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


Bringing back conscription would be a light version of slavery

Bringing back conscription would be a light version of slavery

The Christian Democrats should stop banging on about bringing back military service. It’s not good for the economy and not good for the hapless youngsters who have to do it, writes economist Mathijs Bouman. Parents, lock up your 18 year-olds: Sybrand Buma is coming to get them. The CDA leader presented his manifesto this week and a prominent part of the Christian Democrats’ programme is a re-introduction of conscription, not just for boys but girls too. Apart from the army, Buma is proposing several alternatives for those less eager for military discipline, including care homes and the police force. The Christian Democrats want to start small. It’ll be the ‘troublemakers’ first (i.e. the terror vloggers ) then the rest of the 18+ target group until all youngsters will be dedicating six months or a year of their lives to the greater good of society. That, says Buma, will ‘combat rampant individualism’. According to the CDA compulsory civilian service will solve such societal ills as vandalism and people going around insulting each other. Foolish and dishonest A couple of doors down the political corridor, at the ChristenUnie’s headquarters, equally enthusiastic cheers can be heard for this form of slavery-light. CU leader Jan-Gert Segers thinks it’s a great way for the young to learn about the norms and values of our society. It’s a clever plan: take a year out of the life of every young person and hey presto they become useful members of society. But from an economic idea it’s a foolish and dishonest plan. Here are five reasons why it shouldn’t go ahead. Ever. Argument 1: Compulsory civilian service affects the supply of labour. If a certain job is important to society then workers should be paid accordingly. That work will then be done by normal employees. Consequently, compulsory civilian service jobs will be those jobs that can’t be done at market value. In other words: of the say fifty years a person contributes to the economy one year will be wasted doing work that society claims is important but won’t pay for. And this at a time when an aging population is already leading to a decrease in the working population. Without a compulsory civilian service the working population (between 20 and 67) will go down from 10.5 to 9.8 million people over the next 25 years. A compulsory civilian service carried out by people with an average age of 21 will lower that number by another 200,000. That is wasteful. Argument 2: A lot of the youngsters having to work as an assistant in the army or the police force or as a care worker are probably better at something else. That is mis-allocation of labour on a very big scale. Let people do what they are good at and everybody benefits. Argument 3: History tells us that government interference with the labour market leads to displacement. Normal jobs became subsidised and now they may become compulsory civilian service jobs. Civilian service is dumping in disguise. Argument 4: Compulsory civilian service is bad for you. Economist Wouter Leenders wrote a nice article about the personal cost of conscription. Research shows that ten years down the line the incomes of conscripts were 5% lower. A year’s career delay costs money. Leave them alone  Finally, let’s not pretend that Dutch youngsters are crime-prone layabouts. They are extremely busy studying and working. In fact, the percentage of youngsters  (18-24) that neither studies nor works is the lowest in Europe. Please Mr Buma and Mr Segers, leave those youngsters alone. Let them have their unbroken education and a clear career path. Don’t waste their time by having them go ‘bang bang’ in the army’s trenches, doing odd jobs in a care home or getting tea and coffee for coppers. It really would be better for everyone. This column was published earlier in the FD  More >


