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


The Dutch referendum about democracy is not democratic

The referendum on the EU's treaty with Ukraine is all about democracy, say its supporters. But by disenfranchising tens of thousands of European voters, Dutch democracy is being ill-served, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. Early next year, the Netherlands will hold a referendum on a key treaty between the European Union and Ukraine. The result of the vote will not be binding on the government, but it will give an indication of the mood of the moment in the Netherlands with regard to the EU. The treaty's Eurosceptic opponents say it will not only cost a lot of money, but will extend Brussel's powers even further and reduce the ability of elected politicians to monitor the EU's activities. It is a pity then that only Dutch nationals will be able to have their say on this important issue. The tens of thousands of European Union citizens who live in the Netherlands will, once again, be disenfranchised. Open borders The referendum might be about democracy and the enactment of democratic principles but it is not a democratic process in itself. There are an estimated 400,000 non-Dutch EU nationals living in the Netherlands, of whom 75% are of working age, and therefore paying taxes. But we have no say about crucial decisions being taken by the Dutch government which directly affect us. It is high time the political system was altered across Europe to make sure that European nationals who take advantage of their right to live and work in other countries do not end up being disenfranchised. Issues There are many cross-border issues which affect us directly, but on which we have no influence. The Dutch government plans to increase the residency requirement to vote in local elections to seven years. The Netherlands refuses to pay a cost of living increase to Europeans who built up state pension rights here and now live abroad. The 50-year residency requirement for a full state pension – this is by far the longest of all member states - means you can live and work in the Netherlands for most of your life but not be paid the same pension as a Dutch national who has never worked. The Netherlands does not allow EU residents to drive on driving licences issued by other member states, even though they are completely valid. Pension rights, driving licences, the right to vote - these are everyday issues which affect tens of thousands of people. Become Dutch Of course, the one way to have a vote in the national and provincial elections is to become Dutch - which means in many cases giving up your original nationality. So stop being French and become Dutch while you work, then retire to Spain and become Spanish. Nationality shopping is not the answer to voting rights in a global economy. Is this really what we are supposed to do to exercise our rights as taxpayers in the country we are living in? No taxation without representation is an old slogan but still very valid in 2015. As taxpayers in the Netherlands we should have the same rights as Dutch taxpayers after we have lived here for, say, five years. Now that really would be worth holding a referendum about.  More >


Dutch transport hubs need more government input, says employers’ chief

Dutch transport hubs need more government input, says employers’ chief

Dutch transport hubs are a valuable Dutch asset but the state needs to get more involved, writes VNO-NCW chairman Hans de Boer A structural growth rate of 1% to 1.5% a year? VNO-NCW has more ambitious plans for the Dutch economy. We are confident that upcoming entrepreneurial talent will put the Netherlands in the economic Champions League. Economic growth is not an end in itself. It is what it takes to get to grips with the great social challenges of the next decades. Growth means Peter and Achmed won’t have to compete for the same job. It also means sustainable long-term investment in health care, the environment and energy transition. A world class economy can tackle social issues. Growth is good. Attactive for multinationals That is why VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland are putting together an agenda for growth which puts forward our transport hubs as one of the mainstays of a welcoming business climate. Strong hubs as well as an excellent international connectivity have already attracted some 20,000 international companies providing some two million jobs. The presence of these corporations, which are also twice as productive as the average company, has also proved to be a boost for innovative start-ups. Schiphol and KLM: a crucial combination In 2025 another 7,000 multinationals will join the world economic ranks. These companies will need European headquarters. The powerful combination of Schiphol and its network carrier KLM, the worldwide network of 200 ‘bridges’, i.e. direct links between KLM and its partners, and the great service of Schiphol Inc. combine to make the Netherlands an attractive option for international companies. This combination is an important Dutch asset but it’s not without its problems. There are outside threats (competition) as well as threats from within (adjustment speed) we must tackle. This is a national priority which demands new and decisive policies. Air France needs to reorganise too VNO-NCW is of the opinion that, in principle, KLM has a good partner in Air France. The combination has been advantageous to KLM, our international destinations and, consequently, to Schiphol and the Dutch business climate. Continued growth will benefit the Netherlands in particular because the total traffic volume will always be handled via both Paris and Schiphol. We now see that KLM is reorganising and that is a good thing. But it is clear Air France should do the same. As a constructive partner, the Netherlands should lend economic and political support, not raise an admonishing finger. Dutch control and involvement After a process of reorganisation has been started at both carriers, we will see increased support at Air France- KLM holding level through investment decisions, new partners and a possible recourse to the capital market. The Dutch public interest served by these choices is important enough to warrant a far more extensive safeguarding of state control and involvement at this level. There are a number of options for the government to consider, including acquiring a stake in the holding company. Of course, all this would be subject to the proper conditions. What matters is that a more intensive state commitment to Air France-KLM will boost the common continuity strategy, the credibility of the holding company on the capital market, a structural governance contribution from the Netherlands and the partnership with France. Central management It is of the utmost importance that Schiphol’s limited capacity is divided according to the importance of the additions made to the airport’s network quality. This should be guaranteed by a framework of public regulations so the assignments of slots find its basis in this framework. Transport hubs operations, including decisions about additional landside infrastructure, state policy and the costing of airport safety policy need to be centrally managed at government level. Economic-strategic considerations should prevail and that would have to be clear from the way policy responsibility is unequivocally accorded within the cabinet. Hans de Boer is chairman of the Dutch employers organisation VNO-NCW   More >


