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


The Netherlands must be seen to be open for business: D66

The Netherlands has to protect its own companies but must be seen to open for business at the same time, says D66 MP Jan Paternotte. An open economy is good for the Netherlands. At the same time we must prevent Dutch companies from becoming an easy prey for American companies on a shopping spree. A compulsory cooling-off period in the case of a hostile takeover, as suggested by former CEOs Jan Hommen and Hans Weijers, would be a good way of creating a bit of much-needed breathing space. Companies will then have an opportunity of offering shareholders an alternative. Recently three Dutch companies have been the objects of unwanted corporate attention: PostNL, Unilever and AkzoNobel. The American company PPG announced it could launch a hostile bid on AkzoNobel at any given moment. There are several European countries with a political and cultural tradition of building defensive walls around ‘their’ national companies. You may have shares in a French company but ownership is a matter for the Élysée. Non! When Pepsi tried to take over Danone in 2006 the French government countered with a resolute ‘Non!’. It did not matter what the shareholders thought: this French flagship was not going to become American. With the help of the unions the French authorities increased the pressure and Danone remained French. Such thick defensive walls would not do for the Netherlands. This country profits from having an open economy. Take Heineken, for instance, which buys up breweries all over the world, and is now the second largest brewer in the world. Or AkzoNobel, whose second name refers to the Swedish company bought by Dutch Akzo. Some political parties want special committees to determine if takeovers are in line with government policy. That would not be a good move: the Netherlands must be seen to be open for business. National control Of course there are some companies, telecom companies among them, which should remain under national control. But Akzo’s paint and Unilever’s peanut butter are hardly vital for national security. The Netherlands can’t afford to be naïve, however. The dollar is high against the euro and interest rates are low. American stock exchanges are showing record highs as big companies are factoring in great expectations from the Trump administration. For American companies Dutch companies are now relatively cheap. That is how Kraft-Heinz felt able to take on a larger company like Unilever, which promptly got rid of its margarine division in a bid to appease its shareholders. Today’s takeovers are not what they were. Kraft (now Kraft-Heinz) took over British company Cadbury but failed to honour promises made over the continuation of 400 jobs at a factory. The company is good at keeping costs down but does not do very well on sustainability and long-term innovation. The takeover bid for AkzoNobel involved a group of shareholders convicted of insider trading by a French court. Healthy profits The takeover of an ailing company can be a good thing. But Unilever and Akzo are booking healthy profits. That is why a level playing field must be created in the Netherlands and Europe. The extent of the political intervention in the economy in France and Southern Europe is well-known but Germany and the United Kingdom also have protective measures in place. Germany has fewer listed companies and unions have a powerful voice in takeover negotiations. In Britain, Theresa May was one of the first to announce government intervention when the bid for Unilever was announced. In the US Trump has announced his own protectionist policies. In a level European playing field, a trading nation like the Netherlands would never have to be afraid of the competition. It is important, moreover, that European countries should not become involved in a battle of protectionist measures. We must prevent the western world from becoming engulfed in a wave of protectionism and that is why Europe too must put the subject on the agenda. This column was published earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


