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


‘Ban arrests of peaceful demonstrators’

‘Ban arrests of peaceful demonstrators’

Lawyer Willem Jebbink represents Abulkasim al-Jaberi, the man who was arrested recently for shouting 'Fuck the king’, thereby committing lese majesty, which is still a punishable offence in the Netherlands. Jebbink thinks his arrest flies in the face of civil liberty. The prosecution of my client Abulkasim al-Jaberi for insulting the king and queen has generated much discussion about the archaic law that penalises lese majesty, and rightly so. We should ask ourselves if such a law is still relevant, especially since the criminal code already contains a ‘normal’ section on defamation. Civil liberty However, the most important argument in Mr al-Jaberi’s case concerns civil liberty. He demonstrated with the approval of the mayor, but was nevertheless incarcerated by the police who decided he committed the offence of lese majesty. His detention reflects the quality of the state of law in this country where freedom of demonstration is concerned, and we can’t but conclude that it is in a very poor state indeed. What happened to Mr Al-Jaberi also happened to a woman named Joanna during the coronation celebrations. She had permission to make her anti-royalist feeling known on Dam square but when she did so peaceably, the police intervened all the same. In doing so, the police waived the authority of the only person who has a decisive say in these matters: the mayor. This is cause for concern because it jeopardises the personal freedom of citizens. It also demonstrates that apparently police officers do not have sufficient knowledge of the law to act according to its edicts. It looks as if the agenda of the police is one of ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’. And  that seems to be enough to waive the right to freedom of demonstration. Those who want to express their opinions are arrested forthwith and silenced, even when the arrest turns out to have been wrongful. Police officials don’t care what the mayor says and consequently do whatever they think necessary to present a ‘clean’ Dam square to the eyes of the international press. Sinterklaas Something similar happened last year during the welcoming ceremony for Sinterklaas in Gouda. The European court for human rights says authorities should be tolerant in the face of peaceful demonstrations, even when demonstrators don’t comply to the letter with the legal restrictions. The basis of this legislation is one of the pillars of a free, democratic society: citizens must be able to voice their opinions, especially if they do so in a peaceful manner. That is exactly what dozens of demonstrators did in Gouda: voice a peaceful protest against the figure of Black Pete. When the police intervened, what came across was the image of a couple of people spoiling a children’s party. The result, once again, was the incarceration of citizens who wanted to have their say. Hours later, when the demonstrators were finally released, they had the pleasure of listening to their uninformed prime minister saying that he was firmly in the children’s party camp. With one fell swoop ‘the prime minister of every Dutch citizen’ side-lined people who thought differently, among whom many with a different cultural background. International attention Meanwhile, thanks to the prosecution of Mr Al-Jaberi, the Black Pete discussion has been resuscitated in the international press: the liberal Dutch are applying the full force of the law against demonstrators who are peacefully objecting to the ridiculing of people of colour. A bad press abroad for the freedom of opinion in this country, this is the backlash of the ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ policy of the police. The Netherlands is not used to mainstream, ‘tough’ public debates. The culture of consensus rules. Talk shows feature opinion makers who form public opinion, not people who express awkward opinions. People who provoke are ‘trouble makers’ and run the risk of arrest at demonstrations. A ban on arrests for alleged offences of expression and peaceful demonstrations might be a good way of reining in the police. Or to use the language of the demonstrators: fuck repression. Willem Jebbink is a lawyer. This column appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


‘A second opinion court to replace court verdict appeals’

‘A second opinion court to replace court verdict appeals’

