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


Will the Dutch come clean on their murky tax deals? I should coco

Will the Dutch come clean on their murky tax deals? I should coco

What’s the easiest way to upset a Dutch finance official? Call his country a tax haven, says journalist Gordon Darroch. Five years ago the Obama administration named the Netherlands as one of three low-tax countries (along with Ireland and Bermuda) that had allowed US multinational corporations to pay just €16bn in tax on €700bn of earnings, which converts to a rate of just under 2.3%. It prompted splutterings of outrage from the Dutch embassy in Washington and the Americans meekly withdrew the accusation. But the bad smell lingered like a week-old herring. Since then Dutch ministers have been resolute in shutting down any mention of the h-word. The defence against Obama’s declaration was that corporation tax is transparent and set at 25.5%, which puts the country in the medium tax bracket. What it omitted to mention was the Dutch tax administration’s habit of drawing up generous pre-nuptial agreements with multinational firms to entice them to relocate to the Netherlands. Benefits The benefits on both sides are obvious: the company cuts a hefty slice from its tax bill, while the Dutch nation nets a small income with little or no extra burden on its infrastructure. All countries have tax incentives to attract foreign investment, but the Dutch have been unusually prolific: a report by the economic institute SEO in 2013 concluded that €278bn flowed through Dutch-based shell companies every year. And the system is more opaque than transparent, since many of these companies take the form of Special Financial Instruments, which are not publicly registered. Last year the combined assets of the 14,400 SFIs amounted to €3.5 trillion. But since the global financial crisis the Netherlands’ tax arrangements have come under scrutiny from the European Commission. Two years ago Brussels drafted plans to require member states to outlaw letterbox firms, which were siphoning €150bn out of the region every year – the equivalent of the EU’s entire budget. That doesn’t include the tax lost through the cut-throat competition between jurisdictions in the eurozone. Financial research institution Somo found that 19 of Portugal’s 20 largest multinational firms were registered in the Netherlands for tax purposes, putting €2.5 billion of profits beyond the reach of the Portuguese exchequer. Portuguese Systematically depriving another country in the same currency zone of tax revenues is akin to cutting off your nose to make your face more efficient. Yet when Portugal’s domestic debt ballooned after 2008 and it sought bailouts from countries such as the Netherlands, Dutch commentators and politicians queued up to denounce the supposedly feckless Portuguese. Such lack of humility and self-examination does not bode well as Europe tries to harmonise its members’ tax regimes. Two weeks ago the European Commission ruled that a deal between the Netherlands and Starbucks, which allowed the coffee chain to put nearly €20bn of profits out of reach of the tax authorities, amounted to illegal state aid. The Dutch government threw up its arms in horror, insisting the deal complied with international tax laws and the commission, not it, was at fault. Thus we had the bizarre spectacle of ministers in The Hague protesting against a decision that allows it to claim up to €30m in back taxes from a multinational company. Coco Old habits, it seems, die hard. This week NRC revealed that Dutch bank ING was heavily involved in drafting a law that created a tax break for a new type of financial security known as contingent convertibles, or cocos. Cocos are a hybrid financial vehicle devised to shore up banks’ equity reserves in times of crisis. They function like bonds, but can be converted into share capital if a pre-set threshold is reached. The banks argued that these instruments should be tax deductible in order to bring the Netherlands into line with other jurisdictions. But there was a problem: if the exemption applied solely to banks, there was a high risk that Brussels would class it as state aid for financial institutions and veto it. The Dutch financial regulator AFM had already ruled that cocos were unsuitable for most ordinary investors because of their complexity. Finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem brought in the measure last June, bringing the banks €350m a year in tax relief. It took the form of an amendment to the Finance Act rather than a separate law, meaning it did not have to be vetted by the Council of State. Documents published by NRC show how ING, together with former finance minister Gerrit Zalm, now chairman of the nationalised bank ABN Amro, made several revisions to the draft law, including removing any reference to financial institutions. The suspicion is that the government and the banks were colluding to put Brussels off the scent. European Commission Economist Sweder van Wijnbergen told NRC: 'If there is any suggestion of state aid it has to be reported to the European Commission. These documents show that this suggestion existed, Dijsselbloem knew about it and sought a wording, in co-operation with the banks, that would steer the commission off course.' In the immediate aftermath of the banking crisis the Dutch government was in the vanguard of nations calling for more stringent financial regulation within the European Union. Dijsselbloem, in his role as chair of the group of eurozone finance ministers, was praised in Brussels for his firm handling of the Greek debt crisis. But back home in The Hague his ministry facilitates the kind of virtuoso accounting that would make a Greek restaurateur salivate. If the Netherlands wants to be taken seriously as one of Europe’s leading financial nations, it needs to practice tax compliance as well as preach it. Gordon Darroch is a British journalist living in The Hague. This column was first published on his blog Words for Press.   More >


