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


Dutch should go for real transparency in corporate ownership

Dutch should go for real transparency in corporate ownership

A register of corporate ownership that is accessible to all would help combat crime. But the Dutch proposal – a registry behind a paywall and limited data access – does not go far enough, write Arjan Al-Fassed and Anne Scheltema Beduin. In the Netherlands it’s still possible to create legal companies without revealing the identity of the actual owner, Criminals abuse such constructions for purposes of corruption, fraud, money laundering, organised crime and cartels. A public registry, the so-called UBO registry, aims to change all that. But it can only happen if the registry is accessible to all. A UBO registry is a central registry which contains the names of the ultimate beneficiaries and other legal corporate entities. A ‘UBO’ or Ultimate Beneficial Owner, is the person who is pulling the strings, openly or behind the scenes. Openness about the identity of the UBO strengthens confidence, increases accountability and gives the market, stakeholders, investors, businesses and consumers a proper insight into who exactly they are dealing with. Corruption, money laundering and the financing of terrorism are international problems and that is why, before June 26 2017, all EU countries have to have a registry in place. Recently, finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem presented an outline of the Dutch version of the UBO registry. Although Dijsselbloem is an advocate of a registry, his version is far from offering real transparency. Not only does the government want to erect a paywall, it also wants to know who wants the information: every visitor needs to log in. Moreover, the general public’s access to the registry is limited to a minimal data set. Shadowy constructions The data from a UBO registry are only properly useful if access is unlimited and equal for all. Obscuring information about companies, foundations, associations and organisations is part of the problem. The minister’s obstructions are also flying in the face of what the registry is meant to achieve; i.e. putting a stop to the creation of shadowy constructions used for illegal purposes. In order to do that, the complete data set needs to be accessible. In Myanmar, for instance, a criminal chain made up of military elites, drug barons and money laundering organisations related to the jade industry was discovered. This was only possible because the complete data set was publicly accessible, machine readable and programmatically compatible. Public watch dogs, among them Global Witness, were thus able to reveal the hidden ties between the jade industry and the most important players. A pay-per-view system is problematic because it impedes the use of the complete data. If you have a list of administrators who have been convicted for money laundering and you want to combine it with the Dutch UBO registry to check if any of the people appearing on the list is on the board if a Dutch company, the costs of your research will mount considerably. The finance minister is silent on the subject of open data in its UBO registry proposal. He is hiding behind the privacy argument, which is a questionable one since it is at odds with transparency. The minister does admit that a strict access limitation would be difficult to achieve and monitor and would be expensive – both for the administrators and the users of the registry – and not in line with the purposes of the Directive. Chamber of Commerce It’s not surprising that the Chamber of Commerce is eager to run the new UBO registry. It has been monopolising the administration of the trade registry for years and wants a disproportionate amount of money for access to the information in its domain. For this alone, the Chamber of Commerce should not be considered for the job. There is more. Unlike in other countries, the Dutch trade registry is not accessible as open data. What is more, the Chamber of Commerce is arguing that re-use of data from the public trade registry by third parties should be disallowed. Britain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and even Romania have a freely accessible trade registry open to all. Britain and Denmark are planning to make the UBO registry accessible as open data as well. Public registries and paywalls are not compatible. Asking payment for data acts as an unnecessary hurdle for the (re) use of these data. Moreover, the Chamber of Commerce has been unable to provide a clear insight into the costs and benefits of the administration of the trade registry and even the Dutch national audit office has judged that the two are unevenly balanced. In the end, a truly open public registry is better for the market, for the public and our safety. Arjan El-Assad is director of the Open State Foundation. Anne Scheltema Beduin is director of Transparency International Nederland This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Holocaust denial, pick-up artists and Salafism: the Dutch between a rock and a hard place

Holocaust denial, pick-up artists and Salafism: the Dutch between a rock and a hard place