Dutch judges are buckling under a heavy workload; perhaps it’s time to change the system, writes entrepreneur Annemarie van Gaal. The Netherlands is a fine country, with a fine justice system. We need to protect and nurture this system. But former Supreme Court president Geert Corstens has been warning for some time now that our judges are buckling under an increasingly heavy workload brought about by cutbacks. That makes sense, but the system itself is also to blame. In this country people on low incomes can endlessly go to court about a dispute about visiting rights involving an ex-partner’s dog or the neighbour’s pigeon house extension. If you don’t earn very much an appeal comes cheap. So there’s everything to gain and hardly anything to lose. Top of the list According to recent findings from the European Commission for the Efficiency for Justice, the Netherlands heads the European list not only for the number of subsidised court cases but the amount of money claimants receive in support. Of course, the cost of a case are not limited to this support. They include such overheads as the housing of the court, the coordination of sessions, and the judges who have to read all the documents, listen to counter pleas and decide the case. The real cost is thousands of euros. Taking into account the heavy workload of judges, we should perhaps not look to fewer cutbacks but to a change in the judicial system. Substitute How about this: suppose we substitute the appeal route for relatively simple cases with a second opinion. Defaulters, the neighbours’ very loud and irritating cockerel or labour law cases will all be dealt with by second opinion which will be pronounced by a judge working from home. Female judges who wish to stop work temporarily to spend time with their small children would be ideal for the job. They can study the files at home and proffer a second opinion, and the whole appeal rigmarole can be avoided. The advantage would be threefold. Judges will be freed up to deal with cases that are really important. Female judges who usually spend a fair number of years at home following the birth of children can keep in touch with judicial practice and so find it easier to go back to work full time. Costs will go down and workloads will become lighter. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor.  More >


‘The Dutch cabinet doesn’t concentrate on things that matter to voters’

The cabinet should prioritise issues that matter to voters, such as the rampant unemployment among the over-45s, write economists Willem Vermeend and Rick van der Ploeg. In the past few years, people’s confidence in politics has plummeted to an all-time low, not only because promises haven’t been kept, but also because the country had no less than five cabinets in the space of ten years, and, currently, 16 parliamentary parties. In addition, citizens are wondering when politicians are going to tackle the very real problems of this country instead of getting hot and bothered about other matters. What to do about keeping health care affordable, for example, or tackling unemployment. Safety, immigration, pensions and spending power are high on the list too. This week the coalition managed to widen the gap between it and the voters even more by embarking on a feverish marathon debate about the accommodation of failed asylum seekers. Bed, bath, bread Labour supports the so-called ‘bed, bath and bread’ arrangement which some local councils have introduced to prevent illegal immigrants, who won’t be repatriated anyway, from ending up on the streets and becoming a public nuisance. Although VVD aldermen and mayors of these local councils condone the measure for the sake of their local community, their fellow liberals in The Hague fear this provision will tempt more people to cross the border illegally, particularly if the measure becomes a right. Experience has taught us this is very likely. Until recently, The Hague condoned the measure because it is being supported by judicial rulings. It ended up on the political agenda again because the Council of Europe recently said it won’t pronounce on whether or not the Netherlands should provide basic accommodation for failed asylum seekers. Underlying problem Considering the fact that the cabinet is split over the matter it would have been wiser to postpone discussion until the Dutch court comes up with its - binding - ruling, which is expected as early as mid-May. Not that this will solve the underlying problem. For the last ten years the Dutch asylum policy has failed on all fronts. Without apportioning blame, it is clear that the social democrats, supported by a small band of dedicated supporters, are more committed to this cause than the liberals. But some in the Labour party and its dwindling group of voters are wondering why it is that the party is known primarily for its stance of issues like immigration, integration and asylum policy. While undeniably important, these are not the kind of issues that will bring back disillusioned voters. They used to vote for a recognisable Labour party, the party of jobs, good social security and a fair division of wealth. Forecasts And it is these issues which will be gaining in importance in the years ahead, so much is clear from the recent forecasts on employment, income inequality and the affordability of health care. These are the issues which should be concerning the coalition. Both Labour and the VVD have enough room to manoeuvre on solutions without annoying people by creating a ruckus. Employment should be the central issue. In spite of some green shoots appearing and increased growth, it doesn’t look as if Mark Rutte's second cabinet will be able to reduce unemployment (around 7%) substantially. Long-term Unemployment is down slightly, but at the same time another drama is unfolding. Long-term unemployment among those aged 45 and over is increasing alarmingly and this trend is set to continue. In 2014, the minimum time expected for almost two in three older unemployed to find a job was one year. Of the long-term unemployment benefits claimants 80% are over 45. In the last few years, Rutte 2 tried to increase the chances for the older unemployed through training, premium breaks for employers and other subsidies. It is high time the cabinet acknowledged this isn’t enough and that unemployment among this age group is rising. That is why we propose a measure which is as simple as it is effective. Contributions Employers who take on an unemployed man or woman of 45 or older will be exempt from paying contributions for a year and will only pay half over the second year. Then the normal procedures will be resumed. Workers will have had enough time to show their worth to the company without the measure, or else will have a better chance of finding a job elsewhere. In addition, the employee insurance agency UWV should work with smartindustry.nl to set up a nationwide ICT training programme for unemployed people over 45. A good example is the training course which is about to kick off in Maastricht. Those who finish the course successfully will significantly increase their chances on the labour market. Willem Vermeend is a former State Secretary of Finance and Minister of Social Affairs in the Dutch government and currently entrepreneur and professor at the University of Maastricht. Rick van der Ploeg is a former State Secretary for Eduction, Culture and Science in the Dutch government and professor of economics at the University of Oxford. This article appeared earlier in the Financial Telegraaf.  More >