A cost-benefit analysis of refugees will only fuel hysteria

A cost-benefit analysis of refugees will only fuel hysteria

A cost benefit analysis of the refugee crisis will inevitably focus on the costs and fuel the hysteria of Wilders' hordes. It would be better - and cheaper in the long run - to concentrate efforts on establishing a long-term policy, writes  economist Marcel Canoy. According to CPB director Laura van Geest, it doesn’t do to calculate the costs of refugees. According to Volkskrant columnist Frans Kalshoven – with in his wake a couple of applauding professors - this is exactly what should happen. Kalshoven’s argument is simple and logical. There are a number of objectifiable effects (accommodation costs, for example). Why not map these so you can separate them from the unobjectifiable, ethical and sometimes emotional issues (for example, the extent to which our society is willing to be fair or empathic). I’m with Kalshoven on many things. It’s fine to make a cost benefit analysis of matters natural and cultural before asking the ethical question of what we are prepared to spend on a symphony orchestra or a nature reserve. But it won’t wash with refugees. The costs of decent facilities (bed, bath and bread) are easily calculated. The benefits are speculative (what will happen to the labour market?) or impossible to express in figures (the impact on stability, solidarity or sense of security). Those benefits can’t be written off under the heading of ‘ethical arguments’. These are real benefits which can easily translate into solid euros, even if we have no idea how many. Unquantifiable You could argue that good researchers would give prominence to these unquantifiable benefits as well. Laura van Geest probably realises that the government's macro-economic think tank CPB doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to doing justice to benefits that are difficult to quantify. Health care is a good example, and so is the CPB report into the cost and benefits of migration (2003) in which unquantifiable benefits were reduced to insignificant footnotes. Even if the CPB were to rise above itself and make an honest attempt at interpreting these benefits, they would undoubtedly fall victim to the usual fate in the public discourse: uncertain benefits will always be equated with non-existent ones. The refugee crisis needs a thorough and calm political decision making process. A sustained European asylum policy will lead to stability in the region and a firmer sense of security. A mature handling of the migration issue will lead to selection and positive effects on the labour market, and greater public acceptance. Kalshoven’s well-meaning but naive attempt to rid the debate of emotion will achieve exactly the opposite. A cost benefit analysis of refugees will inevitably put the spotlight on costs and that will give Wilders’ already hysterical hordes more ammunition. It would be much better to do our utmost to increase the long-term benefits. That would be better for migrants and asylum seekers, better for Europe and better even for disgruntled citizens. Marcel Canoy is an economist, academic and lecturer at the Erasmus School of Accounting & Assurance This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   This column comes with a PS from the writer: Misunderstanding 1 Some have seen this column as an attempt to gloss over effects, or even ban research. That is not the case. Research should only be carried out if it contributes something to society. I tried to explain that this analysis does not contribute anything to the quality of the decision making process and therefore isn’t fit for purpose. Misunderstanding 2 Refugees versus refugee policy Cost benefit analyses are made to evaluate policies, not people. This analysis is not about what refugees ‘bring’ but what the costs and benefits are of a more or less stringent refugee policy. Misunderstanding 3 The counterfactual A cost benefit analysis usually comes with a counterfactual: what happens if we don’t carry out this policy? Asylum policies in particular are costly but relatively cheap compared to the costs of a destabilised region or the erosion of the European Union. It is impossible to quantify this complex matter. That is why I think we should leave this to the ‘wisdom’ and insight of politicians, which will, of course, be subject to the usual democratic checks and balances.  More >


