bernards is not sitting on his hands. He recently told television chat show De Wereld Draait Door he is going to manufacture cancer fighting drugs himself. I hope that means prices can come down!This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Change in the Netherlands is s-l-o-w

Change in the Netherlands is s-l-o-w

Shifts in official policy in the Netherlands take a long time but when a decision is finally made, it is not going to change, writes economist Mathijs Bouman.Change in the Netherlands is slow and sluggish. The process usually starts with a warning from experts that a certain situation could become untenable. It’s a phase that can last years. Then, slowly, the realisation takes hold that something should be done. The SER publishes a report and then the unions and employers lumber into action.They become deadlocked in ever-lasting negotiations. Every once in a while someone gets upset, organises a demonstration and leaves the negotiating table in a huff. But he will always return to the other barons and together they hammer out half a deal after which the politicians take over.The politicians wait for the elections so they can turn the accord into a policy during the cabinet formation. Cue some major concessions to iron out the differences and they’re on their way. After a couple of angry motions by MPs and some grumblings from the Senate, at long last we have a policy change.CompromiseIt’s an agonisingly slow process but it does have one advantage: the decision is set in stone. Everyone has put his oar in so a decision is irrevocable. It may be slow but it’s steady.Take the pension age hike. At the beginning of the nineties economists pointed at the aging population and said we needed to work longer. Everyone chewed on this for the next 20 years but in the end even the social conservatives of the SP and the PVV agreed to the hike. The PVV succumbed in 2010 when it supported the VVD-CDA cabinet and the SP in 2012 when a CPB report showed it too wanted to increase the pension age to 67.Two consecutive cabinets have now decided to increase the pension age. Both chambers have agreed to it. The consensus model has done it again – albeit even more slowly than usual.So forget the FNV’s call for a new early retirement plan. Ignore the false arguments which claim this will mean jobs for young people. Don’t pay attention to the polls that say the Dutch want to work fewer years. And don’t listen to the SP and PVV politicians who pretend to be in favour of lowering the pension age again.We are going to work longer. That’s a fact. It’s a decision, set in stone. No one is going to turn back the clock, not the FNV, not the SP and certainly not the PVV, no matter what they say. Everyone knows that a higher pension age is logical, reasonable and necessary.This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   More >


Housing students and start-ups: home is where the bath is

The Netherlands wants to encourage start-ups, keep its international students and be a magnet for global talent. But we seem to be incapable of coming up with a solution to the shortage of housing for people on lower incomes, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe.One of the landmarks of being a parent is the day the last of your fledglings has flown. I’m not talking about the practically obligatory travelling in South America or Asia, but the bags and boxes in the hall which say your baby is off to college or university and, basically, won’t be coming back.It’s the time when you can finally pack up of those old mugs and plates you’ve been keeping for the kids, dig out the wrong coloured towels and start thinking about what you will do, one day, with their old room.No bathWe got used to the new routine pretty quickly and look forward to our children’s visits, which consist of spending long periods in the bath – no bath at the student house – and eating take-aways in front of the telly. Student houses, in Holland at least, seem to be very strict about sit-down dinners at 7pm.Life rumbles on like this for a few years – more old bits of furniture head for Delft or Leiden – and then that awful day comes. Their degree course is coming to an end and they mention moving back in. Do not be flattered that they miss your cooking and your collection of bathroom lotions and potions. It’s just that, in the Netherlands, they don’t really have a choice. There is, in Amsterdam at least, no alternative.Scarcely a day goes by without housing and house prices being in the news in one way or another. And rental property for students, ex-students and all those youngsters working for start-ups – the ones the government is so keen to encourage – is non-existent, unless they are earning the sort of salary their parents are making.Low earnersDutch housing policy has for decades been skewed in favour of low earners and has created a generation of older tenants who have nice salaries but never moved from their cheap flat because no one ever asked them to. Today, 600,000 people are living in rent-controlled property that technically they earn too much to live in.The government has been trying to tackle this by allowing landlords to whack up the rents for people earning more than the rent-controlled threshold of €34,000 in the hope they will move out. But, so far, it has not worked. And why would you move when you’d be swapping your cosy little apartment that costs you no more than €710 a month for a cosy little apartment costing at least €1,000?The non-rent-controlled sector is, of course, an option. But what ex-student can afford to pay €1,000 a month for a tiny flat with one bedroom? Housing agencies and institutional investors frown on groups of youngsters so they can’t even share with a friend to pay the bills. Nor can they buy a place, unless they have rich parents who can help, because they have no savings and don’t meet official income requirements. So the students and the ex-students and the youngsters starting out on their career ladder are stuck.Some housing corporations and investors are waking up to the problem. Rochdale, for example, has devised a contract allowing a group of friends to share without meeting high salary expectations. Other initiatives like The Student Hotel offer a stop-gap for international students on generous grants and young professionals on short-term contracts, but are out of the financial reach of most Dutch students and people on minimum incomes.Single person unitsThe government has launched an initiative to transform existing buildings, mainly surplus offices, into what it calls ‘residential units’. And Amsterdam is busy encouraging housing corporations and developers to build mini-homes for singles. One project just launched involves building hundreds of single person units of around 20 square metres in the west of the city.But rather than focus on building ever-smaller homes for single people, why not build homes with four or five bedrooms instead. They can be lived in by a group of friends, by students, by families and, when the population demographics change, by a group of elderly people with live-in carers.After all, in most countries, flat sharing when you are a student or starting out in your professional life is the norm. Anything, surely, is better than coming home to mum.A longer version of this column first appeared in the Xpat Journal  More >