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


Dutch finance minister criticises financial sector’s willingness to change

Dutch finance minister criticises financial sector’s willingness to change

The Dutch cabinet has come up with a number of measures which it hopes will  reform the financial sector and boost stability at times of crisis. But Dutch financial insitutions are not being cooperative enough in making the changes, says finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem. One of the questions that kept surfacing in 2014 was whether or not the crisis was over. The economic recovery is slow but it is safe to say that we have left the acute crises that hit banking and the housing market behind us. The important question now is whether the recovery is sustainable. Are we willing to learn from the crises and prevent other bubbles from forming? The cabinet came up with wide-ranging measures to make our financial institutions more sustainable. Stability, in times of crises, is important. Taking risks is sometimes inevitable. But financial institutions should always avoid having to renege on their core activities because the risks they are taking are too great for them to bear, or when they can only survive if propped up by the government (i.e. the taxpayer). In order to avoid these scenarios a number of measures are now being put in place. What is immediately obvious is the massive reluctance of the financial institutions and sectors involved to the new rules which they see as unnecessarily prescriptive. The lobby against extra capital requirements for banks, new solvency requirements for insurers, new lending norms for mortgage lenders is huge and has also reached the Senate. It is based on far-fetched and factually incorrect arguments. Insurers First, the insurers. The sector is against higher capital requirements and had a report made up by professional services company Towers Watson which showed that in certain cases capital requirements for insurers significantly exceeded those for banks. That is true and only as it should be. Life insurance companies offer a life insurance policy which guarantees a return based on a deposit, with the insurer carrying the corresponding risk. Banks don’t offer that security to savers; the interest on a savings account often fluctuates. The work of insurers and banks is different which means they have to maintain different capital buffers. Pension funds Secondly, the pension funds. The new Financial Assessment Framework puts more stringent demands on the pension funds but also gives them more time to recuperate when they are faced with adversity. The pension payments don’t have to go down immediately, as happened in the past few years. However, the pension funds have resisted the new framework and have also asked for a postponement of the introduction of the new actuarial interest rate. The new rate is a more prudent way of calculating future commitments. The argument against its introduction is the fact that the rate for insurers is still in the pipeline and would differ from that for the pension funds. That argument brushes aside the distinction the framework makes between insurers and pension funds and ignores the authority of the Dutch National Bank to independently determine the rate. The Senate, after much deliberation and just within the deadline, approved the new framework but did support the protests against the new actuarial interest rate. Pension funds need to be honest; high (hoped for) returns carry more risks. But in that case you have to be able to carry them. Housing market Thirdly, the housing market, which has been suffering from excessive credit. The mortgage interest tax break contributed to high mortgages and the creation of a housing bubble. This tax break is gradually being pared down. New mortgages will have to be paid off within the normal thirty-year time frame. From 2015, the rules for a new mortgage will be pared down further and will depend in greater measure on income and the value of the house. This hasn’t gone down well with builders and the association of homeowners Vereniging Eigen Huis. Why do we do this? More than a third of mortgage holders are trapped in negative equity. We have to realise that from the moment the mortgage is signed many homes are worth less than the amount on the mortgage papers, even before the crisis began. Until a few years ago this was allowed, with all the risks it entailed. With a single percentage point the cabinet is now bringing back the norm to 100%. In other words, if you want a mortgage you will have to put in some money of your own. Income will be another determining factor when taking out a mortgage. Now that mortgages will have to be paid back within thirty years, monthly household expenses will grow. Independent family spending institute NIBUD had another look at the present lending norms and suggested that the lower income groups should be treated with more care. For incomes of up to €28,000 the 2015 norm will be lowered by 3 to 6.5 percentage points. Critics are forecasting another crisis on the housing market but the real question is whether we are prepared to retain the lessons of the last crisis for more than a couple of years. Banks Finally, the banks. The banking crisis in the Netherlands was a major one. The Dutch taxpayer paid tens of billions of euros to keep the sector afloat. In spite of the enormous impact on society and the economy, the banks now balk at sharper capital requirements, especially the requirement to make up at least 4% of the balance from their core capital. The frequently repeated argument against this requirement is that it would have a negative impact on loans to small and medium-sized companies. However, a study carried out by the Dutch national bank shows that in the proposed basic scenario banks will be able to comply with all the requirements and at the same time provide loans compatible with the projected economic development. How? Banks have been making a pre-tax profit of €8bn a year on average during the last four (crisis) years. Expectations are that as the economy recovers that amount will go up. After taxes, the banks will still be looking at a profit of over €5bn. This will enable them to strengthen their core capital without any hindrance to the provision of loans. The real question is if we are prepared not only to learn the lessons of the crisis but to apply them, even if we don’t like the short-term consequences. We need to bear in mind that risk management will be more efficient and affordable. An economic recovery based on new bubbles and false promises will lead to a repeat performance of 2008 and more damage to the economy and society. Jeroen Dijsselbloem is the Dutch finance minister and chairman of the Eurogroup This is a DutchNews translation of an opinion piece which appeared earlier in NRC Q  More >