Government urged to invest in science: Nobel prizes come at a price

Government urged to invest in science: Nobel prizes come at a price

Invest in science or those Nobel prizes may well become a thing of the past, the Netherlands' leading Dutch scientific organisations are warning. The fact that Ben Feringa won the Nobel prize for chemistry is a huge boost for Dutch science. But a coincidence it is not. A prize of this magnitude is the result of decades of investment in the lengths and breadths of scientific research. The Dutch scientific community is proud of its home grown Nobel laureate, a man who not only excels in his field but  who is modest to boot. Feringa, rightly honoured for his work, never fails to point out that he is not a scientific soloist. The gold medal he will receive in Stockholm in December is the result of teamwork. Many scientists from a number of disciplines and universities here and abroad have been working on the development of molecular motors from the early nineties. Team sports The Netherlands is good at scientific team sports, with just the right balance of competition and cooperation. The Netherlands is a small country and involving partners to tackle important societal issues (poldering) is in our genes. No other thinks less of uniting all the big scientific players – and students and young researchers – on the same day. The National Science Agenda, which was drafted last year, conveys the same message:  Dutch scientists are good at working together on important themes not only with other scientists but with people from outside the academic world. It is that cross pollination and mutual inspiration that gives the Netherlands such a broad scientific base. And it’s this ecosystem of cooperation that attracts young talent. Investment A gold medal is the result of decades of investment, not years. It is investment in science in its broadest sense, over long periods of time. It may not always be possible to predict when important developments will take place but it is possible to recognise and foster talent early on. Politicians find it hard to resist a quick score by announcing investments in the trending topics of today. But short term policies are not for science. If the Netherlands wants to attract and keep scientific talent it must invest in the basics: solid academic training, good facilities and a climate of intellectual challenge and inspiring cooperation. The invention of the Groningen team only saw the light of day as a result of decades of public investment in fundamental science. In recent years these investments have been cut back while other countries increased their scientific budgets. And now the Dutch scientific structure is beginning to show the cracks. Scientists are saying it can’t hold up much longer and Feringa, at his first major press conference, said the same. It is understandable for a small country such as the Netherlands to boast about winning a Nobel prize. But amid the rejoicing the Dutch government must take  responsibility for the proper finance of the basics of science – and future Nobel prizes. Businesses also look upon this as a crucial investment in the future earning capacity of the country and a stimulus for private investment in Research and Development. If the government ignores the call this country will cease to be attractive to home grown high flyers, never mind young talent from across the globe. The Dutch lowlands are a scientific plateau with many peaks and must remain so. That means an annual one billion euro extra, both to secure a structural basis and for the realisation of projects outlined in the national Science Agenda, something the coalition of knowledge institutions and employers’ organisations recently asked for. We urge politicians to heed the call of our latest Nobel prize winner Ben Feringa who didn’t speak out for himself but for the future of this country. José van Dijck is president of KNAW Karl Dittrich is chairman of VSNU  Stan Gielen is chairman of  NWO This article was published earlier by the Volkskrant  More >


How to go Dutch: Every time I pass an exam I lose an excuse to speak English

How to go Dutch: Every time I pass an exam I lose an excuse to speak English

Five years ago Molly Quell moved to the Netherlands with her husband, an academic, for a short-term project. Now she’s single, has fallen in love with the country and finds herself in the unexpected position of having to integrate. Read the first and second parts of her series here. I was honestly terrified that as I sat down to write the third piece in this series, I would have to confess that I had failed the inburgeren examen. In fact, if you’d talked to me after I'd written the last piece I would have told you I was considering taking up residency in any country that didn’t require me to speak Dutch (which, it turns out, is most of the world). But that is not what happened. In the past three months, I have sat and passed two of the five exams – with 9s. As I explained in my first piece, the integration exam has five components: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and the infamous Knowledge of Dutch Society. I have passed Reading and Listening and am due to sit Writing at the end of September. Before I get too cocky, however, I should point out that I tackled the easiest exams first and am slowly working my way up to the hardest. So there is still plenty of opportunity to fail. Writing, which I nearly never do. And speaking, which I do less than writing if I can help it. (Unless I am drunk. Or around American tourists in Amsterdam. Nothing gets me to switch to Dutch faster than American tourists.) And finally the cultural exam, which is just as absurd as you'd imagine. It’s so absurd I haven’t even had the heart to schedule it yet. Soviet prison Since I live in Delft, I’ve been taking the exams at the testing centre in Rijswijk, which has all of the charm of a Soviet prison. When I arrived for the very first exam there wasn’t even a sign to indicate which room it was in. In fact, the testing centre is on what looks like the first floor of an apartment building, so I spent about 15 minutes mulling around the lobby, checking my phone and generally acting like a serial killer before realising the door was literally a metre in front of me. Once inside, there are no instructions about what to do. I walked up to the reception desk but no one was there. I took a seat. The layout of the room meant I couldn't see the desk from where I was sitting, so I didn’t realise it had opened until the line for registration snaked past my chair. I suppose part of integrating is learning about the Dutch attitude to customer service, so I see this as part of the inburgeren process. Early 1990s As the testing centre makes its announcements in Dutch and everyone waiting is there because they are not native Dutch speakers, there was a lot of confusion when we were called to take the exam, but eventually we all got sorted into the correct room. The testing system is identical to the examples provided on the website. It also hasn’t been updated since the early 90s. Frankly, I was surprised the examiner didn’t have to insert a floppy disk to start the exam. For the second exam I repeated the process, except that this time I knew where the door was so I looked less like an idiot to the building's residents. In the first piece in this series I described my Dutch language ability as 'limited'. Now, with two 9s under my belt, I am rapidly running out of excuses for not speaking Dutch. I have taken to claiming that I can listen to Dutch, but soon I expect I will have passed the Speaking exam as well so I can no longer lean on that excuse. Follow tourists My friends offer to help me practice, but the the truth is everyone finds it frustrating when I switch to Dutch. The conversation is less fun and much less intelligent. There are only a few people in my social circle who have the patience and the interest to actually help. Those people are a godsend. The best trick I have discovered for speaking more Dutch, other than following around American tourists and mocking their apparel with my Dutch friends, is to leave Delft. It’s not a big city and after living here for a few years, everyone at my nearby Albert Heijn, at the market, at my regular bar all switch to English as soon as they see me. Surprisingly, I have many more opportunities to practise in Amsterdam, with the added benefit of not embarrassing myself in front of people I see regularly. Belgium is even better. The Dutch government should subsidise day trips to Belgium for Dutch practice. We might pick up Flemish accents but, hey, the Belgians understand us perfectly. Molly will update on her progress again in the winter.  More >