Democracy the Wilders’ way

Democracy the Wilders’ way

Wilders' PVV is doing its xenophobic best to stop refugees coming to this country, and the VVD isn't far behind, writes cultural historian Thomas von der Dunk. Thanks to ‘Steenbergen’  we now know have a good idea of what the Wilders Youth means by the ‘peaceful resistance’ to the arrival of war refugees: intimidation and threats. To the noisiest of Wilders’ elite troops ‘democracy’ simply means having their way and ‘listening to citizens’ means they don’t have to listen to anyone while making sure no one can be heard either. According to this particular interpretation of the concept of democracy, by rights, scum rules. Constant Kuster, the leader of the neofascist Nederlandse Volksunie, stated in the NRC that that is exactly how it should be. And after the events at Steenbergen Wilders said the resistance movement was fine and dandy. In the aftermath of ‘Wormer’ he signed the appeal for calm in the refugee debate but a few hours later he was back in the old resistance groove. What we have learned from the failed storming in Woerden and the attack in Wormer is that the testosterone bombs in Wilders’ ranks pose more of a threat than the odd excitable refugee. Internet as a sewer Meanwhile the internet has become the open sewer in which every semi-literate dimwit can dump his xenophobic turd. The vague feelings of fear – lecherous Muslims who rape and spread disease around every corner–which the extreme right likes to exploit (see too the Law and Justice party in Poland) have their roots in the anti-Semitic clichés of the thirties. Then, as now, parents were advised to keep their daughters under lock and key. True, a person who has lived in a cocoon for the last ten years loses contact with reality and will become, perhaps inevitably, paranoid. That makes Wilders completely understandable and very interesting as a psychiatric case. His place, however, is in the loony bin, not parliament. Parliament itself is not blameless. For years it did nothing to counteract the likes of Wilders. At last CDA leader Buma led the other parties in a frontal attack and it resulted in a complete meltdown of Wilders and his party. So it can be done, and without relying solely on a lone courageous woman in Steenbergen. Botox tourism The main parliamentary obstacle in the way of decency is the VVD whose tone in the debate makes the party the spiritual home away from home for the PVV electorate. Halbe Zijlstra’s comments about botox tourism did not lead to any criticism of him in his party. No one called for his resignation. Not one. It illustrates yet again the complete lack of a moral compass in his party which has reduced politics to bartering, first with one-time pal Geert and now with China. Last week Willem Aantjes died – a politician from a completely different era and with completely different political values. In 1978 he stepped down because he understood that the image of politics would be better served if he left. Zijlstra, in spite of the trail of moral destruction in his wake, will never understand this. Apart from the rampant vulgar xenophobia there is, of course, a civilised form. It is the NIMBY variant prevalent in the better neighbourhoods once so pithily explained by Robert Lansschot in the NRC: it’s much better for the refugees themselves to be housed in poor neighbourhoods. Cheap shops What would they want with our pricey patisseries when it’s cheap call shops they want? The only refugees that should be welcomed with open arms are the tax refugees, argued kindred spirit Paul Fentrop. They are the true victims of these troubled times. The VVD agrees. We have only to watch them squirm under the OECD attack on the Dutch post box firms. This civilised xenophobia, which in the Hague’s chic Benoordenhout did manage to prevent an empty barracks to be turned into an asylum seekers’ centre, is rife among the ‘broadminded’ who, in order to benefit their jobs or companies, approve of open borders but let other deal with the consequences. That this doesn’t go down too well in the poorer neighbourhoods will be readily understood. The shortage of social housing is largely the fault of those politicians who have been flogging it and who are now refusing to build more because it will ‘attract refugees’. You know which party they belong to.  More >