Expat is meaningless. It’s time to ditch the e word

Expat is meaningless. It’s time to ditch the e word

Years ago, the word expat was glamorous and inspired a certain envy in the stay-at-homes. But now the term is almost one of abuse and covers such a wide variety of people as to be meaningless, writes Robin Pascoe. Expats, we used to think, lived in luxury with servants on exclusive estates and sipped cocktails at the club in the evening. But those days are long gone – if they ever existed in the Netherlands. Relocation packages have been slashed, travel is cheap, social media has revolutionised keeping in touch with the folks back home and spending several years working or studying abroad has become much more common. Last week the Dutch statistics agency CBS had a not altogether successful attempt at defining how many expats there are in the Netherlands. It based its calculations on the assumption that the expat is a high earner and aged 18 to 75. The total the CBS came up with was between 39,000 and 75,000, depending on if they were in the top 15% or top 35% of earners in their sector. Variety This is one way of trying to quantify how many foreigners move to the Netherlands. But it fails to include diplomatic staff, partners and families, those who came for love, students, interns, start-up entrepreneurs, the self-employed, the free movers, the seasonal workers, those who came and never left - the huge variety of people who today make up the international community. You can’t blame the CBS for trying. The word expat is batted around by everyone these days – national government, city councils, housing agencies, banks, health clinics, job boards and websites, not least of all this one. The difference in the CBS definition between ‘expat’, ‘knowledge worker’ and ‘immigrant’ or even ‘allochtoon’ appears to be simply a matter of salary. Come here to work as a tomato picker and you are a migrant labourer. But come to lead a team of software engineers and you are much more desirable expat with a red carpet waiting for you. Irrelevant It is time to ditch the e word. It is irrelevant at a time when the workforce is becoming increasingly mobile and global travel has never been so cheap or so easy. Europe has open borders so we can come and go as we please or where the job takes us. Every student worth his or her salt does a stint in Barcelona or an internship in New York. Most of the new breed of foreigners who come to work in the Netherlands do so because they want to, not because their firm has sent them here on a three year stint. They don’t have thousands of euros a month to spend on a luxury apartment and they don’t want to live in a gilded cage. Abuse But more than being meaningless, the word is almost becoming a term of abuse. There is an undercurrent developing, in Amsterdam at least, of anti-expat sentiment: all those fancy ‘shortstay’ apartments and glossy expat centres in prime locations – not to mention the generous tax reductions they can get via the 30% ruling. Instead of haphazardly trying to define what an expat is, let’s ditch the word altogether. Let us acknowledge the fact that a large group of non-Dutch nationals live in the Netherlands. Some are working, some are studying, some are raising families and some are running their own companies. They are international employees, employers, Indians, Americans, Europeans, husbands and wives. Describing them as expats negates their different roles and brushes over their different needs. The international community in the Netherlands is as diverse and as essential to the economy as the Dutch one. Robin Pascoe is the editor of DutchNews.nl. She has lived in the Netherlands for nearly 30 years and describes herself as an immigrant. How do you describe yourself? Take part in our homepage poll  More >