And they’re off: a six month election campaign started with the budget

Tuesday's budget was a predictable good news story and the launch of a six-month long election campaign, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe So, what a surprise! We’ll all be better off in election year. If last year’s budget was all about treading water and waiting to see what the economic upturn would bring, this year's is the coalition's last before the general election next March. Little wonder then that the emphasis is on boosting spending power across the board and rewarding voters who have gritted their teeth through four years of crisis, cautious recovery and cuts. A little extra in top-up benefits for the poorest families, the healthcare own risk payment gets frozen and more money for defence and public safety – all measures which can be guaranteed to generate a few positive headlines for the struggling VVD-PvdA coalition. Debate The pre-election nature of the budget will only be emphasized in the subsequent debate in parliament, where all the opposition parties will set out their stalls for the 2017 vote. Freezing the healthcare own risk? It should be abolished altogether, say the Socialists and the PVV. More money for education? Ministers are not doing nearly enough, D66 will claim. And you can bet that MPs from the VVD and PvdA, as their four-year partnership nears the end of its life, will also call for changes to the budget plans. Labour in particular are staring into the electoral abyss and need to recover a lot of lost ground on the left. It all goes to show that the third Tuesday in September is more about pomp and ceremony than real substance. And I for one am a little tired of all these forecasts about the impact of the budget on the euros in our wallets. Does anyone really notice if they have 0.4% more to spend? And is that really going to encourage them to vote for the coalition parties next March? We will find out soon enough.   More >