Refugee crisis requires decency, not political point-scoring

The current refugee crisis is not about being for or against asylum seekers, but about being decent human beings, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. There is something particularly sick about a group of men in balaclavas attacking a sports centre where 150 refugees, including 51 children, are living for a few days. That this happened in Woerden, a nice little town near Utrecht which can trace its roots back to Roman times, is even sadder. Because Woerden represents a sort of quintessential Dutchness and what happened there says a lot about the mood of the moment. The attack was not only cowardly but shows just how cruel some sections of our society have become. Last week Elsevier magazine – which is far from left-leaning – published a round-up of incidents against refugees over the past few weeks. A banner hanging from a bridge over the A15 motorway reading ‘refugees not welcome’ and ‘shut the borders’. Swastikas painted on a hospital which may become a refugee centre. A threat to burn down a town hall if refugees are allowed to live in the locality. Rich people clubbing together to buy land to stop a refugee centre being built. Demonstrators carrying banners with ‘go home. Holland is not your country’. A house in Deventer allocated to a Syrian family daubed with ‘own people first’. It is a long and nasty list. Decent I don’t for one minute believe that the majority of the good folk of Woerden or the Netherlands agree with the behaviour of a handful of thugs and banner-wavers. The Dutch are, in general, decent and generous people. But those with good hearts and good intentions are being swamped – not by refugees, but by people out to cause trouble, not to make the best of a difficult and complicated situation. Last weekend, right-wing rabble rousers from Britain and Germany came to Utrecht to stir up trouble, and our own blonde bombshell Geert Wilders is about to head off to Australia to do the same thing. But then who needs Geert when we’ve got Halbe Zijlstra, party leader of the VVD, spouting utter rubbish in the newspapers and on TV about plans to stop refugees getting free cosmetic surgery in Dutch hospitals? The heir-apparent to the VVD leadership thinks refugees should be happy with a few euros a month and a home in a converted shipping container. They should not, he says, be allowed to have their eyelids lifted or their breasts enlarged at Dutch taxpayers’ expense – a crass, fatuous and absurd statement which shows just how low some people will sink to score points. If not exactly forgivable, this VVD stance is perhaps predictable. But what are we to make of the Labour party which yesterday voted in favour of the VVD’s 'more sober' approach towards the refugees? Should we take solace from the fact that Labour party leader Diedrick Samson at least had the decency to look shamefaced defending his party’s support? Point-scoring But this is not a time for political point-scoring and trying to out-Wilders Wilders. This is a time for politicians, indeed for all of us, to work together and to treat refugees with decency, no matter how they got here or why they came. How must those people in Woerden have felt when thugs dressed in black tried to force their way into their temporary home? If you’ve left your old life and fled from a country which has been torn apart by brainwashed and murderous nutcases, all you want is to live without the fear of violence and bombs and for your kids to go to school and have a future. Some refugees will go back, some will move on and some will make their new home in the Netherlands. Trying to discourage them by making their unhappy lives even more uncomfortable is not the way decent human beings behave.  More >