The Dutch are not innovative and ambitious enough on renewables

The Dutch are not innovative and ambitious enough on renewables

The Dutch are not innovative and ambitious enough when it comes to renewable energy, writes trendwatcher Farid Tabarki. Some years ago the province of Noord-Brabant was debating what its new provincial anthem should be. Guus Meeuwis’ Brabant was a candidate but didn’t win. But it did provide the province with a new slogan: ‘That makes you think of Brabant’. Meeuwis, you see, in the final bit of his song, thinks of Brabant ‘because that is where the lights are still on’. A nice example of stealth advertising, I’d say. Interestingly enough, Philips announced last year it was going to close down its lighting unit in order to concentrate on medical technology. Their ‘digital health strategy’ includes the manufacture of portable measuring equipment, robotic arms and MRI scanners, all made in Best. A hop and a skip away, in Veldhoven, we find the headquarters of high-tech firm ASML, which started out as a Philips-ASML joint venture. The machines ASML makes for chip manufacturers have to conform to the implacable Moore’s law: the computing power of chips doubles every eighteen months to two years for the same price. Chief innovation officer Tesla Motors opened a factory in Tilburg a couple of weeks ago. CEO Elon Musk did the honours, in the presence of economic affairs minister Henk Kamp. Musk knows a thing or two about innovation: he is the man behind Paypal and with his company SpaceX he is attempting to open a gateway to the cosmos for a broad target group. Kamp, being the minister for economic affairs, should by rights be the national Chief Innovation Officer but as far as renewable energy is concerned unfortunately he is not. According to Eurostat figures the Netherlands brings up the rear with a pitiful 4.5% renewable energy production. Only Malta and Luxemburg are doing worse. Meanwhile, Sweden heads the list with 52.1%. Worse still, the Netherlands won’t even be able to achieve the modest 14% target it committed to for 2020 in the not very ambitious National Energy Accord of 2013. It’s hardly surprising. In the Netherlands innovation is caught up in a byzantine web of incomprehensible rules and regulations. Take the ‘postcode rose’ for instance, a strange construction which decrees that local energy users will only be granted a tax break if they fall within a four digit postcode area or one of the four adjacent four digit postcode areas. Who comes up with these things? The promotion of the electric car isn’t getting anywhere either: the target of 200,000 cars by 2020 was recently halved. A national market of public charging stations, including a uniform feed-in tariff, is nowhere near. Renewable energy, faster computers and more knowledge of the human body – when I think of Brabant I now think of all three fundamental, disruptive developments. The nation is lagging behind. ‘Thinking of Holland I see broad rivers moving slowly through interminable low lands’ wrote poet Hendrik Marsman. When I think of Holland I see the same slowness when it comes to innovation and ambition. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   More >


Health insurers should stop wasting money on advertising

Health insurers should stop wasting money on advertising

Health insurance companies should not waste money competing against themselves with glossy advertising campaigns and pointless PR 'dialogues', writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. It is almost that time of year again - the time when health insurance companies bombard us with television adverts full of shiny happy people and try to persuade us that they have the best policies. So not great timing for CZ then, with the news that two hospitals in Noord-Holland have stopped carrying out cataract operations on people with a CZ policy because there is no more money to pay for them. It is not the first time healthcare providers have said no because the budget has run out. And it is likely to happen more and more, as health insurance companies try to find ways to highlight their differences by offering 'budget policy this' and 'value for money' that. Discounts There are all sorts of insurances out there. There are discounted policies for people who are members of this or that charity - such as the Wadden Sea Association. You can get a special tailor-made policy if you are a graduate or planning a family or on a budget. In fact, there are some 40 different brands competing for your attention. They are, however, all owned by the same 10 companies, four of which control 90% of the market. In other words, a lot of the end-of-the-year frenzy is company X competing with itself. The Consumentenbond last year said the total marketing bill for health insurance companies – including the cost of temporary staff and administration - is around €400m. Advertising research group Nielsen put their actual spend on adverts at around €59m, of which 85% was spent in the last two months of the year. Absurd It's an awful lot of money to persuade us to switch companies, and even more absurd when you consider all the basic health insurance policies offer exactly the same thing - because the government decides the bottom line coverage. This autumn, however, health insurance companies have been running a different campaign - based on the slogan 'Healthcare (unfortunately) is about money as well'. The campaign has taken the form of full page adverts in daily newspapers and news magazines and aims to stimulate online debate about how the health insurance system works - in particular when it comes to cash. Facebook The response to this little public relations exercise, judging by a quick look at the special website zorgdialoog.nu, has not been exactly overwhelming. The three different full page ads, which will have cost tens of thousands of euros, have generated a grand total of 608 comments at the time of writing. The Facebook page has just 79 likes. In other words, more money that could have been spent on carrying out cataract operations has gone down the drain. Healthcare is, unfortunately, about money and ensuring value for money in particular. But end-of-year advertising blitzes and PR initiated dialogues are, financially, a very bad deal for patients.  More >