Want to become Dutch (again)? This government is making it harder

It is incomprehensible that the government is pressing ahead with its plans to increase the residency requirement to become Dutch from five to seven years and is continuing its crusade against Dutch citizens who live abroad, writes Eelco Keij. With parliamentary elections set to take place in March 2017, the current coalition government - an alliance between the PvdA and VVD - entered the election season by giving the finger to foreign nationals who want to become Dutch citizens. They are pressing ahead with new legislation which will increase the time needed to become a naturalised Dutch citizen from five to seven years. Their basis for this is 'a feeling in society' - according to the official statements. In other words, the measure looks good in the light of growing support for far-right and anti-establishment parties. This new piece of legislation - not in effect yet, the senate still needs to have its say - will have a strong impact both on hard-working foreign residents in the Netherlands and the partners of Dutch citizens. After all, they don't have vote until they've become Dutch, so why not sharpen up the procedures and win a few votes at the same time? Equally blind to the new times, the government has been on a four-year-long crusade against Dutch citizens abroad. An unambiguous prohibition of dual nationality, severely cutting down on subsidies for Dutch education abroad and stripping a decade-long built network of consulates and embassies are examples of this government's idea of enlightenment. Whereas countries close by - for example France, Portugal, Italy and most notably Switzerland - understand the added economic and cultural value of their citizens abroad, the PvdA and VVD seem to be longing for a country that ceased to exist in the past century. Ex-Dutchies A third group that has been treated with disdain for decades are those people who  lost their Dutch citizenship, the 'ex-Dutchies'. Most of them lost their Dutch passports involuntarily and often only found out that they had years later, because nobody warned them or informed them of the risk. Their number even includes people who fought in the resistance during WWII. A recent appeal from the national ombudsman to fix this situation fell on deaf ears; quietly but quickly the government dismissed the report, and its suggested solutions. The parallel between these three groups of people is clear: they represent value to Dutch society. Economic impact Obviously, active foreign residents in the Netherlands have a direct impact on the economy. Both Dutch and former Dutch citizens living abroad have economic value as well. One only needs to have a look at the incoming tourist statistics, for example, to see that they were spurred by the Dutch living around them. It cannot be a coincidence that most tourists come from areas with a high-density of Dutch residents like Germany and the US. Dutch people abroad, with or without a passport, still hold their culture and country dear - as immigrants nearly always do. Their economic ties locally are both often strong and beneficial for trade relations with the original home country. In all, it is time for this government to leave. We need a new set of rulers that understand that building international bridges rather than burning them, is mutually beneficial, both culturally and economically. Eelco Keij was a parliamentary candidate for D66 in 2012 and is hoping to run again next year. Follow him on Twitter  More >


The Dutch are a pragmatic folk when it comes to death

The Dutch are a pragmatic folk when it comes to death

The Dutch are a pragmatic lot when it comes to many things in life – and death is no exception either, says DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe The Netherlands’ approach to euthanasia always generates a massive postbag on DutchNews.nl – hardly surprising when you consider the emotion that death brings with it. But for the Dutch themselves, euthanasia is an extremely rational choice. This was brought home to me recently when a friend told me about a bizarre phone call he had just had with an elderly client. Anna was in her early 90s, blind and suffering from terminal cancer – and she had been expecting to die before Christmas. She didn’t. Every week my friend would ring her on a Friday and have a chat – they would discuss their respective health issues and talk about the weather. A couple of weeks ago my friend decided to ring on a different day. Anna picked up the phone. ‘Oh I am glad you rang,’ she said. ‘The doctor is coming this afternoon and by 6pm it will be all over.’ Anna then went over to complain about her lily-livered family who were hanging around with sad faces. ‘I’m fine,’ she said to my friend. ‘It has been a pleasure knowing you.’ Final step The next day the card came announcing that Anna had taken ‘her final step’. It was on thick white paper with a nice photograph of her on the front – and had obviously been printed and stamped ready for posting well in advance of her actual death. Well prepared, well organised and unsentimental – how Dutch can you get? It is not the first time I have been confronted with euthanasia in the Netherlands. The first occasion was perhaps more bizarre. A good mate cancelled our lunch date, telling me ‘my grandmother’s euthanasia date has come through’. I was not quite sure how to respond. ‘Oh,’ seems a rather inadequate comment. My friend was very matter of fact. ‘She’s being trying to sort it out for weeks,’ she said. I know which way I would choose to go. Knowing that you can be helped to end it all when the pain gets too much must make it so much easier to enjoy the time you have left. There is no dread of the bitter end, no being whisked into hospital against your will and overstuffed with morphine. At home My Dutch mother-in-law - let us call her Margaret - did not want euthanasia so it was never an issue in her final weeks. She died at home with her children at her side after my husband and his sister pulled out all the stops to keep her out of a nursing home. It was not the most elegant of deaths, but it is what she wanted. Actually, the one thing which she really wanted was to make sure that neither of her children fell for the funeral insurance salesman’s smarmy ways and ended up having to pay extra money for services they did not want or need. Like most of the Dutch, particularly the older generations, Margaret had taken out funeral insurance to make sure her family would not have to pay after she died. Margaret was a wily one. She’d stapled the policy to the newspaper advert which prompted her purchase. The ad stated clearly that the deceased and the family need not worry. There would be no extra charges. This was an all-in funeral for €3,500 and that meant no additional bills. Car and cake Of course, the funeral director had all sorts of ideas up his sleeve – a more expensive coffin, different sorts of cake, an extra car for the mourners. He also pointed out the lump sum was index-linked to family spending not inflation and so, very sorry about this, there would be a top-up fee of €600. My husband and his sister told the funeral director there would be no limos for the mourners at all, that we would only be seven and we did not want their machine-made coffee and slices of cake either. So no, they would not be paying the extra fee. More than that, what did we want with the 50 cards to send to family and friends? With Margaret’s words ringing in their ears, my husband and his sister stood their ground. They were taking no extra services so they would not pay any extra bills. More than that, once it was all over, they demanded the funeral director hand over the unused stamps from the 50 funeral cards – they had been paid for after all. For months, we were sending our post with the grey stamps used to announce that someone had died. God knows what the recipients thought, but Margaret would have been proud of us. This column was first published in the Xpat Journal.  More >