It’s time for a cabinet without the CDA: Marianne Thieme

The Christian Democrats are never going to support real green policies and it time they should be cut out of the cabinet formation process, writes Marianne Thieme, leader of the pro-animal PvdD No matter how often it was suggested that Edith Schippers and the cabinet negotiators from the VVD, CDA, D66 and GroenLinks were creating the ‘greenest cabinet ever’ it was clear from the outset that GroenLinks and the CDA were never going to see eye to eye. The differences between the two were large: a cap on the number of animals held in mega stables, climate objectives and the transition to a more plant-based and animal friendlier society - in short the green bit in the GroenLinks election programme. Former coalition broker and CDA stalwart Herman Wijffels and CDA leader Sybrand Buma were adamant the party was never going to agree to green reform, rather the opposite. The formation process had hardly started when it stumbled at the first hurdle. The climate legislation proposed by GroenLinks, Labour, D66, SP and ChristenUnie was declared controversial (bills deemed too politically sensitive to be passed ‘between cabinets’ are declared controversial, DN) by the lower chamber at the request of the VVD. The declaration did not bode well for future negotiations. Were the requirements set by the Paris accord to be put on hold because progressive parties were already dreading the climate agendas of the VVD and CDA? Sources close to the negotiating parties said that no bills proposed by them would be discussed during the formation period. But apparently there was room for exceptions: new and controversial organ donation legislation was passed without so much as a murmur. Stagnation climate law It is nothing short of scandalous that GroenLinks and D66 as well as fellow supporters of the climate bill - Labour, SP and ChristenUnie - hardly said a word against the stagnation tactics surrounding the bill. The fact that they agreed not to support any proposal that involves spending money during the formation shows that the ambition to govern overruled their professed ideals from the start. It showed a potential willingness to set aside green policies, which is not what people voted for and which denies the urgency of the climate problem. Moreover, there was no need at all for GroenLinks and D66 to opt for a coalition with VVD and CDA. On the contrary, the combination would not be a very disadvantageous one seeing that CDA and VVD can count on the support of PVV, SGP and FvD (Forum for Democracy, DN) when it comes to shooting down green policies. Green-right It would be wise not to involve the CDA in new negotiations. From 1998 the VVD has frequently made it clear it would be open to what could be dubbed a ‘green-right’ policy, including a restructuring of intensive stock farming. Add to this the explicit preference of  VVD ally employers’ organisation VNO-NCW for setting a course for a greener future and it becomes clear that other combinations would be the more obvious option. Side-lining the CDA would open the door to negotiations about a truly green policy with possible coalition partners such as ChristenUnie, Partij voor de Dieren and perhaps Labour. If the SP didn’t rule out any collaboration with the VVD for now, the coalition could be broader still. As it is it would be a green cabinet with a majority in both chambers. Green policy is not something a new cabinet can take or leave. It must be deeply rooted in the government accord. Now that the CDA has shown it doesn’t care about green issues, it’s time for plan B. Without the CDA. This column was published earlier in Trouw  More >


What the Dutch papers say about insulting women, Jewish traditions and young Turks

Introducing a new DutchNews.nl regular, a round-up of some of the week's best or most provocative columns. This week we tackle insulting women as entertainment for boys, the way politicians harp on about the Netherlands Jewish-Christian tradition and why young Dutch Turks voted to give president Erdogan more powers. Insulting women Micro biologist and NRC columnist Rosanne Herzberger takes on Telegraaf Media’s website Dumpert.nl which features a show called DumpertReeten (Dumpert arses) in which ‘a couple of men children are slouched on the sofa watching infantile videos. They express their appreciation via a special rating. If it’s a bad video, one woman wearing a string and bra turns around to show her backside. If the video is good four or five women do the same.’ Referencing Fox News’ Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, both fired for sexual harassment, Herzberger suggests that women hit back with a well-aimed kick, not quite in the balls of TMG but fairly close: the pocket book, i.e its advertising revenue. ‘Fortunately capitalism provides a great solution to this sort of situation. Women, apart from having breasts, legs and backsides, are also America’s most important consumers. They decide which make car is bought, they decide where to go on holiday and they do the shopping. So when the women working at Fox all began to start legal procedures against their bosses one advertiser after another distanced themselves from the show.’ ‘Humiliating women is big business,’ Herzberger writes, so who why not have a closer look at the advertisers who ‘apparently have no problem with this sort of content at all.’ Herberger kicks things off with a screenshot on Twitter and asks Who’s with me?  #wiebetaaltDumpertReeten The Jewish-Christian tradition Elsevier's outspoken columnist Gerry van der List wonders why politicians' first reaction is to trot out the ‘Jewish-Christian tradition of the country as a frontline against the militant faith of large numbers of immigrants’. The Jewish-Christian tradition, he says, is ‘a dubious concept that has little unifying power in secular times’. What unites the Dutch is not being Jewish or Christian, but the liberal-humanist tradition, Van der List says. ‘This liberal humanism is under pressure from immigration. Fortuyn and Wilder’s concerns about Islam have a basis in a worrying reality. But the decreasing attraction of religious feasts is not a reason for worry. In a civilised and tolerant country everyone can do what he likes during Easter, whether it’s listening to the Matthäus Passion, going to church, visiting the Keukenhof, reading the Koran or eating sausage at the HEMA. Tolerance for different lifestyles – it’s a virtue that has not always been prominent in the Jewish and Christian traditions’. Turkish vote In the Volkskrant journalist and documentary maker Sinan Can explains why he is not surprised so many Dutch Turks voted for an extension of president Erdogan’s powers in the Turkish referendum. ‘It’s a natural impulse to look for rational arguments for the vote for Erdogan. You go down the list: feeling ignored, discrimination, feelings of alienation etc. While there’s a small kernel of truth in all of these, I think there is something else at work here,’ Can writes. According to Can, part of Erdogan’s appeal is his glorification of Turkey’s past. ‘Turks are crazy for the faded glory of Turkey’s history. He shows himself to be a forceful leader with a big mouth who dares to call the Dutch and the Germans Nazis. They think that’s fantastic. They also like that he’s from humble beginnings. And he exudes a feeling of ‘I’m gonna make Turkey great again.’ Coalition Meanwhile fellow Volkskrant columnist Bert Wagendorp predicts work on the ‘GreenRight coalition’ will continue, particularly as everyone involved seems to have a soft spot for GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver. ‘As formation watcher I see Klaver’s ambition and eagerness: he wants to be part of this. Add to this the fatherly feelings I seem to detect in Buma ( I saw a photograph in which he smiles at Jesse), Pechtold’s wiliness (he needs Jesse, things would become much more complicated with CU or Labour) and Rutte’s sunny disposition (Jesse is a bit of a lefty but a great guy) and I we may even see a successful end to the negotiations.'  More >


