2015 was the year of the refugees, the Fyra high-speed train scandal, Groningen earthquakes and a million-guilder deal between a justice ministry official and a convicted drugs criminal, which brought down two ministers.
So what issues are the pundits predicting will dominate the headlines in 2016?
The Netherlands takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1. The six-month period will be dominated by the refugee crisis, efforts to develop a united European approach to terrorism and the British referendum on membership of the EU.
‘Solving problems, cutting through difficult issues and making speed,’ is how prime minister Mark Rutte has described the Dutch presidency plans.
The Netherlands will hold its own referendum on the EU’s treaty with Ukraine in April, following a campaign by shock blog GeenStijl and other anti-EU groups. Despite the actual subject matter, the vote is widely seen as a test of Dutch support for Europe.
The refugee crisis will remain a thorny issue in both the Netherlands and Europe in 2016 following the violent protests of 2015. In particular, the Dutch will focus their efforts on securing Europe’s outer borders and setting up more camps in the conflict regions.
In the Netherlands itself, the shortage of temporary and permanent accommodation for refugees will remain a major issue. Local councils, such as Amsterdam, will also have to decide how to deal with asylum seekers who have lost their appeals for residency and face deportation. The bed and board ruling which was developed has since been torn up in court.
Geert Wilders’ second trial for inciting hatred and discrimination starts in March. Wilders is being prosecuted for comments about wanting to see fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands which he made during the local election campaign two years ago.
Meanwhile, Wilders’ PVV remains the biggest party in the opinion polls, with up to 30% support in some. All parties will have one eye on the 2017 general election, particularly towards the second half of the year.
All the forecasters agree the Dutch economy will continue to grow next year, although unemployment will remain high at around 600,000 people.
One of the biggest challenges for 2016 will be the growth in the number of freelancers and self-employed. There is strong pressure from unions to introduce social insurances for freelancers, although organisations representing the self-employed remain opposed to any compulsion.
Paul Koster, head of the Dutch shareholders’ association VEB, expects an uncertain start to the year for investors. This is partly due to monetary policy developments in the US and the expected knock-on effect on the dollar.
Oranje will be missing from the European football championships in June, but there are high hopes of the Rio Olympics, which start in early August. Dafne Schippers is favourite to take at least one of the two sprint titles. Swimmer Ranomi Kromowidjojo and the women’s hockey team are also among the Dutch medal hopes.
Among the anniversaries taking place in 2016 is the 100th edition of the Nijmegen Vierdaagse, the four-day march introduced as a way of keeping the army fit after the introduction of motor vehicles. The Nijmegen event is the biggest in the country, and this year will include some 50,000 walkers.
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