What do a British holocaust denying historian, an ultra-fundamentalist Islamic sect, and an American pickup artist have in common? The answer: all three have faced resistance in the Netherlands for their rhetoric. And efforts to restrict all three have been shot down due to freedom of speech laws, writes Graham Dockery. Salafism, a puritan and anti-modernist interpretation of Sunni Islam, is the religion of choice of the Islamic State, the Saudi regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. The religion is commonly divided into three groups of followers: the apolitical, who keep their religion to themselves but bow before any Salafist leader to avoid creating fitna, or chaos; the political activists, whose ranks swelled following the Arab spring; and the jihadists. Naturally it’s the last group that has people in the west worried. Those who see armed Jihad as the best route to establish a worldwide caliphate based on medieval religious purity are a minority, but a dangerous one. It has been estimated that Salafi jihadists account for less than 1% of the world’s Muslim population. However, that means that there are 10 million of these jihadists in the world. Salafism is widely considered the fastest growing movement in modern Islam, and the proliferation of Salafist mosques has caused concern in Europe, particularly in Germany, where security services have been keen to highlight the links between Salafism and terrorism. Security threat? In the Netherlands, the situation is much the same. The security service AIVD stated in a report that while Salafist preachers have mostly operated within the boundaries of Dutch law, they have frequently promoted intolerance and ‘undemocratic activities’. These ‘undemocratic activities’ range from attacking supporters of the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ campaign on social media, to encouraging young followers to use violence against the state and against people of different beliefs. ‘These are not isolated incidents, but reflections of more widely held sentiments,’ the report said. No ban in the Netherlands It is against this background that the Dutch parliament passed a motion calling on the cabinet to look into banning Salafist organisations in the Netherlands. At the time this motion was heavily criticised by Jozias Van Aartsen, mayor of The Hague. Van Aartsen preferred co-operation with his city’s Salafists, who worship at several mosques in the city, stating that ‘we do not judge people on their thoughts or ideas.’ This is the same Van Aartsen who saw ‘nothing wrong’ with protestors in The Hague waving ISIS flags and chanting ‘death to Jews’. Dutch law clearly states: ‘He who in public, either verbally or in writing or image, incites hatred or discrimination against people or incites acts of violence towards people or property of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs…shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine of the third category.’ Despite this, there were no arrests made or punishments handed out. And despite the AIVD’s report stating that Salafist preachers frequently break this hate speech law, minister for social affairs Lodewijk Asscher announced on Friday that the Dutch government will not ban Salafist organisations, saying such a ban would conflict with the individual right to freedom of religion in the Netherlands. Asscher did, however, recognise that Salafism provides a ‘breeding ground for radicalisation’, but claimed that current laws already provide enough options for tackling the problem. Holocaust Denial The same hate speech law mentioned above effectively makes Holocaust denial and public support of Nazism illegal in the Netherlands. But before controversial Holocaust-denying historian David Irving even opened his mouth in the Netherlands, he found his hotel reservation in The Hague cancelled last week, due to pressure from the city council. The same mayor Van Aartsen who saw nothing wrong with ‘death to Jews’ chants, this time told anti-Semitism watchdog group CIDI that he would intervene to ban Irving from The Hague. Irving has been banned before from giving lectures in Amsterdam, but the council of The Hague could not legally ban Irving from coming to the city. Instead they could only encourage hotels and halls in the city not to give him a platform from which to speak. Irony Irving’s proposed lecture, entitled ‘Hitler, Himmler and the Homosexuals’, was due to be a private affair, where members could only bring ‘friends you can vouch for’. Irving may have more friends at his next speech. A side effect of the government and media hand-wringing over Irving’s speech was a sudden spike of interest in Irving and his writing. Comment fields in news articles were full of curious parties. ‘Never heard of him before, but now interested to know what he has to say,’ read one such comment on DutchNews.nl. According to Google trends, search interest in David Irving in the Netherlands is at an all-time high. In just one week, Dutch people searched for ‘David Irving’ over 100 times more than at any point over the last decade. Feeding on notoriety Another group occupying the grey area between free speech and criminal speech in the Netherlands are the pick-up artists (PUAs). Pick-up artists – dating coaches for socially awkward men – shot to prominence in the early 2000s after the publication of The Game by American journalist-turned-pick-up artist Neil Strauss. Now part of the $10 billion self help industry, pick-up artists make a living selling books, videos and seminars aimed at helping the poor and frustrated ‘average guy’ achieve his true potential. By manipulating attractive women into bed. Relatively innocent sounding fun, but some of these PUAs’ methods have caused controversy. Following a petition, PUA Julien Blanc was banned from entering Britain in late 2014. He was accused of misogyny and promoting sexual assault. The accusations were based on videos that showed Blanc forcing himself on women in Japan, and based on the ‘treat them like trash’ method he preached in his seminars. Blanc’s extreme methods are a symptom of self-styled pick-up ‘gurus’ flooding the market in recent years. To stand out, the PUAs must constantly outdo each other. The ‘Most hated man in the world’ wasn’t planning on coming to Amsterdam himself around that time. Instead, PUA Todd Valentine was to give a lecture in the city. Valentine also works with Blanc’s company, Real Social Dynamics. A moral appeal A petition signed by almost 25,000 people called on the justice minister to refuse entry to the Netherlands to anyone associated with Real Social Dynamics, and called on the mayor of Amsterdam to pressure hotels and meeting facilities into refusing Valentine. Of course, free speech law meant that local and national government couldn’t issue an outright ban. However, much like the Irving situation in The Hague, they instead issued a ‘moral appeal’ to hotels and conference centres. The ‘moral appeal’ seems to be the weapon of choice of the Labour party (PvdA), which Amsterdam’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan and The Hague’s mayor Jozias van Aartsen both belong to. And it worked. Amid the controversy, Real Social Dynamics cancelled their event, deciding to wait until the ‘storm of criticism’ died down. Free speech Freedom of speech faces many challenges, and every time a group of ‘undesirables’ preaches an unpopular message, people are quick to call for them to be silenced. Stuck between an inability to actually do this, and a desire to please the public, the government here frequently has to opt for half measures and walk the middle ground. It’s a difficult double-bind situation, and one that ensures these problems won’t go away any time soon. And in a way, it’s typical of modern Dutch ‘tolerance’. On the outside the Netherlands is a society that respects and values free speech. But there are many within who see this as a hindrance, and who for many different reasons would rather that things weren’t so complicated. Graham Dockery is a master's journalism student at Groningen University  More >