Jeroen Dijsselbloem: Corporate bonuses must come down

Jeroen Dijsselbloem: Corporate bonuses must come down

Executive pay at companies in which the government has a stake is being reined in, but private sector bonuses are on the up and this needs to change, writes finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem in Thursday's Volkskrant. The cabinet is currently finalising its policy on purchasing power. Although the economy is doing better, purchasing power is still falling behind. Senior executive salaries, on the other hand, have been firmly on the up. In 2015 senior executive salaries at Dutch companies rose by 4.25% according to the Volkskrant's annual analysis, a rise which the paper called ‘moderate’. It is telling that an increase of more than three times the average collectively-bargained pay rise of 1.4% should be labelled ‘moderate’. At the same time, the paper’s analysis showed that the policy of capping executive pay at companies in which the government has a stake is beginning to bear fruit. It is time the corporate world followed suit. Trends There are three trends that can be distinguished in the development of executive salaries. Figures show that corporate bonuses are continuing to rise. A top executive’s annual bonus is now one and a half times his fixed salary. And although a majority of managers claim not to be motivated by bonuses, behavioural science tells us that big bonuses often invite doubtful decisions. Secondly, the total amount paid to executives continues to rise. Over the past 20 years, average executive pay more than doubled in relation to the minimum wage. And thirdly, senior executives in companies like Ahold, Heineken and Unilever are now earning over a hundred times the pay of the average worker. At times when the income of every citizen is under pressure, this kind of development cannot be justified and it is understandable that it has been widely criticised. It is one of the reasons the cabinet decided to take measures, including a 20% cap on bonuses in the financial sector. In line with this, we've made agreements about a similar cap on bonuses at companies in which the government has a stake. The maximum top executive wage in the public sector has been put at €179,000. Salaries in companies in which the government is shareholder have been lowered by an average of 28%. The move did not prompt a single top executive to leave. Code This spring, the Van Manen monitoring committee handed in a concept report on a new Corporate Governance Code. The report mentioned remuneration policy but had very little to say about public perception. The committee did not take a moral stance on the subject and the report hardly mentions any proposals to curb top executive pay to restore the balance with regard to workers’ pay. In my view this is a missed opportunity. There are plenty of ways of bringing corporate salaries into line with what would be considered acceptable. I will give the commission three examples. A good start would be to provide openness about companies’ remuneration schemes, which British companies already have in place and which will pass into law in the United States from next year. As a stakeholder I have asked the companies concerned to report on their remuneration schemes. Another solution could be to link the rise in top salaries to the rise agreed in the collective pay deal for ordinary staff, with a cap of 20% on bonuses. This is already happening in the financial sector and at companies in which the government has a stake. The public debate about this issue will not stop any time soon. On the contrary, the pay gap between what is seen as the elite and ordinary citizens is widening and people are angry about it. If we want to remain a united society, executives will have to realise what the consequences of that anger can be. It’s time for the corporate world to come into line, and I hope the Van Manen committee will help them do it. This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant Translation by DutchNews.nl with the kind permission of the finance ministry. This translation has not been approved by the ministry.  More >


