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


Hidden taxation threatens freelancers’ viability

Hidden taxation threatens freelancers’ viability

They say that death and taxes are life’s only certainties. For freelancers in the Netherlands, those taxes are even more certain than for most workers, writes Miriam Young. In addition to long-standing arrangements which effectively require income tax to be paid in advance of receiving income, recent tweaks to the system will squeeze billions more euros out of freelancers this year. While employees nestle in the cosy comfort of PAYE income tax, freelancers, whom the belastingdienst has selected to pay via voorlopige aanslag (provisional assessment), typically pay tax before receiving the earnings it’s due against. The same applies to forwarding btw (vat) premiums, which must be paid each quarter, regardless of whether the invoices the btw is raised on have actually been settled. Freelancers are advancing the Dutch government a lot of money. The voorlopige aanslag demands payment of income tax in equal monthly instalments, calculated on forecasted net income for the year ahead. If the freelancer’s income turns out to be lower, they over pay and have to wait to be reimbursed. With work never being a certainty and clients often paying late, consistent monthly income simply doesn’t exist. But the commitment to pay remains the same. If net earnings turn out to warrant a higher tax bill than already advanced, the belastingdienst charges interest on the balance, which accrues while they ponder their calculations. While a freelancer’s finances are about as predictable as the British weather, the belastingdienst claims a sure-fire income right through the year. Which isn’t a pretty situation for any freelancer whose income starts to fall behind the prediction. Heads the belastingdienst wins. Tails the freelancer loses. As if this wasn’t already bad enough, in 2014 the government added a clause to the Algemene Wet Inzake Rijksbelastingen (General Tax Act) which allows hefty fines to be levied when actual net earnings are inconsistent with those forecast. Supposedly implemented to discourage deliberate under or over-estimations which advantage the freelancer (heaven forbid!), this clause is effectively a license for the government to dip into freelancers’ pockets whenever they fancy pulling in some extra cash. There are no officially stated parameters of reasonability and the decision to fine is at the tax inspector’s discretion. Given that a freelancer’s net earnings are unpredictable until the last day of the year, there’s virtually nothing to be done to safeguard against being fined. Up to five years after the fact. Shock double tax bill for 500,000 freelancers in 2015. While many freelancers have been paying via a voorlopige aanslag for some time, many others have been billed in arrears, as late as December of the following year. Without warning, 500,000 freelancers were switched to paying in advance in 2015. Because these people’s finances were arranged to accommodate payment in arrears, in 2015 they now find themselves having to service two income tax bills in one year. An impossible demand. A multi-billion euro black hole in the economy. Bringing forward income tax payments for 500,000 freelancers means, assuming they are able to find the money, that billions of euros will bypass the economy in 2015, straight into the government’s coffers. The knock-on impact to local and national businesses is a frightening prospect. Not least because they’ve not been made aware of this reduction in spending power, so are unable to adjust their strategies accordingly. Who’s going to carry the can when everyone is left scratching their heads after a worse-than-expected 2015, wondering where it all went wrong? #HandsOffOurFreelancers Freelancers are a precious resource. Not only to the clients who rely upon their flexible, high quality services, but to an economy which benefits from their self-generated contributions while offering no support in return. Freelancers receive no sickness or unemployment benefit, and have to pay massive top-up taxes on health insurance. The tax concessions granted to freelancers merely balance out some of the unavoidable expenses incurred through being self-employed. The Dutch government seems oblivious to the importance of making freelance life viable through a feasible fiscal ecosystem. An attempt to remove the zelfstandigenaftrek, which would have cost each freelancer around a crippling €3,000 a year, was recently thwarted. So now stealth tactics are being implemented instead to claim a bigger share of freelancers’ hard-earned incomes. Miriam Young is a freelance English copywriter living in the Netherlands. She writes marketing materials that help companies promote themselves internationally.   More >