New path in The Hague is a reminder of Indonesia’s shame

New path in The Hague is a reminder of Indonesia’s shame

When Jozias van Aartsen, the mayor of The Hague, unveiled the Munirpad (Munir Path) in a quiet neighbourhood on April 14, he did more than honour the slain Indonesian human rights defender Munir Thalib, writes Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch. The naming of the Munirpad was also an uncomfortable reminder to the Indonesian government of its failure to bring to justice those who had ordered Munir’s killing on September 7, 2004. Munir’s widow, Suciwati, told reporters before she left Jakarta to attend the ceremony:  'It’s ironic when the Netherlands recognises [Munir’s] achievement, but Indonesia, his own country, gives impunity to the perpetrators [of his murder].' Sceptical Suciwati has reason to be sceptical about the Indonesian government’s commitment to fully investigate Munir’s murder. Despite former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s promise in 2004 that finding Munir’s killers was 'the test of our history,' the government has failed to do so. There is certainly no shortage of possible suspects. As Indonesia’s best-known human rights defender, Munir made many powerful enemies among people with abusive records. Munir founded the highly effective Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) to campaign against enforced disappearances. In 2002, Munir established the Jakarta-based human rights research group Imparsial. Passion Underlying all of Munir’s work was a passionate pursuit of justice in a country whose three decades of authoritarian rule under Suharto had run roughshod over the rule of law and permitted the killers of more than 500,000 alleged 'communists' in 1965-66 to avoid prosecution for their heinous crimes. But that activism ended when Munir died from arsenic poisoning. The arsenic was allegedly added to his orange juice on a Garuda Indonesia flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam. An Indonesian police investigation resulted in the conviction of three Garuda employees. On December 20, 2005, a Jakarta court sentenced an off-duty Garuda pilot, Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who had moved Munir from economy to business class, to 14 years in prison  for administering the arsenic. Pollycarpus was released on parole in 2014. An Indonesian court subsequently sentenced Indra Setiawan, Garuda’s then chief executive officer, and Rohanil Aini, Garuda’s then chief secretary, to one year jail terms for producing falsified documents that let Pollycarpus get on that flight. Evidence Despite those convictions, there is troubling evidence that the prosecutions of those three Garuda staff failed to uncover the full circumstances of Munir’s killing and that the masterminds remain at large. Sceptics point to the fact that Pollycarpus was also an agent for the State Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Negara, or BIN). Despite allegations that linked the order for Munir’s murder to the agency’s former deputy director, major general Muchdi Purwopranjono, an Indonesian court cleared him of responsibility in Munir’s killing in December 2008 due to lack of evidence after trial proceedings dogged by allegations of witness intimidation. Activists have alleged that the government withheld key evidence during the trial, including recorded mobile phone conversations between Muchdi and Pollycarpus. Hampered In September 2009, Human Rights Watch said that the evidence presented during the Muchdi trial was compelling, but that the prosecution was hampered by the systematic retraction of sworn statements to the police and pressure on the South Jakarta court from Muchdi’s supporters. Witnesses withdrew statements they had made to the police, claiming to have forgotten basic facts, or failed to appear in court. Most were former or current intelligence officers or retired members of the military. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has an opportunity to correct the failure of his predecessor, Yudhoyono, to investigate Munir’s killing adequately. The president could start by ordering the National Police to surrender any evidence withheld or overlooked during the trials of both Pollycarpus and Muchdi, as well as investigating allegations of witness intimidation related to the dismissal of charges against Muchdi in 2008. If Widodo fails to act, the Munirpad in The Hague will remain a reminder of the long road to justice for Indonesia’s murdered rights defender Munir. Andreas Harsono is Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch.   More >