Translating the Dutch constitution into Arabic is a waste of money

Translating the Dutch constitution into Arabic is a waste of money

An Arabic translation of the constitution - no matter how riveting - won't shed much light on the rules of our society, writes Reinout Wibier, professor of civil law at Tilburg University. Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk wants to give refugees a copy of the Dutch constitution in Arabic. ‘These people are coming to a country they know nothing about. I think it’s right to tell them about the basic rules in our society in their own language,’ he says. It leaves you wondering if Plasterk has ever leafed through a copy himself. In the first place, there’s nothing in the constitution about the basic rules in our society. There’s all sorts of other stuff in the constitution, such as the fact that we are all equal before the law (article 1, the ban on discrimination) and other basic rights, like freedom of speech and religion. Law making Refugees will be pleased to read that the Netherlands won’t lock them up for belonging or not belonging to a religious group, but I have a feeling they sort of knew that already or they wouldn’t have come this way. Apart from that, the constitution contains a lot of constitutional rules about how laws are made by the government and parliament, and that the government is made up of the king and his ministers. All very interesting but hardly the thing for refugees trying to find their way in Dutch society. The perusal of the constitution without any legal background knowledge is a useless exercise anyway. Take article 7, par. 1, about the freedom of the press. ‘No person needs previous permission to express thoughts or feelings by means of the press, subject to that person’s responsibility before the law.’ In order to understand exactly what you can and cannot do according to this article, you will have to study the necessary jurisprudence and quite a lot of legal literature. Extensive study The freedom of religion article (6, par 1) is even worse. If a person feels it is his right based on his religion to demolish a bus shelter because of an offending ad (to mention an absurd scenario), an appeal to article 6 won’t help him in a court of law. The constitution wasn’t written for the interested layman (whether refugee or born and bred in this country) and the contents are far too complex to put into the right context without extensive study. But even if these two hurdles could be taken, handing out a translation of the constitution remains an exercise in futility. What a refugee need is advice on how things work here, practically and socially. How people interact. How you present yourself during a job interview. How a 3pm appointment with a council official means you present yourself at the reception desk at 2.55pm, where you don’t shake hands with the receptionist but do with the civil servant in question. Social guide They need to know what the mores are at the supermarket (put it all in a basket, then put it all on the conveyor belt, don’t open prepacked rice and spaghetti packs to weigh out the amount needed). They have to find out which subjects are okay to talk about in company (the weather, the national football team, the children, the song festival) and which questions are best avoided ( how much do you earn?, what religion are you?, aren’t you afraid your wife will have an affair with a work colleague?). If only the basic rules of our society were so easily accessed and that a law encompassed them all. The minister would do better to budget for a social guide to the Netherlands (and have it translated into Arabic), or Dutch classes for refugees. Doling out a translation of the constitution is a waste of money. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Prime minister Mark Rutte, don’t let Putin get away with it