Eat up: ugly fruit & veg taste just as good

Eat up: ugly fruit & veg taste just as good

A blemish on your fruit & veg doesn’t mean it’s inedible. So why are supermarkets trying to convince us otherwise? ask Joszi Smeets and Joris Lohman. 2014, the European year against food waste, had barely come to an end when supermarket chain Plus launched a very strange ad indeed. It shows some children attacking a cauliflower with a felt tip pen and a hammer in the hope of getting the hated vegetable off the menu. Their mother walks in, see the battered cauliflower and concludes it is no longer edible. She heads back to Plus and is given a substitute cauliflower: fresh guarantee is fresh guarantee. The Youth Food Movement decided to respond with a video of its own which went viral. We think the guarantee on fresh food really guarantees perfectly good food going to waste. What is wrong with a cauliflower with a little blemish? Every single consumer is still chucking out some 14% of the all food he or she buys. That is 0,8 billion kilos a year, at a cost of €4.4bn to the economy: money spent on wasting food. In a world faced with the question ‘How are we going to feed nine billion people in 2050?’ the YFM feels the waste promoting ads Plus is making are, well, a bit of a waste. On the supermarket’s website the rules for the guarantee on fresh food are explained. For unpackaged vegetables, like the cauliflower, the guarantee kicks in when the product shows outward signs of no longer being fresh. That’s as specific as it gets and it suggests the consumer and the shop assistant are the arbiters of the freshness of the product. Perfection guarantee The campaign Damn Food Waste, which is supported by the University of Wageningen, showed that a little under 50% of people bin products that have gone past their sell by date without stopping to use their eyes and noses. The sell by date does not have any bearing on the edibility or even the quality of a product. It is merely there to protect the manufacturer and the supermarket. The campaign did prompt junior agriculture minister Sharon Dijkstra to put the subject of sell by dates on the European agenda. When Plus says vegetables with a blemish can be returned to the shop it isn’t promoting a guarantee on freshness but a guarantee on perfection, a cosmetic consideration that is only adding to the waste problem. Plus is not the only supermarket to promote waste. Lidl with its ‘check for blemishes’ equates perfection with quality as well. And Jumbo tried to convince us that their vegetables are much more attractive than the crooked carrots from our own garden. And all this at a time when people are becoming conscious of the problem of waste. In the Netherlands the anti-food waste initiative Kromkommer (crooked cucumber) was launched and French supermarket Intermarché attracted 24% more customers with its Inglorious Fruit and Vegetable campaign. Albert took notice and introduced its Buitenbeentjes (odd ones out), packages of ‘odd’ looking fruit and veg that can be ordered online. Plus told YFM it’s not going to remove the ad from the screen any time soon. They do promise to look at the reactions when they evaluate the ad. Plus has some understanding for the confusion the ad has caused but it still feels the viewers will understand its intended playfulness. Perhaps we should trust their common sense instead. Joszi Smeets and Joris Lohman belong to the Youth Food Movement This article appeared earlier in Trouw  More >


What does the infrastructure minister actually do?

What does the infrastructure minister actually do?