‘Coalition partners leant so far they almost tipped the balance’

The coalition partners agreed to disagree when Labour leader Diederik Samsom told a party conference his party would be leaning as far as it could to the left. At the same time, comments by VVD parliamentary leader Halbe Zijlstra showed the Dutch liberals are leaning as far as possible to the right. In doing so they almost tipped the balance, writes commentator Nicola Chadwick. The position of the current cabinet became extremely precarious this week as the two parties took 10 days to reach agreement about what to do with failed asylum seekers. So far the authorities have consistently failed to remove this group from the country in spite of all the tough talk. Many are unable to leave the country, as their own country will not have them or they cannot prove where they come from and others are still going though asylum procedures. A recent Council of Europe ruling stipulated that this group of people living in a judicial no man’s land should have access to basic amenities. The problem is that the two coalition partners disagreed on what the ruling meant exactly. For Labour it was clear: people should at least be given a bed, a bath and bread. The VVD feared such generosity would only attract more asylum seekers to the Netherlands. So it is not surprising that the solution is unsatisfactory. Bed and board will be provided, but only for those who cooperate with deportation – and that is to be realised within a matter of weeks. Criticism has come from municipalities and international organisations alike. Not least from UN human rights rapporteur Philip Aston, who called the agreement 'illegal' and 'a violation of human rights'. The VVD’s hardline was set out recently by Zijlstra, when he suggested Europe should be closed to non-European refugees. However, if crossing the Mediterranean at the mercy of ruthless traffickers in unseaworthy vessels hasn’t put hundreds of thousands of refugees off, the outcome of this latest dilemma is hardly going to make a difference. The tragic drowning of an estimated 800 refugees in the Mediterranean showed all too poignantly the dangers refugees fleeing war-torn countries are willing to face. Titanic tragedy Monday’s tragedy is the largest number of refugees ever to drown from a single boat. And in all, the human equivalent of two Titanics has been lost at sea since the Arab Spring destablised the Middle East and North Africa. In an interview in the Volkskrant last month, Zijlstra said the VVD should be more willing to talk to dictators, thus putting stability before freedom and democracy. The endless discussions brought this cabinet the closest it has ever been to break-up. What to do with people who are rejected by the asylum procedure has dogged Rutte’s second cabinet since it came into office in 2012. First, the two parties argued over a new general pardon for children who had become rooted into Dutch society, but had missed the initial amnesty in 2007. Then the criminalisation of illegal immigrants brought criticism of Labour. Eventually, this measure was withdrawn. The prison cell suicide of Russian asylum seeker Aleksandr Dolmatov, who should never have been in detention, seriously damaged former junior justice minister Fred Teeven. Just over a week ago, a group of failed asylum seekers #wearehere were evicted from the so-called refugee garage. They are protesting against the bed and board system as they say it gives them no prospect of a future Mafia boss The VVD came out of the provincial elections with fewer losses than expected. But to keep the support of right-wingers they have to play tough on immigration. Zijlstra even compared failed asylum seekers to top criminal Willem Holleeder. 'If Willem Holleeder listened to judges like these people, he would never have served a prison sentence,' he said. That being said, quite often it is the Dutch immigration service that does not listen to judges, thus prolonging procedures before individuals are eventually granted asylum. Municipalities faced with the problem of people living on the streets as a result of the Netherlands’ failed asylum policies are far more pragmatic. Utrecht offers far more than a place to sleep, wash and eat. It recognises the need to give people perspective with daytime facilities and training courses. Even the VVD mayor of The Hague Jozias van Aartsen wants basic provisions to remain in place. The reason the talks took so long was because the two parties disagree fundamentally on this issue. Each had to make its mark on the new legislation, which makes this a political compromise, not a practical solution. It’s a shameful situation; two parties thinking more about their prospects in the next election rather than a serious solution. It damages The Hague’s image as the seat of international justice and the Netherlands’ reputation as a leader on human rights issues. Now European ministers have agreed to increase funds for the EU Frontex operation, in an attempt to prevent the Mediterranean from turning into a watery graveyard. However, there is no deal on how to accommodate them once they set foot on European soil. Asylum and the refugee crisis are set to become a hot potato this summer, which could tip the balance of more than just the Dutch government. Nicola Chadwick is a freelance translator/journalist/editor who regularly blogs on Dutch current affairs and politics.  More >