Please don’t bring the Olympics to Amsterdam

Please don’t bring the Olympics to Amsterdam

The Olympics are tainted and leave countries in debt, so please don't bring them to Amsterdam, writes cultural historian Thomas von der Dunk. As the Dutch were bagging golds in Rio, the attention of the media became increasingly focused on the sporting performances themselves. The number of stories about the dubious context in which they were taking place dwindled with every medal. It was only to be expected: sports is politics but as soon as ‘our’ golden boys and girls mount the podium politics is swept under the carpet so as not to spoil the party. Did you have any doubts when you were watching the Games? Did you think everything was clean and above board? What is the value of a performance where tenths of seconds can mean the difference between a gold medal and oblivion when we know that the doping virus is ravaging every sport there is? The Volkskrant published a cartoon by Jos Collignon in 1993 which said it all: the 100m race for men was won by 1. Ephedrine, 2.Gonadotoprin and 3.Clenbuterol. The disqualification of the Russian team in 2016 shows nothing has changed since then. When are we witnessing a feat of physical excellence and when are we looking at a pharmaceutically enhanced performance? It’s almost impossible to know. Cheating The Russian debacle taught us one thing: even the best controls are not watertight. With the state aiding and abetting these practices for political prestige this leads to massive cheating on a systematic scale. But if we don’t know what we are looking at, the Olympics and similar sporting events lose all credibility. To say that the IOC has done everything to make sure it won’t happen in the future would be an exaggeration to say the least. At Putin’s hissy fit at Russia’s threatened near-total ban the IOC passed the buck to the individual sports federations with predictable results. The Paralympics are completely out of bounds for Russia. The TPC banned the entire Russian squad, a very courageous decision. Too afraid to deny the big prize to cheats it comes down like a ton of bricks on the Paralympics because, with all due respect to the Paralympians, the event is much less politically significant. Confrontation The IOC didn’t have the guts to confront Russia head on, although it had reason enough. But that the IOC puts other considerations before objectivity and fair play is also abundantly clear. The  procedure surrounding the choice of venue is riddled with corruption and nepotism, as it is at FIFA. The Winter Games of 2014 in a seaside resort? I rest my case. Admittedly, the choice of venue is limited because most decent countries are less inclined to comply with the conditions of the IOC which can border on the absurd and which can’t be seen as separate from the increasingly megalomaniacal character of the event. The creation of a state within a state with all sorts of special privileges at odds with the state of law, especially for the IOC board itself,  will be tolerated to a greater extent by autocratic regimes. Protests against the forced expropriation of homes to build Olympic stadiums are that much more easily dealt with, for instance. Debt Such countries will also be more prepared than others to take on the financial debt that goes with prestigious events like the Olympics and tax citizens accordingly. Don’t be fooled by the propaganda: the Olympics, far from bringing prosperity, are a huge and long-term financial burden. The taxpayer is coughing up the money for this particular party, as the Brazilians well know. So please Dutch government don’t put up Amsterdam as a candidate for the Games. If you do we will call (anti-Olympics activist, DN) Saar Boerlage. She’s 84 now but she’ll pound some sense into the megalomaniacs again so they will end up at the bottom of the list, as they did in 1992. This column was published earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