The once wonderful Dutch railway system seems to be grinding to a halt, KLM is fighting its corner against the French, Groningen is sinking and the mice are eating the dykes. So what is the minister doing about it all? asks DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. Since the general election in 2012, the Netherlands has not had a transport ministry. Instead it has the grandly named ministry for infrastructure and the environment, headed up by an even more grandly named minister: Melanie Schultz van Haegen-Maas Geesteranus. Melanie is never shy of a photo opportunity. You will, for example, find her accepting reports on traffic deaths or posing in cars that drive themselves – an area of research in which the minister is keen the Netherlands plays a leading role. The lovely Melanie has a wide selection of photographs featuring herself in doe-eyed poses on her official website – unlike the bog standard portrait most ministers have on offer. Yet despite her media savvy approach, she is so low profile in terms of policy you have to wonder what she actually does. Railways She is, formally, the minister for the infrastructure – roads, railways, waterways - but seems to leave most of that up to her deputy, poor old Wilma Mansveld. Mansveld is a first-time minister and saddled with the railway nightmare, KLM’s financial woes and Lelystad airport among all the meaty subjects. So much does Schultz van Haegen-Maas Geesteranus hate the railways that she apparently said she would not take the ministerial job if she had to deal with the trains. Schultz is also minister for the environment, although it seems that economic affairs minister Henk Kamp has taken the reins on that one. Certainly, he is the one making the noise about earthquakes, natural gas, wind power and the like. And his junior Sharon Dijksma is dealing with the mice problem in Friesland where they are eating the grass holding the dykes together. Speed So how does Schultz fill her days? Well, she announced last year that there will be more road signs on the nation's motorways so we all know at what speed we are supposed to be driving. Not that much has happened on this one yet, and if you drive from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, you will find yourself travelling at 50, 70, 80, 90, 100, 120 and 130 kph over different parts of the journey with not much signage to tell you which is which. Schultz is, of course, the brains behind the rise to 130 kph, which she thinks is a jolly good idea, despite what road safety experts say. Schultz is also the brains behind the decision to switch off the motorway lighting a night – you see, she is minister of the environment as well. This is another measure which does not exactly please road safety experts. Triumphs But which is Schultz’s greatest triumph? Is it perhaps her decision to whack up the speed limit on the Amsterdam and Rotterdam ring roads to 100 kph only to be slapped back down by the courts for breaking her own environmental regulations? Or is it her refusal do something about the moped menace on the cycle lanes ? Or her love of self-driving cars? Or could it be something else? We’ve done a quick search in the DutchNews.nl archives to find out what other great achievements can be laid at the door of Schultz van Haegen-Maas Geesteranus but failed to find any. They say no news is good news and Melanie's poor old deputy is hardly out of the headlines. But then angry commuters, angry airline unions and angry motorists don’t exactly make jolly photo ops. Robin Pascoe is the editor of DutchNews.nl   More >


‘Tax cuts should be a priority and we should all benefit from ABN Amro sale’

‘Tax cuts should be a priority and we should all benefit from ABN Amro sale’

Economists Rick van der Ploeg and Willem Vermeend think taxes should be cut from next year and a big slice of the ABN Amro flotation money should flow right back into the taxpayers’ pockets. Although it’s the government that decides on tax cuts it looks as if they will be an important election issue in the campaign for the provincial elections on February 18 as well. Last Wednesday prime minister Mark  addressed an audience of entrepreneurs in Aalsmeer, as part of his party’s provincial election campaign. Rutte said the cabinet will cut taxes by €3bn to €5bn – economic circumstances permitting- in an effort to boost economic growth and employment. According to the VVD leader this measure, combined with the reforms already approved by parliament, could make the Netherlands one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Is this mere election rhetoric? No. The reforms of the last few years have strengthened the economy and encouraged growth. Expected growth for this year is 1.5%. In order to belong to the top growth will have to exceed 2%. A clever tax package which promotes growth and job creation should push the percentage up sufficiently. But it will take more than €3bn to €5bn. We have calculated that the number should be closer to €10bn and that it is possible to find the money while the cabinet is still in office. Rutte II wants to combine tax cuts with a reform of the tax system. That idea must be shelved as quickly as possible. Apart from the lack of consensus in the coalition about the scale of the reforms, the parliamentary procedures involved would take up too much time. It would take at least until January 1 2018 before a combination of both tax cuts and reforms could take effect and any positive effects on growth and employment would only manifest themselves in the following years. If Rutte II wants to up growth and create extra jobs the tax cuts, regardless of tax reform, would have to take effect from January 1 2016. According to macro-economic government thinktank CPB there are three measures that would garner maximum effect. A reduction of the lowest income tax tariff, a higher labour discount and a reduction of premiums for employers with small and medium sized businesses will push growth past 2% and increase the number of jobs. This in an ideal scenario: a worldwide slump or other international disasters would, of course, change the outlook considerably. There is another way to help tax payers and stimulate consumer spending at the same time. No one has forgotten the bail-out of the banks in 2008-2009 paid for by the tax payers. Rutte II announced last year that preparations are under way to float ABN Amro on the stock exchange. That would result in around €15bn in total for the state coffers. The state will hold 10 to 30% of the shares initially. With a market valuation of €15bn this will yield between €1.5bn and €4.5bn. That money has been earmarked for the reduction of government debt. Dutch government debt is among the lowest in Europe. It would be a much better idea to use the money to fund a one-off tax break for the 11 million tax payers whose money bailed out the banks. Tax cuts and a boost in spending power: a double whammy to help both the tax payer and the economy. Rick van der Ploeg is professor of economics at the University of Oxford and adjunct professor of economics at the VU University. Willem Vermeend is an internet entrepreneur and professor of economics and e-business at the Maastricht School of Management (MSM). This article was published earlier in the Financiële Telegraaf          More >