Dutch Labour party should heed Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn

Dutch Labour party should heed Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn

PvdA senator Adri Duivesteijn thinks it's time the Dutch Labour leadership returned to its core social-democratic values. He believes Jeremy Corbyn in Britain can show it how it should be done. Happy days are here again for British social democrats. Left-wing Jeremy Corbyn has been elected Labour leader by an overwhelming majority. An era of neo-liberal domination has come to an end. How can such a radical change of direction be explained? And could the same thing happen in the Netherlands? Distance There are two reasons why the Labour membership opted for an authentic leader with a classic social-democratic ideology: the gap that loomed between the leadership and the voters, and the leadership’s implication in the moves to erode politics, government and the public sector. The social democracy used to be characterised by a joining of movements in society with political representatives. The classic and tangible differences between rich and poor are no longer as sharply defined, the change from an economy based on manufacture to a services-based economy and the emergence of a broadly-based middle class has made the political playing field much more complex. Politics has changed dramatically. The natural alliance between the social democracy and innovative movements, extraparliamentary action and parliamentary action have become two separate worlds that are no longer communicating. The rift between the Dutch Labour party and union FNV is one example of many. Politics has become separate, a class of its own. Party membership as a political deed Without this structural bond it’s the state of the economy that seems to determine the outcome of an election. For many voters that might be enough but for many members of social democratic parties this non-participation is not as clear cut. Their membership is in itself a political deed. It represents a commitment to a certain ideology and a political desire for change. It implies an active role for a common cause. And when party leaders get to power and neglect the social democratic values as they see fit they are also damaging the pride and honour of the party members. The charms of neo-liberalism The rift will become even greater when social democratic leaders lose their grip on their own ideology. Seduced by the charms of neo-liberalism, pragmatism and an all too technocratic approach, European social democrats helped erode the role and position of politics, government and the public sector. Social democrats are complicit in relegating both politics and the government to the roles of manager or supervisor. Many public tasks have been outsourced, distanced or privatised. Citizens became consumers and have become the much-fought over objects of a fierce competition between what used to be ‘public services’. This has generated a feeling of unease in the middle classes. And the members of the social democratic parties are feeling like strangers in their own homes. Jeremy Corbyn, who exemplifies the belief in social democratic values, knows this like no other: Labour must stand for values that can’t be traded in but must be fought for time and again. By electing Corbyn, the labour membership has made clear that it’s time to return to the true values of the social democracy. The battle is not lost yet. Both the leaders and the members of the Dutch labour party should take heed. This article appeared earlier in Trouw  More >


Budget boredom: the cabinet is marking time and it shows

The government's 2016 spending plans are unambitious, show a lack of vision and highlight the balancing act this cabinet has become, says DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. Dare I say it? This year it was hard not to be somewhat underwhelmed by the presentation of the Dutch government’s annual spending plans. From a lacklustre king’s speech to the finance minister’s attempt to jolly up the proceedings by using a briefcase from 1947 to carry his crucial papers, it all felt a little forced. This year, like most recent budgets, the main points had already been leaked. Even the government’s communications strategy - stress the economy is doing well but we need to do better - was in the public arena. Little wonder then, that this year’s budget was a hollow occasion. Even the comments from opposition party leaders were predictable - D66’s Alexander Pechtold spoke yet again about the cabinet’s lack of ambition and PVV leader Geert Wilders did his usual ‘tsunami of asylum seekers’ bit, with a dash of ‘blood on their hands’ thrown in for good measure. Yes, the refugee crisis is the dominant issue at the moment, but this is a European issue, not a Dutch one. At a local level, we’ve got the endless calculations about the impact of the budget on spending power instead. Does anyone really notice an alleged 1.4% increase in the amount of disposable cash they have, as the government would have us believe? It is no secret in The Hague that the two ruling parties - the right-wing VVD and the social democratic PvdA - disagree about many things. In 2017, there is a general election and support for both the ruling parties is well down in the polls. So, this is a wait-and-see budget.  A cut in income tax here, a bit of extra money for defence there... nothing controversial. Everyone is waiting for the next big domestic thing to come along. As it will when the general election campaign kicks off.  More >


Hey city dwellers: distance is dead!