‘Libraries need to be closed or made relevant again’

‘Libraries need to be closed or made relevant again’

All entrepreneur Annemarie van Gaal sees are empty libraries. The money spent on them could be put to better use, she writes. The Netherlands is keeping afloat lots of institutions which used to be relevant but now hardly have any added value. Take the public libraries. Every time I pass a library I see empty spaces with endless book cases. Every once in a while a lone student is sitting at a table pouring over his school books or his laptop. Lending books has clearly become a marginal activity. It makes sense. With the wealth of information and stories available online, printed books are no longer viable. Some libraries are trying to generate a little money by organising cultural evenings, reading groups and workshops at €12,50 a pop, coffee and tea included, but they are fighting a losing battle. €600m a year A city like Amsterdam has as many as 26 libraries. There’s over a thousand nationwide. These libraries cost some €600m a year, €65m of which is covered by contributions from members. That means each library has an average turnover of €60,000. That is not nearly enough. Every year councils and provincial authorities are paying out over half a billion euros to libraries. That is public money. Of course libraries have a social function. Making them free up to 18 gives every citizen, rich or poor, an opportunity to borrow books and use WiFi internet access, something which may not be available at home. But as long as libraries need to be subsidised to the tune of half a billion, it may be a good idea to consider how to spend that money differently. Internet subscriptions can be had for €10 a month and half a billion could buy over four million families free access to the net. If we close down the libraries, every household with an income of up to €50,000 before taxes could have free internet access. Business models If we want to hang on to the libraries, we should explore other business models. Libraries could, for instance, rent out flexible work spaces to the self-employed. If they charged €100 a month that would still work out cheaper than the expensive alternatives offered by commercial providers like Regus. The advantage of Regus is its great network of office space all over the country, and that is exactly what the libraries would have. If all thousand libraries were to work together on this it would blow the competition out of the water. The self-employed would have a quiet and affordable work space, with lots of reference books to boot. That is how an institution that is nearing its sell by date can be made relevant again. Annemarie van Gaal is an investor.  More >


‘Big companies could do more to put Dutch start-ups on the map’

‘Big companies could do more to put Dutch start-ups on the map’

Big companies don't have the guts to work with ambitious newcomers, nor do enough venture capitalists to invest in start-ups, writes entrepreneur Roebyem Anders. According to start-up Delta director Sigris Johannisse Dutch start-ups are thinking small. They have to develop an attitude or else they will never find a big investor to turn them into world players. I beg to diiffer. It’s the big companies who could do more to put start-ups on the map. Dutch start-ups are bursting with ambition to go international. What is lacking are big companies with enough guts to work with these ambitious newcomers. As long as they shy away, the big venture capitalists won’t be interested either. Backwater In the past ten years, the Netherlands has changed from an entrepreneurial backwater into a place where ideas and entrepreneurship are thriving. There have been marked improvements in the infrastructure to help small businesses. The figures support this: in 2014, 75 Dutch start-ups raked in a combined €500m in investments. But Sigris Johannisse is right when she says that the Netherlands has so far failed to achieve an international reputation as a start-up hub, and that this is the reason it has not caught the attention of venture capitalists. This lack of visibility is standing in the way of a start-up’s chances of progressing to the fast growth stage; a stage which requires a far greater investment than smaller, informal investors can provide. Narrow scope According to Johannisse, it’s the narrow scope of start-ups that is to blame. But the reality is different. In order to appear on the radar of big investors, start-ups need to prove they have potential for growth. And nothing will do that better than bagging a big client. I know from experience how hard that can be in the Netherlands. Interruption risks or reputational damage in case things go wrong is keeping many big companies from entering into business with start-ups. The same fear is making governments give start-ups a wide berth. And so big investors are not aware of them. Innovation But both big companies and the government are in dire need of innovation and often have a problem generating it. This is where start-ups come in. They are cheap and flexible, have a proper understanding of the internet and have big data at the core of their services. Our own start-up, Zonline, almost collapsed for lack of investment. After several near-death experiences, we managed to land a big energy company (E.on) as a client and that opened the door for capital investor Sungevity. This is what it’s all about. The Netherlands has come on in leaps and bounds but if it wants to become a focus for investors, it’s the big companies that have to learn not to think small. Because you never know: another Google could very well be out there already, somewhere in a garage in Appelscha. Roebyem Anders is vice-president of solar panel provider Sungevity. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant.    More >