‘Pension funds should come clean about their costs’

‘Pension funds should come clean about their costs’

Having workers pay higher pension premiums for a lower pension is simply unacceptable, says Annemarie van Gaal. Pension funds should come clean about costs and ditch the frills. Last week the Financieele Dagblad dropped a bomb: three-quarters of the Dutch pension funds have cut pensions while premiums remained the same or, in some cases, went up. According to Pension Federation boss Gerard Riemer, it’s impossible to lower the premiums. Riemer is sorry that workers ‘are paying a very high price for a relatively bad pension’. But says Riemer: ‘Pension funds can’t just ask for any old premium payment. The coverage ratio has to be at a legal minimum. Pensions have become very expensive in the last few years because of low interest rates.’ Those low interest rates again. MPs were quick to react and demanded answers from junior social affairs minister Jette Klijnsma. She said that five of the biggest pension funds, which manage over 50% of the Dutch pensions, did lower premiums. So that’s alright then. Never mind that almost a million hardworking people are getting less for the same, or more, money. Workers can’t choose their pension funds. If premium rates go up it’s not a question of finding a better deal. No wonder people in the Netherlands are not paying attention to their pensions. But what is the reason for the differences between the funds? Low interest rates hit all pension funds alike so why can one fund cut premiums and another find it impossible to do the same? There are over 350 pension funds in the Netherlands. Of those a hundred account for less than 2% of the pension market. A small fund has relatively high overhead costs. If you bear in mind that every euro spent now equals a €30 pension cut later, the consequences are not difficult to imagine. Clients don’t want frills like webinars, fancy offices or glossy magazines. They want a proper pension. A few years ago the Dutch National Bank asked small pension funds to ‘think about the future’. Why aren’t small and medium-sized pension funds required by law to look for economies of scale? Higher pension premiums are unacceptable. I propose that every penny pension funds spend on administration, regulation, marketing and capital management in relation to the total of their invested capital is made public. Nothing wrong with a bit of pressure. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor    More >