Working together is a key part of the Dutch psyche

Working together is a key part of the Dutch psyche

Working together to reach consensus is one of the essences of being Dutch. No wonder then that even at school children learn all about making deals with their peers, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe The Netherlands is now in the middle of a long and complicated process to create a new coalition government. The Dutch political system invariably creates coalitions and the process can take months and months. Manifesto points are ditched, compromises reached, trade-offs agreed and finally the parties that have managed to find enough common ground publish their long-awaited coalition agreement – their blue-print for the country for the next four years. Consensus Those who romanticise the Dutch tradition of consensus like to see its origins in the Dutch fight against the sea – when everyone had to work together to ensure the dykes were high and the waves kept at bay. This may well be the case. But consensus is not just confined to the corridors of power in The Hague. Consensus also looms large in industry and economic policy in the form of the polder – the Dutch word for reclaimed land which is also the name given to the tripartite talks between employers, unions and the government that always take place when a major issue needs to be dealt with. But the Dutch love of consensus starts well before you’ve reached a position of influence in politics or industry. It permeates every level of Dutch society – right down to the education system. Yes, if you’ve got children at a Dutch school, you will not be able to avoid the practice of working together in groups. Working together I’ve never been sure about whether the Dutch school fondness for group-based projects is about teaching kids to get along and work together, to get them to accept how to make the best of things or because the teacher can’t face the idea of marking 30 different projects on World War II or fossil fuels. The trouble starts when junior comes home cursing about the fact he has been put in a group with three others who are, he says, stupid and lazy. They’ve already had a meeting to decide who is going to do what and he just knows he’s going to fail because the others are sooooo useless. Three of the four have decided that X will be in charge of finding the pictures because he or she is dyslexic and can’t be relied on to produce a coherent 500 words on the greenhouse effect. Of the three writing the text, one goes awol or comes up with endless excuses why her or she have not completed their required part. The two who are left over have a blazing fight about the dreadful quality the other has delivered, one bows out and the other stays up all night rewriting the whole thing to their own exacting standards. Hard lesson Perhaps the hardest lesson to learn about this group approach is accepting the fact that your future – well, your exam mark at least – will partly depend on the performance of your peers. A mate of mine has just been asked if she could possibly edit – rewrite – a 20 page project on England which has to be in English because her god-daughter is convinced she will fail because three of the girls in the group can’t string two words together. The final project won’t say much about their English skills but it will show the importance of ‘who you know’ in getting what you want. As junior becomes more experienced about the process, he or she learns to make sure they get in with the other kids who will be most useful to them… the one with the rich parents who will pay for the final project to be perfectly printed, the one with the uncle who just happens to be a climate change advisor to the government – name dropping at a young age never hurt anyone - the one who always gets top marks and can actually spell and, most important of all, the one who can whip up a power point presentation at the age of seven. Yes, when it comes to convincing the teacher you actually know what you are talking about, style definitely wins over substance and making sure your team puts on the best presentation is crucial. Tantrums So in a few weeks, or maybe months time, the new Dutch government will be presenting its plans for the future, based on endless meetings, late night rewrites and goodness knows how many tantrums behind closed doors. We can say with some certainty that PVV leader Geert Wilders is the kid no-one wants in their team. While the group who have decided they can work together make their presentation, he’ll be sitting at the back of the class making snide comments. As for the marks? That will up to us to decide in four years time.  More >