‘More women at the top? A database alone is not going to do the job’

‘More women at the top? A database alone is not going to do the job’

Education minister Jet Bussemaker is right to want more women in top jobs, but a database is not the way to achieve this, write executive search entrepreneurs Carien van der Laan and Monique de Vos. Full marks to education minister Jet Bussemaker’s wish to increase the presence of women in the boardrooms of this country. Aware of the issues surrounding the appointment of women in top executive functions, she is anxious to speed up the process. But setting up a database of ‘board-ready women’ is not the best way to go about it. The minister’s goal – to increase the number of female board members (executive and non-executive) to 30% by 2016 – is a requirement of the Administration and Supervision Act. At the current rate of female appointments, this goal will not be met. Many of the 4,900 employers who must comply with the requirement argue that ‘there are no women’. 200 To prove them wrong, employers' association VNO-NCW chairman Hans de Boer and Bussemaker agreed to set up a database of women qualified and willing to sit on company boards. So far the names of some 200 women have been put forward by non-executive directors. ‘Here they are. You weren’t looking hard enough.’ But a database in itself isn’t going to solve the problem. Many headhunters already have a database of women capable of taking on the top jobs. But no matter how clever or talented, not every woman will necessarily be right for a particular job. Specific job requirements, the candidate’s knowledge and experience, personality traits, the competences of the other team members and the candidate’s compatibility with the team all come into play. A simple list of names doesn’t do justice to the complex process of finding the right person for the job. Headhunters Moreover, Bussemaker’s database is managed by governance watchdog the national register, a name suggestive of an independent, government-linked resource. Nothing could be further from the truth. The national register is a private headhunting agency which has been given preferential treatment by the minister. This agency is not only provided with information on individuals and vacancies, it also asks for privacy-sensitive information on women who have been put forward for a board role. The consultants of the national register evaluate CVs and recommend training to women whom they feel are not quite board-ready. But what criteria is this advice based on? In addition, this role will  undoubtedly help the national register consultants increase their own commercial network, Chinese walls or no Chinese walls. Specific Other headhunting agencies are held to certain rules to gain access to the – public – database. They have to provide information on the specific position involved, the candidates put forward and the woman who is ultimately successfully appointed. In short: this is not a level playing field. The privacy of the women is not sufficiently protected and headhunters who have spent years identifying board-ready women are being put at a disadvantage by the government. Independent There’s a simple solution. If the government and VNO-NCW want to create a database to contribute to diversity in the boardroom and apply objective criteria in the process, they should give the responsibility for the database to an independent foundation managed by Talent naar de Top (talent to the top), an initiative which has done an excellent job of promoting diversity in the workplace over the past years. The foundation will then give every board-ready woman a chance to register with agencies which have signed up to the Code Executive Search, which means they are committed to putting forward as many female as male candidates for any given job. Let the specialists do what they do best: assessing female candidates for specific executive functions. That would be a much more effective way of achieving equality in the boardroom than imposing purely quantitative criteria and sanctions. Carien van der Laan is the founder of executive search bureau Van der Laan & Company. Monique de Vos is the founder of Chasse Executive Search. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad.    More >


‘Uber and its like are not hip and innovative’

‘Uber and its like are not hip and innovative’