Tame the private equity predators, which are ruining Dutch companies

Tame the private equity predators, which are ruining Dutch companies

Labour wants a law to prevent financial predators from ruining companies, write PvdA financial experts Henk Nijboer and Ed Groot. Labour wants to eradicate the excesses of private equity, or the buy-up of company shares by investment companies for maximum short-term profit. Venture capital is needed but we have seen all too many examples which have nothing to do with real investment and innovation and everything with financial and fiscal acrobatics. Even quintessentially Dutch company HEMA is stifled by the debt heaped on it. Private equity respects nor workers nor consumers nor tax payers. A better protection of the company’s core capital, stricter rules regarding administrative responsibility and fiscal measures can do much to make this sort of behaviour a thing of the past. Long-term growth Private equity is useful only if it is geared towards long-term growth. Start-ups often depend on venture capital to develop the business. For small and medium-sized companies, or family businesses which find themselves without a successor private equity can be a solution that banks can’t offer. Unfortunately, it isn’t always like that. Excesses usually involve established companies with a relatively large own capital but which are still cheap because their profitability is under pressure. It is the British and American private equity parties who are especially skilled at emptying such companies using ingenious legal and fiscal constructions. Well-known recent examples include NRC Media, day care organisation Estro, HEMA and Van Gansewinkel. V&D is also fighting for survival. Nothing ventured Although every case is different, a pattern can be distinguished in the way these financial predators like to operate. The company that is taken over is covered in debt and effectively pays for its own takeover. The investor contributes only a small amount to the company’s own capital. Venture capital? Precious little is ventured although much is gained. An additional and decisive advantage for investors is that the tax payer contributes too. Interest is tax deductible, own capital isn’t. In spite of an underlying net profit of €119m in 2013 HEMA reported a loss to the tax office for that year. The reserves of companies owned by private equity parties are hoovered up in various ways. After the take-over of NRC Media by Egeria and Derk Sauer, the new shareholders gave themselves a bumper dividend of €12.5m, many times the profit figure of that year. Dividends from borrowed money, in other words. Real estate Another popular trick is to sell real estate and hand over the takings to the shareholders. That the same buildings will then have to be rented for huge sums is not a matter of immediate concern. This week V&D announced it no longer wished to pay the agreed rent for its shop buildings. Those same shops were sold when V&D was still owned by KKR, an American private equity fund which made good money out of the transaction. In 2007, the government took the first step in the battle against bad private equity. It was a welcome one but much remains to be done. The fiscal measures that were put in place haven’t prevented HEMA, NRC Media and Van Gansewinkel from continuing to struggle with large debts. This is why the debt loaders need to be actively discouraged. Paying out bumper dividend is irresponsible as well. It is bad for investment and weakens the capacity of companies to come through a bad patch. The same goes for taking out loans to finance dividends. This is the kind of financial kamikaze action that needs to be banned by law. Germany Here we should look to Germany. This country has very strict laws on asset stripping. Interest deduction is limited to 30% of the ‘ebitda’ , the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation. This makes it unattractive for private equity parties to pump a company full of debt in order to evade paying tax. A link-up with the ebitda also prevents interest manipulation by postponing or accelerate amortisation. The German model has the added advantage of being very simple. What is more, Germany limits certain dividend pay-outs to private equity shareholders during the first two years of the takeover of a limited company. Companies bought by private equity parties can only buy so many of its own shares. This is another disincentive to the short-term gain objective of the predators. Misbehaving administrators and shareholders need to be treated more severely. An administrator who pays out excessive dividends is a bad administrator. In practice, this type of administrator is seldom made accountable. This needs to change. Administrators should suffer the consequences if they bring a company to the precipice through their actions. Labour wants to root out bad equity and encourage good equity. Small and medium-sized companies need private equity to finance growth. But we can’t continue to allow companies to be ruined by greed. Henk Nijboer is a Labour financial spokesman, Ed Groot is the fiscal spokesman for the parliamentary Labour party. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Swapping benefits for tax is a good deal for the jobless

Swapping benefits for tax is a good deal for the jobless

Annemarie van Gaal thinks swapping benefits for a better tax deal will get people back to work and simplify an overcomplicated tax system. When Hans de Boer got the top job at employers’ organisation VNO-NCW he said the Netherlands had the potential to become the richest country in the world. Perhaps that is the case, but only if everyone does their bit and that will only happen if work actually pays. Many people on benefits don’t want to work because everything they earn is deducted from their benefits. They will not be better off by getting a job. De Boer proposed a cut in the tax rate to 35% for incomes up to €100,000 and to 45% for anything over that. That means a shift of €18bn from the treasury into people’s pocket books. That will benefit competitiveness, national spending and job growth. He was pounced upon immediately: De Boer had failed to mention where the €18bn was going to come from. Aid Let me make some suggestions. First off, let’s change the budget for development aid from gifts to micro credits for local entrepreneurs. Development aid as it stands is not very effective. Micro credits ensure the money is returned while at the same time contributing to shaping the necessary middle class in a developing country. And it means savings of €4.7bn. Then we put the embassies of several countries in one location and organise more embassy-related matters online. It’s perfectly feasible and leaves us with a couple of hundred million euros in the kitty. Benefits But where the really big savings can be made is with an exchange of a low tax rate for the abolishment of all types of benefits. Child care benefits, for example, are no longer relevant (€3.5bn). Health care benefits don’t work. The €5.1bn budget is meant to pay towards the premiums but hundreds of thousands of families are spending the money on other things and are then insured at the expense of society anyway. Chuck in a couple more complicated benefit schemes and there you have it: €18bn People on good incomes have no problem with the tax/benefit swap. People on benefits do because they need the extra income. But there is a solution. Suppose we exempt the first €5,000 of people’s earnings from taxes so that even people on benefits can keep the first €5,000 without any repercussions. In this way anyone can work and contribute to society for a couple of hours a week and earn the money they would get in health, housing and child benefits themselves. Those who are incapable of doing that will be the exceptions to the rule. We wanted a less complicated tax system, didn’t we? Here it is. Top marks to De Boer. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor    More >