Labour party woes: Aboutaleb and Asscher to the rescue

Labour party woes: Aboutaleb and Asscher to the rescue

This weekend the Labour party held a two-day conference to set itself up for the provincial elections in March. The party is seriously suffering in the polls and is on course to lose many seats. Communications advisor Ton Planken thinks Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb and social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher are well-placed to build bridges – and help Labour over its electoral slump at the same time. A surprising by-product of the wave of indignation that followed the attack on Charlie Hebdo is that we have witnessed the emergence of the new leader of the Labour party: Ahmed Aboutaleb. He speaks to us like no other Labour politician since Joop den Uyl. If Labour knows what is good for it, it will persuade Aboutaleb to head the list for the next general elections and if it links him to Lodewijk Asscher as well the electoral fortunes of the party could soar. Two great politicians, one from Amsterdam and one from Rotterdam, the best Labour has to offer. Granted, Frans Timmermans is good too, but I’m sure he would support Aboutaleb’s candidacy. Number three on the list would be Jeroen Dijsselbloem. All three are tried and tested politicians with faultless records. Juicy soundbite What is more, Aboutaleb and Asscher both represent two important minorities in Dutch society. They express what the Netherlands stands for – that anyone, regardless of his or her background, can reach the highest echelons the country has to offer. Ahmed Aboutaleb would be able to attract many Muslims who are opposed to radical Islam and so unite people instead of dividing them like Geert Wilders. Why are these two so appealing? It’s because they have a vision, unlike Rutte who managed to solemnly declare he had ‘no vision.’ They are ready to take the initiative, to warn, to organise. To tell us roundly what threats await us and what the situation is. Both are mediagenic – a criterion that unfortunately weighs all too heavily on politics but there we are. Both look good, both are good speakers who don’t often take refuge in clichés. They know the media needs a juicy soundbite every once in a while. Both men incorporate new elements in their public statements. That means that where the media are concerned the battle will be half won already. They also have the gun factor because they are authentic: their anger and indignation look real. Because of this they can easily cope with news shows and election debates without having to demonstrate the kind of desperation that was Job Cohen’s hallmark. Diederik Samsom The only thing they have to do is to develop a vision on how to increase the country’s earning capacity. Make the cake bigger instead of divvying it up in increasingly disparate portions. They should have a clear idea of how to continue the sustainability drive – a fine job for Diederik Samsom in the new cabinet or parliamentary party. They must also look at possibly tough measures to limit immigration and prevent the emergence of home-grown jihadists. But they don’t need me to tell them that. It is possible that Labour, faced with the coming provincial elections and the election of the Senate – and a collapsing cabinet - can perhaps, thanks to the effect of the ruthless actions of a couple of jihadists, look to a brighter future. Ton Planken is a communication advisor and a former political commentator This article appeared earlier in Trouw  More >