Economist Mathijs Bouman never got the memo that the city is the only place to be. But in his quiet countryside hideaway, he is not sorry one bit. Distance is dead. It was killed by the internet. At the end of the ‘90s British journalist Frances Cairncross predicted the murder in her bestseller Death of Distance. Thanks to the internet location no longer matters, Cairncross wrote. No one will be stuck in traffic jams because there will be no need to get from one place to another. And no one will have to be stuck in a stuffy office in a polluted city. As long as you have a fast internet connection you can work absolutely anywhere. Well, it convinced me. I went out and bought myself a nice house on a big piece of land at a considerable distance from the Noordzeekanaal. The internet is quick as a flash. This column arrives at the Financieele Dagblad in less time than it takes to hit the send button. When I’m called upon to do something for radio, Skype and a good microphone make it seem as if I’m in the studio. In case of breaking news I slip on my good jacket and hey presto I’m live on RTL-Z. Fast internet can put me anywhere I want to be. It’s wonderful. Life is good in the Dutch countryside. The air is clean, local initiative thrives and my neighbour gives me a friendly good morning when I pop out to get my spelt bread (yes, we have spelt bread here) at the local bakery. Distance is dead and I’m doing a jolly dance on its grave. But it seems I’m dancing alone. Sometime at the beginning of this century a collective memo went out to journalists, writers and other ‘creatives’ saying that the party of the future was going to take place in the city. Except I never got the memo. The city is hipper and busier than ever and everyone wants to live there. That is where the good restaurants are and the best Belgian beers flow. It has the best Rembrandts and the most popular DJs. To young, and not so young, professionals the city has become the only relevant reality. The countryside is no more than a muddy stain between cities with crap 4G reception. That is why houses in Amsterdam are already more expensive than they were before the crisis. The average house price is €297,000, higher than it ever was. In Haarlem prices are rocketing too. As the housing market in the big cities is heating up and small apartments are sold for ridiculous prices, farm houses in the country are patiently awaiting the first viewing of the year. Us bemused country folk shake our heads at this new-fangled city silliness. First you fight for a couple of square feet to call your home, then you squeeze yourself into some trendy bar with all the other self-employed while some hip millennial knocks his frappucino all over your expensive Macbook. Listen city dweller: distance is dead! Really, that mud stain is not such a bad place to be. And no, I’m not selling. I’m staying. Mathijs Bouman is an economist and journalist. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad      More >


The tax on Tesla cars is crony capitalism in the polder

The tax on Tesla cars is crony capitalism in the polder

Crony capitalism in the polder exists. Just look at the tax on Tesla electric cars, writes economist Mathijs Bouman. In the American state of Michigan you’re not allowed to buy a car on the internet. As of last year, car buyers have to use an existing car dealer. A lot of car manufacturers have dealership networks so it doesn’t present much of a problem. But there’s one make that only has showrooms and an internet shop. Electric car maker Tesla is the only car manufacturer which sells directly to clients. Other American states, such as New Jersey, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Virginia, have adopted anti-Tesla laws and put the kibosh on direct car sales. It’s what Daniel Crone, professor at the University of Michigan, calls ‘crony capitalism’ in a recent scientific report. It’s traditional car makers and dealers using their political influence to put one over on a new and potentially dangerous competitor. As a result the consumer suffers and the technological advances of electrically powered cars are being sabotaged. Here in the Netherlands we take a much more liberal view. It’s all go with the electric revolution. Fully electric cars – the so-called zero emission cars – will remain subject to the low 4% additional tax liability for lease cars, junior finance minister Eric Wiebes announced last week. The owners of hybrid cars will be paying more but, says Wiebes, the ‘early adopters’ who choose to go electric all the way can count on the undiminished support of the cabinet. ‘Undiminished’ is a relative term in this context. The 4% additional tax liability only covers electric cars under €50,000. Cars over €50,000 are subject to a much higher rate. And there’s only one make that sells electric cars of over €50,000. That’s right, it’s Tesla. The cheapest online model costs €83,000. Driving a Tesla would add thousands of euros to the annual lease car bill. The €50,000 cap is not something Wiebes himself came up with. It was the motor trade sector organisations such as Bovag (dealerships) and Rai (manufacturers and importers) who put it to him and the cabinet was happy to oblige. Crony capitalism the Dutch way. When asked, a Bovag spokesperson denied the cap is meant to foil a newcomer and his superior product. On the contrary, it promotes a level playing field because without the cap luxury electric cars would profit from a more advantageous tax break than cheaper cars. I’m not convinced. There’s another expensive zero emission made by an established car maker with a dealership network: Toyota’s hydrogen Mirai. It’s not for sale in the Netherlands yet but in Germany it’s priced at €79,000. It’s pure luxury, but there’s no €50,000 cap on hydrogen cars, Wiebes said. It makes sense. Mathijs Bouman is an economist and journalist This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Sheer numbers force shift in Dutch government’s stance on refugee crisis