Dutch financial regulators should lead by example

Dutch financial regulators should lead by example

Financial regulators should lead by example, says Annemarie van Gaal, but they’re not doing a very good job. The Dutch National Bank’s Klaas Knot recently argued in favour of a paring down of the mortgage tax break or transferring the debt to box 3 which will bring the break down to 30%. Knot wants the housing market to be more ‘shock proof’. I agree the mortgage tax break should be reduced but not for the same reasons and not in the same way. If Knot wants a shock-proof housing market he needs to realise he will only get it by stimulating home ownership and not mortgage ownership. We need to get rid of residual debt. The government should be putting in place fiscal measures to stimulate paying off the mortgage. Instead of fiddling around with the mortgage tax break rules it should just abolish it completely: the amount of interest you pay is your own affair but what you pay off is deductible up to a certain amount. And how credible is Knot with his gold-plated mortgage deal with a jolly 30% interest discount on the house? On top of that all DNB staff are getting an extra 0.3% discount if they bank with ABN Amro. DNB is an independent supervisor meant to work towards a solid and trustworthy financial sector. How credible is that if all DNB personnel only use the services of a single bank? DNB says workers can’t be given priority treatment by the bank when taking out a mortgages because it might put their integrity at stake. But is the solution to get them all a cushy deal with ABN Amro? And if their CEO says the mortgage tax break is too high when he only pays a piffling 1.3% interest on his mortgage you start to wonder about his own integrity. Last week it turned out another regulatory body, the AFM, spends almost a €1m a year on staff discounts for mortgages. AFM workers get a 3% compensation on the remainder of their mortgage, at any bank. At least they’re not forced to bank with one bank but I still don’t agree with the policy. The AFM monitors the behaviour of financial institutions but seems to be oblivious to the behaviour it is inciting in its staff. Weren’t we supposed to pay off our mortgages? Good behaviour is rewarded by compensating a percentage of the money paid, not the amount that is still to be paid off. Knot, Vroonhoven, there’s work to be done. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor.  More >