Holiday rental giant Airbnb is harming Amsterdam’s communities

Airbnb is becoming greedy. It needs to invest in Amsterdam for the long-term benefit of its communities, not just for short term financial gain, says Leiden University's David Zetland. Airbnb is a popular service for connecting tourists who want a cheaper place to stay in a city with ‘hosts’ willing to give them a room or a flat to stay in. Oh, did I say ‘give’? Sorry, I meant ‘rent.’ Like Facebook with its claims of helping you communicate with ‘friends,’ Airbnb uses ‘share’ in a way that replaces a child's use of that word with an alt-truth definition that means ‘rent.’ That distortion of reality is not a bug but a feature: Airbnb co-founder (and billionaire) Nathan Blecharczyk made his first millions spamming people's inboxes while claiming ‘there were frankly no rules around it’ in 2002. I don't know about you, but I knew that spam was a plague well before 2002, and I'm going to spend the rest of this post talking about how Airbnb's founders need to stop spamming and start helping the cities that are making them rich. By the way, let me clarify that I love Airbnb's service, which I am happy to use as a host and guest. What I am not happy about is how Airbnb seems to be taking the greedy route towards doing business by focussing more on short-stays than strong (and attractive) communities. I say this as someone who studies communities and how their ‘common spaces’ are built on an intangible web of relations among neighbors more than a common postal code. I'm from San Francisco (where Airbnb is based), but I live in Amsterdam, which may be Airbnb's most popular city. According to one source, 2-3% of all Amsterdam residences (and perhaps 7% in popular neighbourhoods) are listed on Airbnb. In many cases, Airbnb is driving a trend to replace affordable housing with illegal hotels owned by investors. In most of Amsterdam's neighbourhoods, residents share common stairways, garbage bins and personal space. It's not unusual to hear each other through floors and walls as we go about our business. In many cases, these noises are comforting because they represent the ‘metabolism’ of the building's inhabitants, some of whom have shared stories, assistance and common challenges for decades. Airbnb's site and philosophy say very little about the neighbours (the ‘community page’ is for hosts to swap tips). Their focus on making deals may be appropriate for San Francisco but not for Amsterdam, a city that has worked for centuries to balance the needs of art and commerce, private and public, rich and poor. In 2014, Amsterdam and Airbnb signed a memorandum of understanding in which Airbnb agreed to ‘notify hosts in a powerful manner that they are obliged to offer homes for rent in compliance with applicable rules.’ This mentioned 60-day limits on hosting, encouraged hosts to ‘download the notice card for neighbours,’ and clarified that the municipality was responsible for reinforcing its own rules. Not included but mentioned, was an agreement for Airbnb to collect and pay the city's 5 percent tourist tax, which amounted to €5.5m in 2015. That amount implied that Airbnb guests paid over €100 million to hosts, of which about 3% (€3 million) went to Airbnb. Late last year, the city and Airbnb updated their agreement to provide a ‘more powerful’ reminder of the 60-day hosting limit. Now, hosts are notified of their total remaining days and told that they will not be allowed to use Airbnb after the 60-day limit is reached. But that update has omitted two major factors that are undermining Airbnb's benefit to Amsterdam. First, Airbnb is not reporting host income to the city (or government), data that it possesses and already reports to American authorities for ‘high volume hosts.’ If Amsterdam hosts are billing over €100m in charges, then the tax authorities should be making around €40m (based on the 42% marginal tax rate that many homeowners would face for renting their own place for less than 60 days). That money would come in handy for a city forced to cut €25m in spending on garbage collection, public spaces, youth programmes, and so on. Second, Airbnb is not doing very much to help the neighborhoods that make its service so popular. Hosts and visitors give each other ratings and feedback, but the neighbors are the ones who must deal with banging bags, morning departures, and strangers who contribute nothing to the neighborhood. Airbnb can address this problem by allowing neighbours to leave feedback on guests. Although this system might take a little while to set up, it's obvious that Airbnb's very clever staff could help Amsterdam's city staff with notifying neighbours and ensuring that strangers would, in the words of Airbnb, ‘belong.’ Airbnb's license to operate in Amsterdam depends on whether it helps or harms the city. Airbnb can help Amsterdam collect its fair share of taxes and guests fit into the community, but it can also resist and damage Amsterdam's quality of life. Let's hope that Airbnb invests in Amsterdam for the long run. David Zetland is an assistant professor of economics at Leiden University College and resident of Amsterdam. Thanks to Kim Zwitserloot and Joes Natris for their help on earlier drafts of this post.   More >