This week: Optimistic unemployed youth, hero Aboutaleb, earthquakes in Groningen

This week's editorials were dominated by recent events in Paris, leading to both soul-searching and criticism of the Dutch government's efforts to combat terrorism. Rotterdam's mayor, described as a hero by his London counterpart for his stance on domestic jihadis, did not win universal praise however. Terrorism The debate on how to cope with the terrorist threat in the Netherlands was ‘a ritual dance full of big words and inconsistencies and no concrete outcomes'. Political parties are divided while the cabinet is trying to hold on to its credibility,’ Elsevier wrote this week. The new measures initially proposed by security minister Ivo Opstelten to get tough on terrorism have now been replaced by complacency, the magazine wrote. All suggestions were dismissed as ‘We already do this’, ‘That is not opportune at the moment’, ‘We have the situation under control’, according to the magazine. Elsevier sees ‘a culture war between parties while the cabinet is constructing a mosaic of left-wing and right-wing measures, which are either put in place quickly or disappear into a drawer'. Opstelten put a brave face on it and called this policy ‘made-to-measure’. But by the end of the debate, late at night, nobody believed him.’ (Elsevier, 15-01-2015) Critic Writer Hassnae Bouazza is a lone critical voice of Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb who called himself a ‘very angry Muslim’ and told discontented Muslims to ‘sod off’ in a reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. ‘Aboutaleb is an incredible demagogue, a showman, nothing he says will bring people together. I find it objectionable that he’s using Muslims as a separate category to raise his profile,’ she writes. Bouazza thinks Aboutaleb is wrong to ask ordinary Muslims to speak out against terrorism. ‘He is implying they are complicit in the crime if they don’t. But it’s the perpetrators who are guilty, and no one else. People of my mother’s and Aboutaleb’s generation don’t take to the streets in protest. They are introverts, like many elderly Muslims, and Aboutaleb knows it.’ (VK, 12-01-2015) Earthquakes The Volkskrant looked at another issue boiling away in the north of the Netherlands - the problems caused by natural gas extraction. ‘Minister Henk Kamp’s timing is not very good; every time he visits Groningen he is preceded by an earthquake which re-ignites the anger of the locals’, the Volkskrant commented. To make things worse a leaked report revealed a complete disregard of the population on the part of the government and gas group NAM. Shutting down gas production completely is ‘an impossibility’, the paper concedes but ‘if Kamp doesn’t try to look for common ground between the government and the locals the issue will never be resolved.’ Kamp could make a start by allocating money from the emergency fund for duped locals more quickly and up compensation for people who want to sell up and leave, the paper concluded.(Volkskrant, 13-01-2015) Youth ‘Pessimism and the economic crisis go together but the remarkable thing is that today’s youngsters – unemployed or not – are optimistic,' the NRC wrote this week. Young people are better equipped to deal with change while the older generation is struggling to keep up, the paper said. ‘Differences between the generations often lead to snap judgements about the young: they are self-centred, spoilt and don’t care for solidarity.’ But young people simply do things differently. Their means of production is a laptop which creates ‘endless opportunities’ but, the paper pointed out, there is a downside: ‘Not everyone can be a winner (…). Let the optimism of youth be an example for all but remember that society must provide a safety net for those who don’t win.’ (NRC, 11-01-2015)  More >


Go on strike for a higher wage!

Go on strike for a higher wage!

White collar union De Unie has just said it will stop organising strikes in support of its demands. Economist Mathijs Bouman thinks unions shouldn’t be rigid but to give up the right to strike is going just that little bit too far. Reinier Castelein is a civilised person. Dressed in banker’s pinstripes, an in-house tie and sporting the sleek hairstyle of the financial commentator, he is the antithesis of a rabid union leader. There is no megaphone in Castelein’s office, no union caps adorn his coat rack. His union De Unie is a civilised union for civilised people. Ranting on the Malieveld or raving on Dam square is not the sort of thing Unie members go in for. Constructive meetings with employers and an outcome that benefits all parties is much more their style. Arguments And that is how it came about that Castelein, with effortless nonchalance, put out the hard-fought right to strike with the other rubbish. Strikes don’t resolve anything, says Castelein. ‘If arguments can’t do it, doing the conga on the Malieveld is certainly not going convince anybody,’ he stated earlier this week. I like De Unie. Unlike other unions, it doesn’t rigidly hold on to acquired rights and antiquated labour market situations. But volunteering to give up the right to strike is just a little too pacifist for my liking. The knives should be out and stay out, especially now! The Netherlands is dying for a jump in wages, or at least a small skip to boost spending and increase inflation. That’s what the economy needs. And it’s the middle incomes, the people De Unie represents, who need it most. The average collective labour agreement wage went up by around 6% over the last five years. Inflation came in at 10% so in real terms wages went down. A logical chain of events considering the crisis but now that the economy is rallying it’s time to even up. Comfortable Not every company or sector qualifies for a wage top up. But companies showing healthy profits and a comfortable capital position should definitely interest De Unie negotiators. Not KLM but Bol.com. The building industry no, financial services certainly. Leave Assen be, go to Eindhoven instead. In order to back up such a sector or company-specific demand, the union undoubtedly needs the ultimate threat of strike action. But it should focus on this and nothing else. Too many times unions have let themselves be side-lined by defending minor interests and previously acquired rights. Trading off a possible wage rise for vague promises of more jobs, more leave, changes to the unemployment benefits act, money for sector training funds or some pension pimp up is out. What you want is dosh, money in the bank for workers, that’s what it’s all about. Forget the battle against modernisation, stop fighting the self-employed and strike for a better wage! Castelein, get yourself to the Malieveld! Mathijs Bouman is an economist. This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