Brexit: the Dutch will lose much-needed ally

Brexit: the Dutch will lose much-needed ally

The British may be troublesome moaners but it’s better to have them aboard in Europe, writes Peter van Ham, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael institute of international relations. ‘Let the Brits have their Brexit, for goodness sake! At least we won’t have to listen to their endless moaning anymore.’ It’s a sentiment that’s becoming increasingly common, and for good reason. Britain has always been the odd one out, with its own ideas about what the EU should look like and where it should be heading. But if the British should decide to hand in their EU membership on June 23, the Netherlands will lose an important ally and this country will become wholly dependent on the joint decisions made by Germany and France. A Brexit would upset the precarious balance of power within the EU and that will put pressure on the EU democracy. The three biggest EU member states – Germany, France and Britain – are in charge: any important initiative or project is suggested by this triumvirate and is then adopted as official EU policy with a majority of votes. The only reason why the rest of the EU goes a long with this is that the Big Three are seldom in agreement. One of the three will always block decisions on any given important economic and political issue and that gives the other member states an opportunity for taking sides and influencing EU decisions through tactful coalitions. EU membership for Turkey? Germany and Britain are (usually) in favour; France against. A strong political Union? Germany and France are in favour; Great Britain against. France and Britain are former colonial powers with a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and have a completely different world view compared to Germany, a nation still struggling with post-war guilt. Political traditions It is not only about conflicting interests, then, but about different political traditions. Germany opts for the Rhineland model (which resembles our polder model); France remains centralist and leans towards protectionism while Britain is staunchly neo-liberal. This balance constitutes the informal Trias Politica in the EU and that makes it more important than the official division of power between the European Commission, the council and parliament. The structural lack of agreement between the Big Three is often seen as the EU’s main stumbling block: decisions take a great deal of time and the resulting compromises are inevitably neither fish nor fowl. It’s a familiar and justifiable beef but it doesn’t take into account the fact that without the conflicts between the Big Three other member states would hardly get a look-in when it comes to influencing the EU decision-making process. If Berlin, Paris and London agreed on everything between them that would be it: the rest of the EU would be looking at a fait accompli. The French-German dominance of the Eurozone has been playing havoc with the balance between the Big Three in the last few years. Crucial decisions about the future of the EU have been predetermined by Germany and France, often on the pre-text that this is in the interest of the euro, thereby side-lining Britain. In the past months EU leaders have tried to allocate a clearly defined role to Britain in the German-French dominated Eurozone. The fact that they failed has now led to the British in-or-out referendum in June. A British opt-out will deliver a heavy blow to the EU democracy, which is already teetering on the brink. Without Britain the EU will lose an important advocate for interests and values which are crucial to the Netherlands as well, such a free trade and transatlantic cooperation. Dangerous The idea that a Brexit will rid the EU of a moaning troublemaker is naïve and dangerously short-sighted. Perhaps the EU will be able to speed up policy making on some issues. Smaller member states can support either Germany or France but that’s as far as it goes. For member states with different interests and traditions (which includes the Netherlands) a possible absence of Britain would mean a painful curtailment of diplomatic possibilities and, in the end, a blow to our democracy. The popular sentiment that ‘Brussels’ decides and that smaller member states are losing their say in the EU will further encourage euro scepticism. Without Britain the democratic balance will be lost and this may put the very existence of the EU in doubt. Not that the average British voter will care two hoots about that. But a Brexit does pose a dilemma for the Netherlands. The alternative for a EU dominated by Germany and France would be a Federal States of Europe in which smaller countries would play a clearly defined role based on a division of powers between the EU, the member states and the regions. You can be for or against such a system but it is at least one on which the Dutch population should be able to pronounce an opinion. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


What happened to empathy and solidarity when it comes to refugees?

What happened to empathy and solidarity when it comes to refugees?