Dutch election: anti-rights rhetoric goes mainstream despite Wilders’ defeat

Dutch election: anti-rights rhetoric goes mainstream despite Wilders’ defeat

Last week's general election in the Netherlands was one of the most closely watched in years. But the fact that Geert Wilders' radical right party failed to make major gains does not mean he has not had an impact, writes Anna Timmerman of Human Rights Watch. While most of the world was focused only on one party, the radical right populist Party for Freedom (PVV) and its leader Geert Wilders, the Dutch cast their votes widely across 13 parties, two of them winning seats for the first time. No party got more than 22% of the vote. For the rest of the world, the fact that the PVV fared less well than many polls had predicted and was soundly beaten by the centre-right Liberal party (VVD, 21.3% of the vote and 33 seats) is an understandable cause for celebration. Populism failed its first big test since Trump’s election and Brexit. While its share of the vote (13.1%) and seats (20) are an increase from 2012, they are lower than the party garnered in 2010, when this brand of radical populism was on few people’s radar. People are also heartened by the share of the vote won by the centrist D66 party (19 seats and 12% of vote) and GroenLinks (Green party), which scored its best result ever (14 seats, and 8.9%). Dirty campaign But the news is not all good. While a mainstream party won, the Liberal party’s triumph was tarnished by a dirty campaign where it emulated the PVV’s rhetoric, lashing out against Islam and telling Dutch-born citizens whose families came from other countries to integrate or 'get out'. These citizens could not be blamed for thinking the party likely to lead the next government won’t govern for them. It was a similar story with the Christian Democrats (CDA), who ran on an anti-refugee agenda. They were rewarded with 12.5% of the vote and 19 seats. The Christian Orthodox SGP party ran a campaign along similar lines and won 3 seats with 2.1%. It remains to be seen who will join the ruling coalition. The main parties have all eschewed a coalition with PVV, and it’s important they honor that pledge. Political expediency Before the elections, Human Rights Watch spoke to candidates from most of the parties. Those interviews made clear that the VVD, PVV, and CDA – parties that make up almost half the seats in the new parliament – are willing to set aside human rights for the sake of political expediency. Indeed, a Dutch lawyers group concluded that all three parties’ election manifestos include measures that are contrary to human rights or are openly discriminatory toward certain groups. In short, the worry is that Wilders’s ideas will prevail even though his party did not. The Netherlands’ civil society will need to work with those parties supporting human rights. And they should call it out when mainstream parties set aside core values for political gain.  More >