We shouldn’t hail Uber as a model of innovative entrepreneurship. WalMart should be a warning to us all, writes Daan Brouwer. There are quite a few politicians and economists who are in favour of total entrepreneurial freedom for businesses, investors and speculators. Eager to point out the pros, any harmful long-term cons this might have for a majority of citizens are overlooked. Advocates are outnumbering objectors, that much is clear from the current trend towards low wages, the scrapping of rules and regulations, the paring down of redundancy rights, the side-lining of unions and the holes that are appearing in the social safety net for the unemployed, the sick and others who, for some reason or another, depend on benefits. All this is primarily in aid of allowing these companies, and their exceedingly rich owners, to pay fewer taxes. Cheap taxis ‘Businesses’ like Uber fit this bill perfectly. Uber uses cheap fare prices to tempt the public into using their taxis. Bona fide taxi drivers are the first to suffer but ultimately the great majority of people will be seriously affected by the consequences of such a development too. Low cost companies such as Lidl, cheap mail order companies and Uber will have the same effect on Dutch society as supermarket chain WalMart in the United States. The disastrous effects of this commercial giant’s success not only on the economy but society as a whole have been eloquently painted by Clinton’s Labour minister Robert B. Reich in his bestselling Supercapitalism. The company, exploiting unemployment and the powerlessness of workers to the full, pays absurdly low wages. It forces suppliers into selling at such low prices that they, too, lower wages or move production to low wage countries. Competing supermarkets are left with no other choice than to follow suit. Inner cities are depleted because one by one traditional shops are forced to close their doors. Inequality WalMart is now the single biggest cause of the outrageous inequality between rich and poor in the United States. The Walton family, who own WalMart, are worth 152 billion dollars and the richest in the world by far. Businesses like WalMart and Uber are seducing people as consumers but screwing them as workers, self-employed people and citizens. Uber is portraying itself as hip and innovative but look closer and you’ll see a handful of American investors making bucket loads of money on one side and a lot of desperate would-be taxi drivers struggling to make a few euros on the other. It’s the sort of shabby set-up you might expect in Albania or Bulgaria, but not here. Is this the kind of innovation we need in the Netherlands? Self-proclaimed experts can spout nonsense about ‘the new economy’ and ‘the dynamic internet society’ as much as they like, but the fact is that Uber and its like will pull down society and make paupers of most of us. Daan Brouwer is author of 'Waarom de mensen balen van de politiek' (Why people are fed up with politics). This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant.  More >


Bureaucratic maze stifles small businesses

Bureaucratic maze stifles small businesses

The social insurance system is confusing and expensive for small firms, says entrepreneur Annemarie van Gaal. Unemployment is down slightly, but with over 633,000 people out of work we are still nudging our old 1980s record. Add to this the enormous number of self-employed and entrepreneurs who, while not unemployed, are struggling to make ends meet and you realise that we are facing a very big problem. The economy is recovering but this is not reflected in the employment figures. Government policy has concentrated too much on protecting existing jobs and too little on stimulating growth. It has gone too far in its protection of workers: redundancy pay, social insurance rules, bureaucratic procedures and collective labour agreements cover all businesses, whether they employ a thousand workers or ten. Responsible In both cases, employers remain responsible for a sick worker for a period of two years. That not only means they have to set in motion a re-integration process and pay the worker’s salary during that time, they are also forced to immerse themselves in hundreds of pages of incomprehensible jargon to find out exactly what is expected of them. And they had better not make any mistakes or they’ll be paying out an extra year’s salary. And here’s the difference. A big company has a personnel department to navigate the bureaucratic maze. A small entrepreneur has to do it all himself. This is time and energy he can’t put into the running of his business. Every small entrepreneur who has experienced the nightmare that is an unwilling or dishonest worker will never employ anyone again. We seem to forget that economic growth is propelled by small and medium-sized businesses. Even multinationals such as Philips or ASML started out small. The rules are stifling growth. Small companies can’t grow because they are fearful of hiring people. Two-tier Why don’t we devise a two-tier system? Big companies follow the rules imposed by the government and the unions. Smaller businesses, of up to say 20 workers, are exempt from collective labour agreements and will apply a less stringent form of social insurance law. Of course, smaller businesses will still be obliged to pay the minimum wage and social insurance contributions, but that is all. For them there would be no distinction between long-term contracts or temporary or variable contracts, and no sick pay or previously determined severance pay. Workers who want security can choose to work for a large company, while the more adventurous can opt for a smaller company. This could bring down unemployment and be an incentive for growth at the same time. Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and investor.  More >