MH17: the Blame Game

Could the downing of the MH17 have been avoided? Now that it has become known that the civil service had ‘official’ knowledge of the dangers of Ukrainian airspace, Christ Klep explains why the Dutch government did not acknowledge its responsibility.   And so it happened that the question of blame shifted to the Netherlands. In the wake of such a serious and complex disaster this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Was the Netherlands really completely ignorant of the risks? No, someone deep inside the civil service maze knew about the dangers of the airspace above eastern Ukraine. Or rather: someone had official knowledge of these dangers. It’s important to make the distinction. The fact that there were dangers was common knowledge. All you had to do was read the papers. Military planes were shot down frequently. This piece of the puzzle was well-known. But a couple of days ago this piece of the puzzle started to change colour. It went from green to red. It is changing from a relatively unthreatening detail for the Dutch authorities involved into a potentially very hot potato. The classic ‘what if?’ question has become a much weightier one. Until very recently the government could counter it by stating that there simply weren’t any data to justify an immediate stop to flights over eastern Ukraine. And yet. Apparently someone in the chain of civil servants could have raised the alarm. Of course all this is hindsight but in any case a not unimportant part of the question of who is to blame is now ‘officially’ on the plate of the Dutch government. The cabinet has been less than forthcoming about the issue and not for nothing. (A telling detail: the answers to MPs’ questions came shortly before midnight). There are at least two reasons for this. The government has consistently championed the cause of the victims. It expressed the national feeling of indignation and swore not to rest until the culprits were found. Moral leadership, however, flourishes by means of an unbiased division of roles. The cabinet did not want to lose control of the events following the downing of MH17. Paradoxical as it may seem, a candid admission of one’s own responsibility is not a likely step in this context. 'Intrinsically' negative Secondly, the government is certain of one thing: the aftermath of MH17 is going to be ‘intrinsically’ negative, thorny and unpredictable. Follow-up questions are looming on the horizon. Who knew exactly what and what was done with this information? The civil service has an endless number of options to stifle and evade this question. ‘No, we had no formal duty to inform other authorities.’ Or: ‘Of course, had we only known, we would have taken the necessary steps..etc.’ In short, there is a chance that the aftermath of MH17 will be damaging for this government. Perhaps the explanation for MH17 is very simple: no one could have imagined that the rebels would shoot down a passenger plane. But it’s not that simple (anymore). The ‘what if?’ question is now an ‘official’ one. It will be interesting to hear the reactions of the aviation authorities and the secret services. They will probably go on the defensive, as they have done before. But this kind of morally-loaded scenario is something for MPs, investigative journalists, lawyers and families of the victims to get their teeth into. It’s a highly explosive mix of new details, revelations and partial – and consequently unsatisfactory – answers. The same happened after the terrorist attacks of 2001 (‘nine eleven’) and Srbrenica. The authorities involved are in for a rough ride. The fight surrounding the apportioning of blame will be long and difficult and it will be as fascinating as it is alienating. Christ Klep is a military historian This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