Geert Wilders and Donald Trump can learn from Marine Le Print

Geert Wilders and Donald Trump can learn from Marine Le Print

Economist Mathijs Bouman thinks The Donald and The Geert could learn something from Marine Le Pen. It’s easy to come up with populist schemes. But how to pay for them? Donald Trump wants to lower taxes and invest in infrastructure at the same time. Geert Wilders is going to lower the state pension age, abolish the health insurance own risk element as well as lower income tax and halve vehicle tax. Meanwhile in France, Marine Le Pen wants to lower the state pension age, up benefits and lower income tax. Lots of fun things for citizens and lower taxes is the message. Because money doesn’t grow on trees the creatives of the right have to resort to trickery to make things look affordable. Marine Le Pen’s Front National came up with the most creative trick of all: to print money and lots of it. But first: the optical illusions of The Donald and The Geert. Straight face Trump, who has taken a good look at how Ronald Reagan used to handle things, managed to keep a straight face when he said that lower taxes and higher government spending are totally not mutually exclusive. Lower taxes are lucrative if they boost the economy and make tax evasion less of an attractive option. The person who came up with this fairy tale is Art Laffer, the Hans Christian Andersen among economists, who said last year he had the utmost faith in Trump. But according to the calculations of the independent Congressional Budget Office Trump’s policies, like Reagan’s in the 80s, will lead to a public debt of massive proportions. The PVV is keeping its programme well away from the financial scrutiny of the economic policy analysts at the CPB so the party has nothing to worry about on that score. The PVV website shows a party programme consisting of 1 A4 page dating to 2016 with a ‘financial paragraph’ containing the estimated costs and benefits of the proposals. Exactly zero Bringing the state pension age back to 65 will cost €3.5bn, abolishing development aid, windmills, art and public tv will bring in €10bn. The final balance come to exactly zero. It’s quite a feat, especially since two expenses have not been factored in. The costs of quitting the EU and introducing a law to introduce binding referendums have been marked Pro Memorie, or we haven’t a clue. Tip from Wilders to CFOs and treasurers in the land: include a couple of Pro Memories and you can balance the books whatever you do. Le Pen’s optically enhanced budget is much more like it. She wants France to trade the euro for a new French franc. The French Central bank will then be placed under the direct authority of parliament after which the money presses can start printing. Benefits can go up and the pension age can go down because, pouf, the money goes straight from the Banque de France to the Élysée. It’s brilliant! Now why didn’t Trump and Wilders think of that. This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Expatriate life has made me a fickle friend

Expatriate life has made me a fickle friend

There's something cruelly disposable about the expat friend and it is easy to become pragmatic about dealing with their comings and goings, says Deborah Nicholls-Lee. I have adopted a sort of no-strings-attached attitude when it comes to expat friendships; we can see each other but I can’t promise commitment. They are transient, itinerant types who will love you and leave you, so why invest in the relationship? And there’s always someone more interesting just getting off the plane. Cold nonchalance When a good friend recently told me that she was moving away, it was all I could do not to shrug my shoulders. You see, I’ve started to view my expat relationships a bit like an airport lounge. You might spend a little time with people there but essentially we’re all just passing through. I’m not heartless; I’m just pragmatic. In Amsterdam, where I live, nearly 8% of the population moved out of town in 2015 and around 60% of them were foreigners like me. That’s a lot of people to say goodbye to. I’ve learned the hard way. I made some of my dearest friends at a meet-up at the English bookshop in Amsterdam’s Jordaan when I was fairly new in town. A Facebook group was born and a friendship circle founded. Six years later and half that crew have gone. Cripes, even the bookshop has closed. It’s unsettling and sad when your friends keep leaving. There have been the home-made cards with pics of the good times glued in; expensive keepsakes; long-distance skype calls; and huge, scruffy envelopes filled with hand-written letters, stickers and drawings, sent from my children to theirs. It’s been emotional and exhausting. So I’ve learnt to focus on the now; to share a moment with people but not seek any more. More fish in the sea The advantage of living an expatriate life in the city is the steady flow of newcomers with diverse life experiences who are looking to make new friends. Some, like Arash, a journalist and a refugee from Iran, who I met recently, are seeking a safer life here; and some, like my neighbour Claire, a French illustrator who moved here last year from the UK, have come in search of adventure and fresh surroundings. But these are also people who often have a strong wanderlust, who will move onto the next experience soon, and it is pointless forming a strong attachment. My children’s preschool, in particular, provided a conveyor belt of lovely acquaintances and as - one by one - they moved abroad, a new person took their place and helped heal any sense of loss. Yara segued into Sasha, who segued into Senay. We bonded on what we had in common at that point in our lives: our children, our work, finding our feet abroad. I learnt to be pragmatic: a friend doesn’t have to be for life. And with around 140,000 people leaving the Netherlands each year, it’s just as well. In fact, the temporary nature of expat friendships has made me more picky than desperate. Anyone resident here who still orders coffee in English is a bit of a swipe left to me. Parenting style is a huge factor, as is Facebook activity. If they annoy me in cyberspace, it’s unlikely that we can make it work in three dimensions. And these people probably don’t like me either, because it works the other way too. Several friendships, that I did not deliberately cast afloat, have ebbed away. If the relationship doesn’t work for them, that’s fine. I never give chase. Go Dutch Dutch friends should be a safer option but I have still come a cropper. My dear friend Wies who I’d met at pre-natal yoga as we birth-danced in giggles to whale music, deserted me when our children were just three years old. I should have seen it coming: she was married to an expat. Still, my circle of Dutch friends is widening and I take some comfort in that. Though two are leaving Amsterdam this year for more space and fresh air, it’s reassuring to know that they’re still in the country. And if we do get to meet up again, at some cosy café or bar, I know that they’ll order in Dutch. Deborah Nicholls-Lee  is a writer and the content manager for Amsterdam Mamas.   More >