Back in April, the Dutch government almost split over the matter of what to do with failed asylum seekers who are unable or unwilling to leave the country. As tens of thousands of refugees advance towards the heart of Europe, the coalition has now been forced to find common ground on how to tackle the crisis, writes Nicola Chadwick. It wasn’t long ago that the VVD called for Europe’s borders to be closed completely to boat refugees. Parliamentary party leader Halbe Zijlstra saw this as the only humane answer to the tragic drownings in the Mediterranean. It was only when 800 people drowned in one night in April that the international community was prompted into sending ships to prevent more tragedies at sea. Up to then the downsized Frontex mission focused on preventing the boats from entering European waters. Then European leaders approved a plan to bomb boats that might be used to traffic refugees to prevent them from leaving port. However, European naval ships cannot 'simply bomb boats in Libyan waters' without a UN mandate writes migrantreport.org. Last year, the former junior justice minister Fred Teeven warned several times of 'shocking' increases in the numbers of asylum seekers. These migrants never materialised. In May last year, 1,000 people were reportedly applying for asylum every week, only the junior minister forgot to mention the figures included people reapplying who were already here. In November, Teeven reiterated his warning that as many as 40,000 migrants were on their way to the Netherlands and municipalities would struggle to accommodate them. It’s only now that we are seeing what it looks like when tens of thousands of migrants are on the move. So far an estimated 340,000 people have entered Europe this year from countries like Syria and Eritrea. That is still just a fraction (0.068%) of the European population. Compare that to Lebanon where 1 in 5 of the population is now Syrian. Conspiracy of neglect The world had almost become indifferent to a constant stream of images of people in unseaworthy vessels attempting to cross the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year. However, the discovery of 71 bodies in the back of a lorry in Austria in August and last’s week’s photograph of the lifeless body of a little three-year-old boy changed that. Finally, the seriousness of the situation is getting through to ordinary people, prompting them into action. As a result, collections for shoes, warm clothes, blankets and tents are being set up. And demonstrations and Facebook events organised to welcome refugees. Amnesty International has called the current crisis 'a conspiracy of neglect'. There are more than 50 million people fleeing wars worldwide, the highest figure since World War II. The VVD consistently refer to this group at best as migrants, Labour looks upon them more sympathetically as asylum seekers. In truth, they are a mixture of economic migrants and refugees, but most are Syrians and Eritreans fleeing war. The VVD wants Syrian refugees to be kept in camps in the region and European borders closed. It is a policy that plays into the hands of people traffickers as desperation drives people into the hands of criminal gangs. And besides, up to now millions of refugees have been kept in camps with inadequate facilities in neighbouring countries. The Christian Democrats have called for safe havens to be created. Even though the Netherlands’ last attempt to guard a safe haven ended in the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold has called for the Netherlands to be 'magnanimous' and take in more than the Dutch quota. The Christian Union wants to set up an Airbnb for refugees, so that people can open their own homes to welcome them. The anti-immigration PVV just calls the people who have risked their lives to reach Europe 'gelukszoekers', (basically people looking for a better life) and says they should be sent back on arrival, preferably in the same boats they arrived in. PVV leader Geert Wilders even attended a council meeting in Zeewolde to speak against the municipality taking in asylum seekers. Like Nigel Farage of UKIP, he blames the current influx on Germany’s open door policy. Dublin agreement Labour leader Diederik Samsom says the Dublin agreement which stipulates refugees must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter should be disregarded. In fact it already has been – albeit temporarily. He believes in six months’ time there will be EU camps in Italy and Greece where refugees will be registered and redistributed to the various EU countries. Samson is calling for European agreement to 'harmonise' asylum policies so that refugees do not shop for the country with the softest approach. Just over a week ago, prime minister Mark Rutte warned the influx of refugees would undermine Dutch society. VVD parliamentary party leader Zijlstra felt that Italy was chucking the problem over the fence by allowing the people who washed up on its shores to pass through the country without registering them. Earlier in the crisis, the government ignored a parliamentary motion to increase the number of vulnerable asylum seekers invited to take refuge in the Netherlands from 500 to 750, so that they could avoid the long and dangerous journey across the Mediterranean or via the Balkans. Harsh rhetoric Germany is planning to take in 800,000 refugees, as a result it has become a symbol of freedom and safety for the refugees. Ultimately the country will benefit from the newcomers. Three out of four Germans support the government’s policy and over 60% are willing to help refugees themselves. The images we are currently witnessing remind us of the migration of East Germans via Hungary and Austria to West Germany at the end of the Cold War. In the Netherlands, less than half the population supports taking in refugees. But that is not surprising considering the harsh rhetoric in the immigration debate in recent years as even moderate politicians try to outsmart Wilders. So far, the reaction and solidarity among European countries has been woefully inadequate. At an earlier EU conference, European countries failed to take up the gauntlet and agree to a distribution ratio when the EU target was to take in 40,000 refugees. Now the UN says EU countries will have to take in 200,000. If a redistribution key is agreed, the Netherlands will take in just over 7,200 refugees on top of the 2,000 agreed back in April, but it will only do so on the condition that African and Arab countries concede to the repatriation of economic migrants. Public opinion and the sheer numbers of people on the move are forcing government leaders to shift position. Now foreign minister Bert Koenders says: 'The Netherlands wants to be in the leading group', and is drafting a plan with Germany, Italy and France on how to accommodate and distribute refugees in the EU.  In January, prime minister Mark Rutte will take over the European Council presidency. As such, he may have to take the lead in the current crisis. Nicola Chadwick is a freelance translator/journalist/editor who regularly blogs on Dutch current affairs and politics. This column was first published on her blog Amsternic.   More >