Going on strike is old-fashioned and serves no purpose

Going on strike is old-fashioned and serves no purpose

Industrial action doesn’t serve any useful purpose and De Unie is right to reject it, writes Annemarie van Gaal. There has been one piece of news recently that made me smile. Chairman of union De Unie Reinier Castelein announced he wouldn’t support any strike action. Strikes are old-fashioned and serve no purpose, he said. It is better to talk. ‘If arguments can’t do the job, doing the conga on the Malieveld won’t do it either. In 2015 we will get results at the negotiating table,’ Castelein said. FNV chairman Ton Heerts was aghast; he had plans for 2015. This year would be the year of ‘having it out on the streets’ and he was looking forward to a ‘war of attrition with the employers’ should they fail to comply with the union’s demands. According to Heerts, a union that doesn’t dare use industrial action ‘has no right to call itself a union’. Castelein, according to Heerts, has ‘said goodbye to union land.’ But is that Heerts’ union land or Castelein’s? Stuck It looks as if Heerts has become stuck in the fifties and sixties when workers were still exploited and in need of protection. On BNR News Radio last week he said: ‘Innovation, change, flexibility are all nice-sounding words but in general they only mean one thing: things are getting worse, not better’. Does Heerts not realise that innovation and change have made heavy work much less heavy and given an enormous impulse to the position of workers over the last decades? Strikes were effective once but now they serve no purpose whatsoever and, what is more, they jeopardise everything that has been achieved through sheer hard work. Rough and smooth Heerts thinks the right to strike is part of ‘the rough and the smooth of entrepreneurship’. But if strikes are the rough, what constitutes the smooth? Not a financially secure future when packing it in, that is certain: Heerts also has plans to tackle capital inequality in case entrepreneurs sell up. ‘The first €500,000 is ok with FNV but anything above that, we shouldn’t want,’ he says. So if Heerts has anything to do with it entrepreneurs, after a life of taking personal risks, of tension, stress and huge sacrifices, should hand over the fruits of their labour as well. Employers and workers have a common interest, but the worker is free to go wherever he pleases. What’s to stop him from bettering himself if he finds he doesn’t like his present job? Employers don’t have that option. In the end it is not the pressure from the unions but the market and the tenacity of the entrepreneur which dictate to what extent he can give in to workers’ demands. The Netherlands today is better off being the modern union land that De Unie represents. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor  More >


This week’s editorials: Indonesia, taxes for the rich, rabbits and Google

A round-up of the best Dutch newspaper and magazine editorials this week: Death penalty Last weekend Dutch national Ang Kiem Soei was executed in Indonesia. The Netherlands recalled its ambassador and is considering other sanctions. ‘The death penalty for involvement in drugs is extremely harsh’, wrote Elsevier commentator Gerry van der List, ‘but what would the Dutch sanctions be based on exactly? If the Netherlands does not want diplomatic relations with countries that have the death penalty it would have to make quite an adjustment to its foreign policy.’ To protest now that a Dutch national has been executed is a peculiar kind of ‘moral and legal selectiveness’, according to Van der List, as it would be ‘very inappropriate to condemn the punishment of a Dutch drugs trafficker and not that of drugs criminals with a different nationality.’ ‘It is understandable that the execution caused anger and indignation in country that prides itself on it mild punishments and tolerant attitude towards drugs. But it would be a shame if these emotions were to spoil the political and trade relations with an important country.’ (Elsevier. 19-01-2015) Rich and poor In an editorial this week the Volkskrant wrote that that the gap between rich and poor is widening in the Netherlands due to slow economic growth: ‘the capital of the rich remained intact while small savers and home owners have seen their money go up in smoke.’ This will hurt the economy and will also cause social unrest in an ‘egalitarian country’ such as the Netherlands, the paper wrote. The solution lies in a progressive taxation on capital ‘above say a million euros’ which will ease the burden of savers. And as the government is getting less money from tax on labour this is by far the most practical solution to provide the government with money to spend on ‘improving the quality of society’ while at the same time narrowing the gap between rich and poor, the paper concluded. (Volkskrant, 20-01-2015) Rabbits ‘People don’t have to be like rabbits’, the pope said last week. Trouw actually asked chairman of the Liefhebbers Kleine Dieren (Lovers of small animals) Jasper Smelt for his thoughts: ‘Rabbits are totally different from people. I would say the pope’s comment is an insult to rabbits rather than people. Rabbits are able to produce as many as 16 young in one year. Human beings are far from rabbits.’(Trouw, 21-01-2015) Google The European Commission’s plans for a liberalisation of payment transactions have to be approached with caution, warned FD. ‘Privacy must come first. Innovative new players such as Apple, Google and Facebook may well make the process more efficient. But it is well known that the business model of these companies is based on an intelligent analysis of data and its commercial uses’, the paper wrote. The banks have shown their reservation to the plans but, wondered FD, is that because they are concerned about protecting people’s privacy or because they want the same room to manoeuvre that newcomers to the market will have? ‘The banks want Europe to create a level playing field. That means new players will have to adhere to stringent privacy rules, just like the banks. We can’t be too careful’, the paper concluded.(FD, 22-01-2015)  More >