It is almost impossible to tell a jihadist from an asylum seeker

It’s very difficult to tell a jihadi from a genuine asylum seeker and the government should acknowledge the fact, say criminologists Joris van Wijk and Maarten Bolhuis. After the terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, the Dutch are also wondering whether the government is doing enough to identify jihadists among asylum seekers, especially at a time when the government inspectors have established that screening is inadequate. ‘We’ll pick out the terrorists at a later stage,’ the then justice minister Ard van der Steur told the Telegraaf in a reaction to the inspection report, which said checks on asylum seekers constituted the first of a number of steps. He might as well have told us not to lose any sleep over it. It was reassuring, but was it realistic? About a month ago we published a report called ‘Jihadisme en de vreemdelingenketen’ (Jihadism and the asylum chain partnership), written for the justice ministry. Asylum chain Its findings showed the minister’s reassuring comments in a different light. People who work for organisations which are part of the asylum chain, such as the IND and COA, are saying that the public has unrealistic expectations of what they can do to flag up terrorism. There is ample scientific literature to back up the contention that establishing a reliable method to spot jihadists is very difficult indeed. Risk profiling and the usage indicators based on utterances, external characteristics or behaviour are controversial. They are ineffective and can lead to stigmatisation. The report also quotes respondents working for the security services and the counter-terrorism body NCTV who are critical about the lists of indicators. Jihadist social media are explicitly advising jihadists to keep a low profile: displaying normal behaviour and keeping nerves in check will make detection very unlikely. At the same time we conclude that the public expects an organisation such as the immigration service IND to be alert and pick out jihadists from among asylum seekers. Since the time spent by IND workers with asylum seekers is limited they have expressed a need for concrete tools to help them. Guidelines This results in the IND issuing complicated guidelines to its workers. They are being told that certain behaviour (such as refusing to shake hands with women), certain language or external characteristics may possibly indicate jihadism. They are told the indicators should not be the main focus but that they should rely on their experience and professional intuition. It’s a complex brief for professionals who are assessing asylum seekers’ stories. The final conclusion of the report is that the organisations involved in the asylum chain are doing their best to spot jihadists, but it is extremely difficult. Moreover, it is unclear if the lists of indicators are a help or a hindrance. We are surprised the minister’s reaction did not include a comment on this particular problem and our recommendation to monitor and evaluate the use of these lists. No-one knows Although the minister stated earlier that there is no such thing as ‘100% security’, his comment that terrorists will be ‘picked out at a later stage’ suggests incorrectly that the IND or CIA can really identify jihadists who enter the country. We think it would be better for all involved if the minister recognised that much is being done to separate the jihadists from the asylum seekers, but no one really knows how to do it. You may not sleep as soundly as Van der Steur would like you to, but the truth would be better served. Translation by DutchNews. This article appeared earlier in the NRC  More >