Dutch minister wants to let Big Brother watch us

Dutch minister wants to let Big Brother watch us

If home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk gets his way, Big Brother will spy on us all with impunity. It's time to ditch his draft proposal, writes journalist and internet safety expert Menso Heus. Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk chose the depths of the silly season to offer up for ‘consultation’ a draft proposal which rides roughshod over the basic rights of every Dutch citizen: the new law governing intelligence and security services, WIV. If this proposal becomes law, the intelligence and security services AIVD and MIVD will be given unprecedented authorisation to access private data. With the minister’s permission and without even a hint of suspicion of any criminal behaviour on our part, the services will be monitoring and analysing our phone conversations, email exchanges, web surfing behaviour, etc. The data gathered will be kept for up to three years and can be shared with foreign secret services. The proposal has been carefully drafted: there is no mention of ‘mass surveillance’, the kind that Edward Snowden uncovered some time ago but that, clearly, is what this is about. Instead of protecting us from such comprehensive oversight, the Dutch government now wants to participate in it. Rights The arbitrary tapping of the means of communication used by innocent and unsuspected citizens contravenes the constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. It is also in direct opposition to the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As if this isn’t bad enough, Plasterk also allows the services extensive hacking powers. They can, for instance, use your computer without your knowledge to spy on a suspect. If you yourself are the target, the services can activate cameras and microphones in your equipment from a distance. Hacking makes systems unsafer and easier to access by criminals. But the new law doesn’t contain a provision to repair the damage, or even an obligation to acknowledge that any damage was done. Implications The implications for the freedom of the press are dire. The law offers some guarantees for the protection of journalistic sources, but as journalists and their sources are part of the government’s mass surveillance effort, that protection means exactly nothing. Journalists and their sources could never again be sure of an unmonitored exchange. Whistle-blowers who want to leak abusive situations anonymously will find it next to impossible to do so. The Dutch whistle-blowers platform Publeaks, where concerned citizens can report abuse anonymously, will also be spied on by the government. This also puts the systems of the forty affiliated media outlets in the danger zone. Reading behaviour will be monitored: the services will have no problem finding out which media platforms we are looking at, from Volkskrant.nl to Wikileaks.org. The consequences of such government spying are clear to see in the United States. The American security service NSA has been involved in mass surveillance and espionage among journalists for some time. As a result, journalistic sources are no longer as prepared to talk and the media are increasingly putting a lid on information that could lead to trouble. This is what is described in the Human Rights Watch report ‘With Liberty to Monitor All’ as the chilling effect. Court The Dutch intelligence services have been reprimanded repeatedly by the courts for unauthorised actions towards journalists. Not only is it unlikely that with the new possibilities at their disposal they will suddenly behave, their activities will also go largely unmonitored by the – possibly partisan and not always well informed - politicians whose responsibility this is. Free Press Unlimited is not against the modernisation of legislation concerning the intelligence and security services. We recognise that some persons or organisations which are legitimately deemed a danger to society should be subjected to efficient scrutiny. But it’s the governments which allow a blanket surveillance of their own citizens which constitute the biggest danger to society. That is what we see in the dozens of countries in which we are active. We call on all political parties – especially the ones that sport the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in their names – to return this draft to the minister forthwith. Citizens who want to comment can do so until September 1 on www.internetconsultatie.nl/wiv Menso Heus is a 'technology officer' and internet safety expert at Free Press Unlimited. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant.  More >