Prime minister Mark Rutte, don’t let Putin get away with it

Instead of issuing a lame appeal for Russian help in bringing to justice the perpetrators of the MH17 attack, the Dutch prime minister should denounce Putin’s involvement on the international stage, writes former politician and activitist Roel van Duijn. Rutte is tiptoeing around the criminal role played by president Putin in the case of the downed MH17. In his comment on the conclusions of the fact-finding commission, the prime minister limits himself to a lame ‘appeal to the Russian government to help mount a criminal investigation into who is responsible’. Now that the commission has finished its work it is even more evident that Rutte’s appeal is addressed to the perpetrators themselves, although he doesn’t let on that this is so. But it’s as plain as the nose on your face that MH17 was shot down as a consequence of Russian army war efforts led by the Kremlin. 1) The missile was launched from a Russian BUK system. 2) The missile was launched from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists. 3) The downing of MH17 forms the apotheosis of a series of attacks by ‘separatists’ (most likely Russians) on Ukrainian aircraft in the preceding weeks. Flat Russian denial Instead of cooperating, the Kremlin sabotaged the commission’s attempts at getting at the facts in every conceivable way. It circulated bogus versions of the deadly attack and, far from respecting the commission’s work, it tried to draw attention away from it before and after the publication of the report by flatly denying the facts and coming up with yet another made up story, this time from the BUK missile factory. Of course Rutte knows this. And he knows Moscow knows. The Russian authorities are far from ‘convinced’ the plane was shot down by the Ukrainian army. The Dutch media keep repeating that the Kremlin is ‘convinced’ but in truth the only people in the world who really know what happened are a small number of Russian politicians and generals. Because they were the ones who sent the BUK system to Eastern Ukraine and they were the ones who ordered the missile attacks on the airplanes. Their primary targets may have been the Ukrainian Antonovs that were flying in much-needed munitions and supplies to the border posts in a futile attempt to defend the border against the Russian might. But it was they who performed all the actions that led to the deadly attack on MH17. Secret warfare Instead of admitting that all this was at least a catastrophic ‘mistake’, the Russians are doing everything in their power to shift the blame to the Ukrainians. Bizarrely enough, Moscow maintains that the Dutch commission presented a ‘biased’ view and likes nothing better than to point the finger at Russia when the truth is that The Hague would do anything to avoid a confrontation with the Russians. Rutte realises that Putin will never admit guilt because it would scupper the secrecy surrounding his secret campaign in Ukraine. How could Putin admit to supplying the BUK missiles after lying about a ‘civil war’ that he had no part in? Cowardly Even now Putin denies the presence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. By admitting guilt, even if that guilt were based on a mistake, he would be shown up for all the world to see as a man denying any part in a war he’s involved in up to his neck. There is no reason to expect any help from the Russian authorities in finding and bringing to justice the people who brought down MH17, that much is clear. Is there any chance that the Russian government will ever admit guilt and cooperate, as happened ten years after Lockerbie? Not really. Unlike Gaddafi’s Libya, Russia is not a small rogue state but a very big one. It will continue to lie for the sake of its ‘patriotic honour´. And it can because it is so very important to other countries, including the Netherlands. Rutte is aware of this terrible reality. That is why he shouldn’t dodge his responsibility by issuing a cowardly, so-called appeal that will fall on deaf ears anyway. What Rutte must do is publicly denounce Putin’s sabotage and his false propaganda on the international stage. Only then will he be a true champion for the families of the victims and for justice. He can’t let Putin get away with it. Roel van Duijn is a political activist and writer. He was a founder of Provo and the Kabouter movements at the end of the 1960s. He was alderman for the Political Party of Radicals and later a city councillor for GroenLinks in Amsterdam.   More >