God: ‘Up here everyone calls me Charlie’

God: ‘Up here everyone calls me Charlie’

Dutch writer and comedian Youp van 't Hek gives his take the terrorist attacks in Paris. When the internet was abuzz on Friday morning with the news that Fidel Castro had died, my thoughts immediately went out to the murdered cartoonists: no sooner have they arrived in some hereafter or other still in shock about having been blown away for being funny than they are greeted by the sight of the Cuban dictator. What to do? A quick cartoon of the crotchety old lefty sourpuss? Or hide to avoid the six-hour speech he is bound to make? Castro wasn’t much fun. Pesky cartoonists would languish in his jails. He knew how far a kalashnikov would take him. It all turned out to be a bit premature. Fidel is still breathing. His old pal Harry Mulish can’t wait to see him but will have to wait a little longer. In the meantime the brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi did check in. What did they find? Is their paradise an illusion devoid of a single welcoming virgin? Will they have to burn in hell because they decided to play judge, jury and executioner on earth? Maybe. Or will the supreme being forgive them at the gates of heaven for simply not knowing any better? For listening to hordes of frightened idiots who don’t know what to do with the single life they have on earth? It’s complicated, I know. You’re walking around on this earth and you wonder why. You can’t think of anything so you invent a maker. Then someone else invents another maker. Andries Knevel’s maker looks different from the average Muslim’s maker. And the jolly Dalai Lama’s maker is not like the one adored by the porn rabbi who is currently barred from the synagogue in the Lekstraat in Amsterdam. What I believe? I don’t know. I can’t say there’s ‘something’, nor do I have the arrogance to say there’s nothing. I’m a cowardly doubter. I once explained on stage that I have my own private god. His name is Oelikoeli. Oelikoeli has no rules. You can do whatever you want. He doesn’t demand you have a bit of your pecker snipped off at a young age, or the fun parts of your lady bits removed. He doesn’t mind when you address him, it really is up to you. Oelikoeli is not particular. As far as he’s concerned you can kneel on a mat or a church bench, fast until you drop or sing your heart out if you think it’ll give you a better chance at a life hereafter. Get into any garb you like if you think it suits you only don’t expect me to do the same. And if others laugh at your faith or god, let them laugh. You might be the one who has the last laugh in the end. But don’t tell me what to do on earth. And if you insist on convincing me use words not kalashnikovs or a suicide bomber. They’re an admission of weakness, from believers and dictators alike. Let’s just assume that the supreme being is a really friendly, forgiving sweety who shakes his head at every new arrival: ‘What on earth did you think you were you doing? Why all this mayhem about something you had no way of knowing? There’s only one person who can be sure about the existence of god and that’s god himself.’ And all the believers will apologise and say: ‘And that’s you! Your name is god!’ And a very benign god will answer: ‘It doesn’t matter what you call me, God, Allah, Yahweh, it’s all the same to me. But up here everyone calls me Charlie.’ Youp van 't Hek is a comedian and writer.  More >


Dutch papers on the Charlie Hebdo killings: ‘An attack on democracy’

Dutch papers on the Charlie Hebdo killings: ‘An attack on democracy’

The attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris dominated the front pages of all the Dutch newspapers on Thursday. The Telegraaf declared the shooting a 'bloody attack on our freedom'. 'Barbaric believers who want to destroy us should be fought against and removed using every available resource,' the paper said. 'We owe it to ourselves to defend the free word at any price. We will not let ourselves be made afraid.' NRC.next carried a Charlie Hebdo magazine on its front page showing a Muslim man and a cartoonist kissing, with the text 'love is stronger than hate'. The AD headlined its front page 'We are all Charlie' with a photograph of the Paris demonstrations. Analysis The front page of the Netherlands’ only financial newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad was devoted to editorial on the attack, headlined 'civil courage'. Inside, in an analysis, the paper asked ‘does our open, diverse and democratic society’ still have the capacity to put opinions and convictions into perspective – something which is crucial to ‘avoid becoming imprisoned by dogma, polarisation and extremism’. ‘Charlie Hebdo is, in France, an essential link in the democratic process of forming opinions. It provoked every form of authority … and does not allow itself to be intimidated by earlier attacks and continual threats.’ Muslim extremism in Europe is now something other than a man with a beard in a cave in Pakistan, the paper said. ‘It has the face of Isis fighters, girls and boys who went to school here and who have been fired up by a vague ideal, frustration, a desire for adventure or who simply want to be someone other than a castaway in a run-down European neighbourhood...' Terrorism wants to achieve its aims by violence and Wednesday’s actions were that of executioners, the paper said. ‘They want to destablise and polarise.’ Exploitation ‘The suspicions about Islam exploited by the Front National of Marine Le Pen and her father are being further fueled... This is why the attack in Paris is a signal to politicians to look further than their initial reflexes… Most EU countries are very complex societies on an individual level and even more so in terms of their alliance,' the FD said. ‘The existence of a large and homogenous middle class as a social reservoir and reserve of wealth against decay and degradation is disappearing or is under pressure… Every day the European is confronted with new streams of refugees, including those from places which have been turned into hell by the same extremists and jihadis experts tell us are coming back to do the same here. ‘What price is our society prepared to pay to reduce the risks of terrorism? Even if price is no object, they are never to be ruled out entirely. Charlie Hebdo had police protection. The result was more violence. Will media companies have be protected by security gates, concrete barricades and barbed wire? Should we not have a European security service? Big Brother can now see the opportunities.'  More >


Female executive quotas: Move over men ( it’s for your own good)

Female executive quotas: Move over men ( it’s for your own good)

The discussion about the lack of women in top jobs in the Netherlands rages every year and government minister Jet Bussemaker now says quotas may end up being inevitable. Indeed, a quota for female directors would make men better administrators, says sociologist Niraï Melis If all else fails, Dutch companies should be obliged to appoint more women in the top positions, says emancipation minister Jet Bussemaker. A female directors quota automatically implies a male directors quota. And that is a good thing because it will, of necessity, improve the quality of male administrators. Not all male top executives are good executives. Some are excellent and get top marks while others are just scraping by. The latter climbed to the top during the boom years but, faced with a recession, they seem incapable of changing their approach. They stand in the way of necessary change and the company suffers. Playing safe The fact that most below average execs continue to be in place means there is too much room for men at the top. Natural selection does not appear to work here. And it couldn’t because people subconsciously select people who are like them and won’t pose a threat. Someone who is, say, a nine on the scale of excellence will choose another nine, or rather an eight. A ten would be not be appreciated, nor would people who bring additional qualities to the negotiations. Playing safe is what matters most. Meanwhile the level of the male executives is going down. Those who score no more than a six on the scale are happy: they are being paid well and don’t have to fear for their jobs. They continue the culture of below averageness and because of the group dynamics and the safety of their position they don’t feel any need whatsoever to develop their skills. Tougher A male directors quota could change all that. Fewer places at the top mean a tougher selection process. Suddenly the safe position of the sixes is no longer that safe. These men will have to prove they are worth their pay. The jovial fellow administrator becomes a competitor instead of a complicit friend. This will force the sixes to become eights and nines, or else the job will go to the next nine who comes along. Nines and tens will develop too. They will hold on to their jobs but the group dynamic will change. They will have to introduce new communication techniques and will be confronted with opposing views. Leadership Men subconsciously acknowledge the leadership of one person. With women in the mix that leadership will vary, depending on how convincing the leader is. A quota will improve the quality of male top execs and that is good for the economy. A company led by nines and tens is financially more stable and profitable than one run by sixes. So men, embrace the male quota and fill those executive chairs with nines and tens. Niraï Melis is a sociologist This article appeared earlier in Trouw  More >