Europe is not doing its share for the refugees. And by not taking control of the flight routes, it is also giving people smugglers free reign, writes GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver. At the beginning of this year I became a father again. I enjoyed the couple of weeks’ leave granted to new fathers and during that time politics was put firmly on the back burner. When I went back to work I wondered if the job was really worth missing so much of home life for. The feeling didn’t last very long. I realised that the refugee debate had taken on a different, much harsher tone. What happened to empathy? To solidarity? Even politicians ideologically close to GroenLinks are saying we should stem the tide of refugees. We have a euro commissioner who is juggling figures, a finance minister speculating about the sustainability of the welfare state and a prime minister who is saying that the number has to come down to zero. Things were very different six months ago. Remember this? Blue trousers, red top, dark hair, there he was, lying on his tummy, washed up on the beach. I don’t even have to tell you his name. Grief We all felt the grief of the parents and tried to imagine the despair of how it would be if it were us sitting in a boat with our children. This empathy and solidarity was felt across the board, independent of political preference or background. Government leaders agreed: this cannot be allowed to happen in Europe. Six months on, we no longer talk about him, or the despair of people on the run from barrel bombs and barbarian Jihadis. We talk about our own problems. We’re talking about ‘fewer, fewer, fewer’ refugees. It’s all we’re hearing at the moment. I want to change that. It’s wrong and it’s not what the Netherlands is about. And it’s not realistic. The war in Syria is becoming ever more complex. Lebanon is increasingly unstable. Civil war looms in eastern Turkey, while thousands upon thousands of Syrians are heading for the Turkish border to escape Russian bombs and the violence of Assad. Chaos To say there will be fewer refugees is to tell a lie and will only increase the chaos. Obstructing flight routes only helps the people smugglers who increase their prices, while the refugees take ever greater risks to secure a place in a rickety boat. Ask yourself: how great must the needs of these people be if they are willing to take such risks? Let’s be honest here. The refugee camps in the region are a woeful excuse for not doing what we ought to do. Europe, with half a billion people, is accommodating a million refugees. Lebanon, which only has four million inhabitants, is doing the same. The pressure on the region is horrendous. For five years now people have been living in these camps with nothing to look forward to. The first thing we have to do is to invest, in improving living conditions, in making sure the adults get work permits and the children get to school. And let’s see things as they are. We must count on the same number of refugees coming to Europe next year. It is no use building walls as long as people are desperate. Ruthless people smugglers will help them find the smallest of holes. Legal route We have to work on a legal route. We will make it easier, not harder, for refugees to come to Europe. People smugglers can only be combated if we, to put it bluntly, move into their territory and take over the merchandise. We can do that if we work together. International aid organisations have been saying this for years. The United Nations’ refugee organisation UNCHR has a relocation programme for the camps in Jordan and Lebanon. We must ask the UNHCR to identify, register and select people in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The UNHCR has already requested 460,000 relocation places. Let’s give them those places. At the moment, the EU is only offering 11,000 a year at a time when a million people are being forced into choosing the dangerous sea route. We have to redress the balance. Then people won’t have to get into boats, or be turned back. All this costs money. What is needed are big investments, and cooperation with countries like the US, Canada, Australia and countries in the region such as the Gulf states. That is the only way