The Dutch referendum about democracy is not democratic

The referendum on the EU's treaty with Ukraine is all about democracy, say its supporters. But by disenfranchising tens of thousands of European voters, Dutch democracy is being ill-served, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. Early next year, the Netherlands will hold a referendum on a key treaty between the European Union and Ukraine. The result of the vote will not be binding on the government, but it will give an indication of the mood of the moment in the Netherlands with regard to the EU. The treaty's Eurosceptic opponents say it will not only cost a lot of money, but will extend Brussel's powers even further and reduce the ability of elected politicians to monitor the EU's activities. It is a pity then that only Dutch nationals will be able to have their say on this important issue. The tens of thousands of European Union citizens who live in the Netherlands will, once again, be disenfranchised. Open borders The referendum might be about democracy and the enactment of democratic principles but it is not a democratic process in itself. There are an estimated 400,000 non-Dutch EU nationals living in the Netherlands, of whom 75% are of working age, and therefore paying taxes. But we have no say about crucial decisions being taken by the Dutch government which directly affect us. It is high time the political system was altered across Europe to make sure that European nationals who take advantage of their right to live and work in other countries do not end up being disenfranchised. Issues There are many cross-border issues which affect us directly, but on which we have no influence. The Dutch government plans to increase the residency requirement to vote in local elections to seven years. The Netherlands refuses to pay a cost of living increase to Europeans who built up state pension rights here and now live abroad. The 50-year residency requirement for a full state pension – this is by far the longest of all member states - means you can live and work in the Netherlands for most of your life but not be paid the same pension as a Dutch national who has never worked. The Netherlands does not allow EU residents to drive on driving licences issued by other member states, even though they are completely valid. Pension rights, driving licences, the right to vote - these are everyday issues which affect tens of thousands of people. Become Dutch Of course, the one way to have a vote in the national and provincial elections is to become Dutch - which means in many cases giving up your original nationality. So stop being French and become Dutch while you work, then retire to Spain and become Spanish. Nationality shopping is not the answer to voting rights in a global economy. Is this really what we are supposed to do to exercise our rights as taxpayers in the country we are living in? No taxation without representation is an old slogan but still very valid in 2015. As taxpayers in the Netherlands we should have the same rights as Dutch taxpayers after we have lived here for, say, five years. Now that really would be worth holding a referendum about.  More >


Dutch transport hubs need more government input, says employers’ chief

Dutch transport hubs need more government input, says employers’ chief

Dutch transport hubs are a valuable Dutch asset but the state needs to get more involved, writes VNO-NCW chairman Hans de Boer A structural growth rate of 1% to 1.5% a year? VNO-NCW has more ambitious plans for the Dutch economy. We are confident that upcoming entrepreneurial talent will put the Netherlands in the economic Champions League. Economic growth is not an end in itself. It is what it takes to get to grips with the great social challenges of the next decades. Growth means Peter and Achmed won’t have to compete for the same job. It also means sustainable long-term investment in health care, the environment and energy transition. A world class economy can tackle social issues. Growth is good. Attactive for multinationals That is why VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland are putting together an agenda for growth which puts forward our transport hubs as one of the mainstays of a welcoming business climate. Strong hubs as well as an excellent international connectivity have already attracted some 20,000 international companies providing some two million jobs. The presence of these corporations, which are also twice as productive as the average company, has also proved to be a boost for innovative start-ups. Schiphol and KLM: a crucial combination In 2025 another 7,000 multinationals will join the world economic ranks. These companies will need European headquarters. The powerful combination of Schiphol and its network carrier KLM, the worldwide network of 200 ‘bridges’, i.e. direct links between KLM and its partners, and the great service of Schiphol Inc. combine to make the Netherlands an attractive option for international companies. This combination is an important Dutch asset but it’s not without its problems. There are outside threats (competition) as well as threats from within (adjustment speed) we must tackle. This is a national priority which demands new and decisive policies. Air France needs to reorganise too VNO-NCW is of the opinion that, in principle, KLM has a good partner in Air France. The combination has been advantageous to KLM, our international destinations and, consequently, to Schiphol and the Dutch business climate. Continued growth will benefit the Netherlands in particular because the total traffic volume will always be handled via both Paris and Schiphol. We now see that KLM is reorganising and that is a good thing. But it is clear Air France should do the same. As a constructive partner, the Netherlands should lend economic and political support, not raise an admonishing finger. Dutch control and involvement After a process of reorganisation has been started at both carriers, we will see increased support at Air France- KLM holding level through investment decisions, new partners and a possible recourse to the capital market. The Dutch public interest served by these choices is important enough to warrant a far more extensive safeguarding of state control and involvement at this level. There are a number of options for the government to consider, including acquiring a stake in the holding company. Of course, all this would be subject to the proper conditions. What matters is that a more intensive state commitment to Air France-KLM will boost the common continuity strategy, the credibility of the holding company on the capital market, a structural governance contribution from the Netherlands and the partnership with France. Central management It is of the utmost importance that Schiphol’s limited capacity is divided according to the importance of the additions made to the airport’s network quality. This should be guaranteed by a framework of public regulations so the assignments of slots find its basis in this framework. Transport hubs operations, including decisions about additional landside infrastructure, state policy and the costing of airport safety policy need to be centrally managed at government level. Economic-strategic considerations should prevail and that would have to be clear from the way policy responsibility is unequivocally accorded within the cabinet. Hans de Boer is chairman of the Dutch employers organisation VNO-NCW   More >