Africa has more to offer the world than ebola

Trendwatcher Farid Tabarki says it is time to forget Africa's troubles and look at the opportunities the continent offers instead. I’m counting on the fact that you donated your pennies during the Ebola crisis appeal over the past weeks.  Or did you go all out and by the 2014 version of Do they know it’s Christmas? Every little helps to stop the West African epidemic. Yet all these images and initiatives put us on the wrong foot as well. Africa isn’t just a continent of troubles and relief aid but one of great opportunity. For the continent itself, but also for the Netherlands. Potential During the past year, I spoke about the international growth potential for SMEs at the Dutch Entrepreneurs week in five cities. I started with the same question every time: which economy do you think has the highest growth rate? China and India! Wrong. Even after showing a photograph of the national football team the audience answer of Brazil was still on the wrong continent. The winner with 11.1% growth in the first decade of the 21st century is Angola. According to The Economist, the average African country will grow faster than the average Asian country in the coming five years. Rwanda Rwanda is also making great headway - which is nothing short of a miracle after the bloody genocide of 1994. The small, densely populated country of a thousand hills has ambitions as high as the 4,507 metres high dormant volcano Mount Karisimbi. On 22 November the Financieele Dagblad covered the country's potential extensively. ‘Rwanda gets serious about its future – but they need to hurry’, the paper said. KLM contributes by flying direct from Amsterdam to Kigali, the capital. Heineken The Netherlands is also well represented in neighbouring Burundi. In the capital, Bujumbura, on the Tanganyika Lake beach, you’ll find the Bora Bora bar, a seriously trendy place to be with large lounge cushions that carry the Heineken logo. Actually, there is no place in the city where that logo is not present. Two hundred kilometers to the north, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on Lake Kivu lies Goma. The Netherlands Ltd. is established here as well. In this megacity, the trendiest fashion store has a pristine white façade with ‘Vlisco’ painted on it in gold lettering. It is the name of a textiles company from Helmond, a city in one of the Dutch southern provinces which grew in turnover from €170m in 2009 to almost €300m in 2013. Vlisco’s pet name is ‘Africa’s Fashion Titan’. Capitalise Dutch companies are already capitalising well on the enormous economic opportunities in Africa. In the last quarter, Heineken grew by 6.5%. KLM-Air France adds African destinations to its network on an almost yearly basis, allowing you to fly direct to 45 African cities from Paris or Amsterdam. In the meantime, Africans themselves have begun to realise they can do more than just deliver raw materials. They can also create services and manufacturing industries. Earlier this month, for example, another Dutch paper published an article stating that Ivory Coast is about to surpass the Netherlands as the main cocoa processing country. Meanwhile, Dutch firm Moyee is doing good business in coffee. This company makes the production chain more transparent, takes out some of the middlemen and moves the production process as much as possible to Ethiopia. All this under the ‘Fair Chain’ brand. Government What does the Dutch government do? It closes embassies because it wants to concentrate development co-operation in fewer countries. This is a downright silly policy if you look at it from an economic potential perspective. Bye bye network and foot in the door. With the amount of people expected to double from one to two billion in the coming 35 years, there are enormous opportunities for multi-nationals, SMEs and entrepreneurial individuals. I therefore urge you to look beyond conflict, illness, poverty and aid, and to consider Africa as a continent of hope and opportunity. Injustice At the same time, don’t close your eyes to injustice. Stability comes with oppression of the local population. In the long run this will lead to bloody incidents. This week, The EastAfrican reported on its front page an 8% increase in African weapons expenditure. On the other hand, maybe this is exactly your business: The Netherlands ranks in the top 10 of weapons exporters and has done for years. Rather you than me. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful for an African mix of economic prosperity, peace and democracy. That way we can forget about Ebola again as soon as possible. Farid Tabarki is trendwatcher and founder of Studio Zeitgeist. Twitter: @studiozeitgeist This column was first published in the Financieele Dagblad.   More >