The Netherlands under Wilders is a dismal prospect, and not just for Muslims

We might have hoped we could wait until the third week of September, when Parliament reconvenes, for the grim business of the Dutch election campaign to begin. But Geert Wilders is not a man to run to anybody else’s timetable, writes Gordon Darroch. On Thursday evening Wilders presented, through the mediums of Facebook and Twitter, a draft version of his manifesto for next March. If the opening gambit is any guide, it promises to be an ugly contest, tinged with the kind of desperate dog-whistling not seen since the Netherlands eradicated rabies. Asked to put his manifesto pledges in context, Wilders retorted: “The context is 1400 years of jihad.” On the face of it this seems an odd pretext for cutting vehicle duty by 50%, but Geert, like God, tends to move in mysterious ways. The main themes of Wilders’s campaign are the well-worn hobby-horses of immigration, immigration and immigration, as well as a pledge to leave the EU. Wilders reaffirmed his core belief in the need to ‘de-islamise’ the Netherlands by refusing all new asylum seekers as well as anyone whose application is still in progress. Closing mosques This will come as an unpleasant shock to the many millions of non-Muslims who are currently fleeing the swords and Kalashnikovs of Islamic State. More insidious is the plan to shut all mosques and Islamic schools, ban the Koran and outlaw ‘expressions of Islam that interfere with public order’ – in essence, putting the presumption of guilt on Muslims for any incidents they get caught up in. Wilders may protest that he does not endorse violence against Muslims, but such measures would do much to facilitate it. The rest of the manifesto is a list of tax cuts and spending pledges that reflect the awkward balancing act Wilders has to perform to satisfy both low-income voters and tax-busting fiscal conservatives. Possibly the one truly radical measure is the abolition of the excess charge on health insurance, which has risen steeply in the last five years, at an estimated cost of €3.7bn. This outflanks even the 50Plus party, which has only pledged to bring the cost down to €200 a year. Pensioners Wilders’ other sweetener for older voters is a proposal to bring the retirement age back down to 65 – matching 50Plus and cancelling the plan to raise the age to 67 which Wilders himself endorsed during Mark Rutte’s first term of office. Wilders’s plan to index-link the supplementary pension contribution brings the total outlay on pensions to €3.5bn. Reversing budget cuts in the care sector, especially care in the home, will cost €2bn. And another €1bn Wilders will go on reducing rent levels, though there is no detail whatsoever on how this might be achieved in an increasingly fragmented housing market. But a policy programme focused solely on giving money to the poor, the sick and the elderly would raise the hackles of the libertarian right, so Wilders matches his social spending commitments with tax cuts: a 50% reduction in vehicle duty and an unspecified cut to income tax, at a total cost of €5bn. Police spending Wilders also earmarks an extra €2bn for spending on policing and defence. We must wait and see if this includes a revival of the animal protection squad, one of the few PVV policies that came close to fruition during Rutte’s first cabinet, defying seemingly insurmountable ridicule, and which was given a swift mercy shot when Wilders pulled the plug on the government in 2012. Other party leaders have dismissed the PVV’s programme as an unworkable wish-list, but this misses the point. The really dubious claims lie not in the spending plans, but the savings Wilders would make to finance them. He believes his ‘de-islamisation’ programme would save €7.2 bn a year, largely through the closure of asylum centres and mosques, but the consequences of criminalising the behaviour of Muslims and removing their social support structures are not accounted for. Wilders also asserts he can save €10bn by cutting funding for public service broadcasting, innovation, the arts, overseas development, wind energy, ‘and so forth’. It is a puzzling piecemeal blacklist with no obvious common thread other than the fact that Wilders has denounced all of them at various times as ‘leftist hobbyists’ or subsidy-swallowing sinkholes. Setback Pulling funding for innovation, combined with quitting the European Union and turning its extensive investment in research and development, would be a catastrophic setback for the kind of cutting-edge engineering projects in which the Netherlands has consistently punched above its weight for the last 70 years. Even if Wilders succeeds in reclaiming €10bn in subsidies, the long-term cost of this economic self-laceration is incalculable. Similarly, in a country whose chief geographical features are a shortage of land and access to a large area of open sea, abandoning wind power makes as much sense as cutting out one of your own lungs. The Volkskrant has observed that next year’s election is likely to be a battle for the hearts of ‘hard-hit older voters’. The Wilders plan indicates, at any rate, where he thinks his votes will come from. Around 10% of the electorate has probably made up its mind to vote for the PVV on the basis of Wilders’s vocal stance on Islam. People who see little or nothing wrong in standing on a political platform and whipping up a crowd into chanting ‘fewer Muslims’ with gusto are unlikely to vote for anyone else; the main challenge is reminding them to get out and vote at all. More voters But to sustain his position at the top of the opinion polls Wilders needs to secure the approval of the next 10%, the more conservative voters who tend to drift away from the PVV as elections draw closer. So it makes sense for Wilders to concentrate his efforts on people in the second half of their careers, who may be in fairly secure jobs with a reasonable income, but have little saved up and are anxious about their retirement. His target voters resent paying hefty tranches of their income to the government in income tax and the cost of keeping a car. In particular they worry about their pensions going down while the cost of managing their declining health goes up. The freedom to move around in the European Union no longer forms part of their future, if it ever did, and so they see its open borders only in terms of inward-bound threats rather than outbound opportunities. Crucially, they have seen the country change immensely since the 1970s, but feel excluded from both this process and its benefits. Immigrants, as the most visible manifestation of these changes, have become the focus of this resentment. It is not a wholly irrational thought pattern, but to stake the future of your country on a nostalgic desire to turn the clock back 40 years, as Wilders does, is wilfully delusional and self-destructive. This column was first published on blog Words for Press   More >