to gain control over who comes here and how they come here. We can filter out the young men who hope to come here from other North African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia. The people we need to be helping are refugees, most from Syria and a small number from Iraq and Eritrea. Integration It is impossible to promise the number of refugees will be brought down as long as there is a civil war in Syria. What we can do is improve the way aid is organised. There will be tension, including in this country. There will be individuals who misbehave, both refugees and Dutch citizens. They have to be caught and punished. It will be difficult for the refugees to integrate. They have to learn the language, find jobs and abide by the rules of our society. It will be expensive. It will be difficult. It may be hell in their home countries but we can’t promise these people it will be heaven here. But I see thousands of people offering their services for free to help them. A majority of people are worried but we can do this. That silent majority needs to find its voice. And if things are difficult all we need to think of is that little boy in the blue trousers and the red top on the beach. That is our motivation. This article appeared earlier in the NRC  More >


How Dutch meetings are different part 3: the catering

Cheese, mustard, coffee and cake: Greg Shapiro warns European diplomats not to expect too much when it comes to the catering during the Dutch presidency of the EU. If you haven’t already seen the billboards and banners, the Netherlands is playing host to the EU Presidency for the first half of 2016. You may NOT have seen the billboards and banners, and that’s because the Dutch government has announced it’s best not to be seen spending too much money on the whole affair. Witness the logo recycled from the last time they hosted in 2004. And when it comes to showing off Dutch cuisine, let’s hope we do better than more reheated leftovers like the logo. On the international stage, cuisine can play a pivotal role. Compare the climate summits in 2009 and 2015. In Copenhagen 2009, the Danish environmental minister had a simple strategy: lock the delegates in a room and don’t let them out until they reach a deal. There was no deal. By contrast, in 2015 the French stopped the whole summit to make sure everyone had enough to eat and drink. Even as the final negotiations were nearing completion, the French hosts called a break for a full lunch, coffee, croissants and chocolate. The resulting climate agreement was the most successful ever. Voila. Coffee and cake Just a few weeks later, the Dutch welcomed EU officials to a ceremony in Amsterdam featuring what looked like filter coffee and mini-muffins. There was also an evening ceremony, reportedly with cheese blocks and mustard. And hopefully they also served the classic mini-croquettes, which the Dutch insist on calling ‘bitter balls.’ The term ‘bitter’ refers not to the flavour, but to the way foreign dignitaries feel when presented with deep fried gravy. The warm exterior will mask the scalding-hot inside, so that you can hardly take a bite without burning your tongue within the first 30 seconds. After that, the Dutch hosts can serve any number of follow-ups from liverwurst to pickled onions and describe them as delicious. The guests just have to take their word for it. Lunch Then, of course, there’s Dutch lunch, which is a lot like Brussels lunch - except there’s no warm food, there’s no alcohol, and there’s no dessert. Many an international business deal has gone wrong because of those Dutch Calvinistic roots, reminding us not to take any joy in anything. And now that EU delegates are here demanding more budget for the refugee crisis, thank goodness there’s Dutch catering - which is the equivalent of turning out one’s pockets to show they’re empty. Let’s hope the 2016 Dutch EU Presidency will still be a success, with lots of international agreements and accords. And to that end, let’s all raise a tall glass of buttermilk. For more insights on how Dutch Summits are different, watch Greg Shapiro’s United States of Europe. Greg Shapiro is the author of 'How to Be Orange’ and the upcoming ‘How to Be Dutch: the Quiz.’  More >