Refugee crisis requires decency, not political point-scoring

The current refugee crisis is not about being for or against asylum seekers, but about being decent human beings, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. There is something particularly sick about a group of men in balaclavas attacking a sports centre where 150 refugees, including 51 children, are living for a few days. That this happened in Woerden, a nice little town near Utrecht which can trace its roots back to Roman times, is even sadder. Because Woerden represents a sort of quintessential Dutchness and what happened there says a lot about the mood of the moment. The attack was not only cowardly but shows just how cruel some sections of our society have become. Last week Elsevier magazine – which is far from left-leaning – published a round-up of incidents against refugees over the past few weeks. A banner hanging from a bridge over the A15 motorway reading ‘refugees not welcome’ and ‘shut the borders’. Swastikas painted on a hospital which may become a refugee centre. A threat to burn down a town hall if refugees are allowed to live in the locality. Rich people clubbing together to buy land to stop a refugee centre being built. Demonstrators carrying banners with ‘go home. Holland is not your country’. A house in Deventer allocated to a Syrian family daubed with ‘own people first’. It is a long and nasty list. Decent I don’t for one minute believe that the majority of the good folk of Woerden or the Netherlands agree with the behaviour of a handful of thugs and banner-wavers. The Dutch are, in general, decent and generous people. But those with good hearts and good intentions are being swamped – not by refugees, but by people out to cause trouble, not to make the best of a difficult and complicated situation. Last weekend, right-wing rabble rousers from Britain and Germany came to Utrecht to stir up trouble, and our own blonde bombshell Geert Wilders is about to head off to Australia to do the same thing. But then who needs Geert when we’ve got Halbe Zijlstra, party leader of the VVD, spouting utter rubbish in the newspapers and on TV about plans to stop refugees getting free cosmetic surgery in Dutch hospitals? The heir-apparent to the VVD leadership thinks refugees should be happy with a few euros a month and a home in a converted shipping container. They should not, he says, be allowed to have their eyelids lifted or their breasts enlarged at Dutch taxpayers’ expense – a crass, fatuous and absurd statement which shows just how low some people will sink to score points. If not exactly forgivable, this VVD stance is perhaps predictable. But what are we to make of the Labour party which yesterday voted in favour of the VVD’s 'more sober' approach towards the refugees? Should we take solace from the fact that Labour party leader Diedrick Samson at least had the decency to look shamefaced defending his party’s support? Point-scoring But this is not a time for political point-scoring and trying to out-Wilders Wilders. This is a time for politicians, indeed for all of us, to work together and to treat refugees with decency, no matter how they got here or why they came. How must those people in Woerden have felt when thugs dressed in black tried to force their way into their temporary home? If you’ve left your old life and fled from a country which has been torn apart by brainwashed and murderous nutcases, all you want is to live without the fear of violence and bombs and for your kids to go to school and have a future. Some refugees will go back, some will move on and some will make their new home in the Netherlands. Trying to discourage them by making their unhappy lives even more uncomfortable is not the way decent human beings behave.  More >