Yuri the Terrible and Maurits the Humourless

Yuri the Terrible and Maurits the Humourless

Comedian Youp van 't Hek thinks Olympic hopefuls should be able to get away with a tipple or two. I can’t resist another look at that hilarious YouTube clip that showed the NOC*NSF  a completely sozzled Erica Terpstra in the studio with Edwin Evers. Vancouver 2010. Erica had just had a liquid lunch with the then still heir to the throne Prince Pils. I liked her for it and I liked her even better when she drunkenly explained what the great and the good are up to during the Olympics. Not a lot, it turned out, except entertaining each other. Cheers. Was Terpstra put on the next flight home? Perhaps, but my bet is she never managed to explain to the taxi driver where she was headed. But Yuri did have to go home, all because of a night on the tiles. Nine days before the final he had a couple of beers away from the stifling atmosphere of monomaniacal sport psychologists, fanatical fat percentage monitors and other weird folk. Perhaps he made a little noise when he came in. Perhaps he woke up the kids. I mean those poor little gymnasts who have been mentally abused by creepy gym teachers from the age of six. I bet they were jealous and went to Maurits Hendriks to tell on him. Hendriks, a man whose beard always puts me in mind of a German porn actor, said: Rules are rules! Yuri could have been a little bit smarter, it’s true, but a good shepherd keeps his flock together. Yuri and his coach should have sorted it out among themselves, without involving Hendriks the Humourless. After the Olympics our Chef de Mission will be off on his lucrative rounds once more, going to boring congresses three times a week to talk to office types about management. What he should have done is protect enfant terrible Yuri van Gelder, from himself and from public opinion. And there’s worse than Yuri in Team NL. Remember woman beater Camiel Eurlings sucking up to Putin in Sochi? Cheers Vladimir! Great to see you! Legendary hockey coach Wim van Heumen acted as night porter at 5am in Cologne. Two pissed stars from the team thought they were throwing pebbles against the window of a mate. It turned out to be their coach’s room. Van Heumen told them goodnight, put them in the team the next day and gave them a big fat wink when they scored. Van Heumen remembered he had been young once. And there you have it. Hendriks was an OAP by the age of twenty, you can tell. Dead serious about sport and eager to show it. It’s only a couple of medals, Maurits. Get a life. So why did he ditch Yuri? I would have let him stay just to boost the medal count. Or as an example to the swimmers. All they have done up to now is manage not to drown. Most of the other Dutch contenders might do well to have a quick one before they start. Only the hockey players and the rowers are doing the job and no wonder. Their club homes come with well-stocked bar facilities. The judge, meanwhile, has spoken. Spoil sport Maurits wins, bon vivant Yuri stays where he is. I congratulate Maurits and which him luck in his next job as Chef de Mission for North Korea. And I’m inviting Yuri to my next show. He and Erica can share the royal box. Cheers! This column appeared earlier in the NRC  More >