Instant gratification goes hand in hand with greater efficiency

Instant gratification goes hand in hand with greater efficiency

Instant gratification goes hand in hand with greater efficiency, writes trendwatcher Farid Tabarki I want it all, and I want it now! It’s still one of the better opening lines ever written. That was 1989 and what the young wanted then was already quite a lot. And it’s only become worse: we’ve all become Very Hungry Caterpillars. Fashion, a market invented for demanding and trendy individuals, is moving towards immediate gratification too. Burberry’s fashion shows will be ‘see-now-buy-immediately’ from September. One click will buy the item as it is being shown on the catwalk. That is revolutionary for a sector used to presenting next summer’s collection after the previous one has just ended. Copy cats will no longer have an opportunity to put their designer-based fakes on the shelves months ahead of the real thing hitting the shops. Vogue’s Sarah Mower described the fashion fast forward move as follows: ‘It feels as if the whole fashion landscape, from top to bottom, is changing at last’. Fast fashion And about time too. We could already watch the big shows and tweet about the new collection but that was a case of old wine in new bottles. With the present trend everybody will be allocated a new role, including the fashion expert who will no longer blog about future trends but about what is happening at the moment. High fashion and fast fashion are merging into a 21st version of the fashion industry. The well-heeled will get whatever they want the moment they want it. The ‘I want it all, I want it now’ mentality is not limited to fashion. Manufacturing, and 3D-printing in particular, is heading the same way. Starting out with little plastic gadgets made with an improvised printer, it is now making great strides. Recently I attended the opening of an innovation centre for new technology, the 3D Makers Zone in the Waarderpolder in Haarlem. One of the cases presented there was the production of a new switch for a KLM flight simulator. The traditional route to replace broken switches is to order a new one at Boeing who will take three months to produce it – far too long if you take into account that a flight simulator that stands idle costs €100,000 a day. The 3D-printed switch is ready within a week, at 10% of the cost. Will we ever have enough? Of course we will, just like the caterpillar in Eric Carle’s book. After it has gorged its way through ice creams, lollies, salami and watermelon it has built up enough reserves to turn into a beautiful butterfly. The modern end user will instantly get the product of his choice, tailor made, in the same way. This column appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   More >