Dutch would be world champions with a 60% income tax rate

Dutch would be world champions with a 60% income tax rate

The proposals to raise taxes for companies and high earners which the left-wing parties have included in their election programmes are out of step with current trends and should be ditched, say economists Rick van der Ploeg and Willem Vermeend. The election date is drawing near and campaigns have kicked off. Important issues include health care, immigration, integration, security, jobs and pensions. The parties on the left of the spectrum are making efforts to enter higher taxes on the election agenda as well. SP, GroenLinks and Labour are all in favour of raising taxes for companies and high earners. They feel such a move would be fairer and promote equality. They also need the money to finance the items on their wish lists, such as more spending power for people on lower incomes, lower health care costs and measures to protect the environment. These lists constitute a political choice which we won’t go into now. We are limiting ourselves to the effects of the tax proposals and their supposed benefits to the national coffers. Tax raise First off let’s look at the proposal to raise the top income tax rate from 52% to 60%. The present top rate already ranks with the highest in the world and the 60% rate would make the Netherlands the undisputed world champion. That is not something to be happy about. In most European countries as well as the United States top income tax rates are set to come down. The move could open up a whopping 20% gap between rates. Companies and high earners paying the top rate are already moving to countries with lower rates. Another hike would very likely increase their number. A 60% tax rate is hardly a welcoming gesture. Companies will find it harder to attract international top talent and international start-ups will likewise look elsewhere. Then there’s the annoying fact that a hike of the top rate will cost money which will leave even less money to finance wish lists. In 2013 the government's macro-economic forecasting agency CPB estimated that a higher top rate would set the treasury back over €100m. Here is why. Initially a hike would lead to an extra €300m in revenue. But this extra revenue is counter balanced by lower revenue as a result of job losses, people and companies moving abroad and a worsening climate for foreign companies. Ultimately a higher rate will end up losing the tax office money. And because more and more countries are lowering their top tax rates things will be even worse than the CPB predicted. Economist Bas Jacobs and a number of his colleagues have set the rate most advantageous to the Dutch economy at around 49%. The argument for not raising corporate tax is roughly the same. Higher corporate tax would have an even more disastrous effect on the economy, largely because of the worldwide corporate tax rate war. Countries have been lowering corporate tax rates in a bid to prevent companies from moving to countries with lower rates while at the same time attracting foreign companies. Join them All attempts to stop this race to the bottom have proved futile. And the chances that it will happen this year is precisely nil. If anything, Donald Trump’s presidential victory and Brexit will cause an acceleration of an already strong trend towards lower corporate tax rates with the Brits aiming for 10% and Trump for 15%. Other countries, such as Belgium, Hungary and France are also planning rate cutbacks. The Dutch 25% corporate tax rate is already putting the country in a vulnerable position internationally. Corporate tax rates are an important deciding factor for companies looking for locations. And globalisation and digitalisation are making it easier for international companies to move their headquarters to a tax-friendlier country. With a high corporate tax rate and a 60% income tax rate the Netherlands will stop being an international player. If we can’t beat them we will have to join them. Politicians will have to march to the international tune and lower tax rates. If they don’t departing companies will leave hundreds of thousands out of a job and a much lower tax revenue than we have at present. Attempts at convincing existing companies and start-ups to come to this country will flounder and it is doubtful that our ‘recruitment experts’ will even get a foot in the door. That is why we trust that a new cabinet will be wise enough not to ignore the international tax trend. The Netherlands will not be able to avoid lowering the present corporate tax rate to around 15% and the top income tax rate to below 50%. Such a measure can be financed by scrapping deductions and exemptions. This will have the added advantage of clamping down on tax evasion. This column was first published in the Telegraaf  More >