Available now: Imtech washer-uppers

Available now: Imtech washer-uppers

  The Imtech debacle and why nobody, including the supervisory board, saw it coming except a couple of hedge funds and a lone ABN Amro analyst. 'The whole thing is pathetic', writes Marco de Groot. Imtech has been declared bankrupt and the last CEO and CFO will without a doubt do penance, and rightly so. Still, it can’t just have been these two who pushed the company over the edge, can it? For years brokers and investors were mesmerised by Imtech’s unique ability to acquire and grow at a rate of knots, especially in Germany and the Scandinavian countries. The only place they didn’t do quite so well was in the domestic market of the Netherlands, also the home of the dispersed company’s administrative mission control. Interview I remember the moment I stopped believing in Imtech. It was in 2012, some €1.5bn in market value ago. In an interview, CEO René van der Bruggen claimed his company had not suffered any damage from the crisis and that he saw no reason for the acquisitions to stop or continue at a slower pace. Many investors and analysts trusted him as Imtech had never issued any warning in times of economic turmoil, not in 2002 and not in 2008. And yet the first hedge funds had been going short because of rising working capital and margins. Imtech probably provided extended payment terms in exchange for higher margins which effectively meant it was playing banker to its clients. Or projects weren’t finished, obscuring losses. A pyramid scheme, in short. No talks Van der Bruggen said he would not talk to these hedge funds. Either he simply - and scandalously - refused to defend investors’ interests or he was afraid his backfiring scheme would be brought to light. ABN Amro analyst Teun Teeuwisse dared publish the figures and views of the hedge funds and was put in the stocks. The rest is history. The damage is enormous, not only to Imtech staff but also to society and the reputation of the Netherlands as an investor friendly country. Shares are worthless and banks which have supplied credit based on figures approved by accountants are left with the burden of debt. Any accountant worth his salt looks beyond the figures he’s presented with. Why didn’t they spot this? Those same accountants, no doubt protected by their disclaimers, will now be calculating just how big the damage is. The whole thing is pathetic. Supervisory And what about the supervisory board? Those people with their impressive CVs and loads of experience, why didn’t they see what was happening? In England, a Libor trader recently received a fourteen-year prison sentence.  Society would have been better if he was doing a stint washing dishes in an old people’s home. At least he would be doing something useful for society. I hope the whole sorry Imtech mess will generate dozens of washer-uppers. I also hope you or your pension fund invested in one of those clever hedge funds that went short. At least your pain will not be as great. Marco de Groot is one of the founders of consultancy and coaching bureau 8daw.  This column was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad      More >