Syrians need bread, not bombs, say Dutch socialist MPs

Syrians need bread, not bombs, say Dutch socialist MPs

Emile Roemer, the Socialist Party's leader and its foreign affairs spokesman MP Harry van Bommel are highly criticial of the Labour party's U-turn on bombing Syria. The PvdA no longer opposes air strikes by Dutch F-16s on IS targets in Syria. It’s a curious decision since the arguments against such an intervention raised earlier by the party remain the same. The civil war in Syria has killed over 260,000 people and ten million people have been forced to leave the country. Although understandable from a humanitarian point of view, lessons need to be learned from earlier interventions. That is why the SP was happy the PvdA refused to support the strikes. Party leader Diederik Samsom rightly said that what is needed first and foremost is a political plan for the future of Syria. No such plan is forthcoming and the warring parties are still quarrelling about who should take part in the negotiations. Benefit to Assad Labour also argued that air strikes could benefit Assad, who bears the bulk of the responsibility for this terrible war. Now that Russia has started to bomb Syria, Assad’s troops are encroaching on rebel territory. If the Netherlands bombards IS strongholds it will help Assad to gain even more ground. That is not the intention of the Labour party's decision but it would be the result. The social democrats also said strikes would be ‘unwise’ as long as Turkey continues to attack Syrian Kurds and the Russians the moderate armed opposition. That is exactly what is happening at the moment. Dutch support for air strikes will not change this but will result in more people fleeing the country who can’t all be accommodated in the neighbouring countries. The existing camps are already bursting at the seams. There are more reasons not to increase the number of air strikes by deploying Dutch F-16s. There will be more civilian casualties and it will become even easier for IS to attract new recruits. Terrorist attacks A greater Dutch military involvement in Syria makes the Netherlands a target for IS terrorist attacks, something that can’t be dismissed. We agree with the military experts who say that terrorism can’t be fought from the air, especially since the terrorists are part of the original population. Surely 15 years of ‘war on terrorism’ have taught us that terrorists benefit from the chaos that always ensues after western involvements. We have only to think of the illegal interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The latter spawned IS. A focus on military action in the fight against terrorism creates its own enemies. Instead of air strikes, which can have the opposite effect, efforts should be focused on bringing about a diplomatic solution. An unconditional cease fire would be a first step. Anything that contributes to the conflict, be it guns, money or militants must be stopped. In order to achieve this, a weapons embargo needs to be in place as well as border controls between Syria and Turkey. In the short term, humanitarian aid can save lives and that is what we must focus on. The Syrians don’t want bombs, they want bread, medicine and blankets. Without immediate humanitarian aid and a diplomatic offensive this country has no future. The warring parties will remain at war. And there is not a thing Dutch fighter planes can do about it. This article appeared earlier in NRC Next  More >


Tackling drugs requires harm reduction, not repression

Tackling drugs requires harm reduction, not repression

In April, the United Nations is meeting to discuss the worldwide policy on drugs. Junior health minister Martin van Rijn must be urged to forge a different approach, write Dutch MPs Vera Bergkamp (D66) and Marith Volp (Labour). A war on drugs is no longer compatible with modern times. Big words and repression should be replaced with measures focusing on limiting health risks. Prevention, information and care are the areas international drug policy should be concentrating on. Now that the Netherlands holds the presidency of the EU and junior health minister Martin van Rijn will soon attend a special meeting of the United nations, it is time to promote a different approach to drugs. In April this year the United Nations is organising the third United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem. During this meeting countries will discuss the measures included in the worldwide policy on drugs. In 1998 the meeting agreed on a roadmap to eliminate drugs: the so-called war on drugs. Nearly two decades on drugs are still with us and that is hardly surprising. It is impossible to eliminate drugs altogether. And so the question we need to ask is whether the war on drugs, with its emphasis on criminalising drug users, is effective. Health D66 and the Labour Party prefer to focus on limiting the effects of drugs on health. For that, a new approach to an international drugs policy is necessary. Ditch the strong language and concentrate on what scientists call ‘harm reduction’, i.e. limiting the damage drugs do. The present policy on drugs has an enormous social impact. In many countries drug users are regarded as criminals and for this reason many go without the necessary (medical) help. Drug users who inject are still 28 times more likely to become infected with hiv but only 1 in 10 infected drug users receives medication. Youngsters on drugs are often left to deal with things themselves for lack of a specific policy on the prevention of drug use. Another aspect is the damage caused to the environment by drug production. And all the while poverty and feelings of hopelessness drive people into the arms of the big drug syndicates and organised crime. Progressive The Dutch presidency of the EU and the recent shift in drugs policy in the United States, where several states are introducing progressive drugs policies, open the door to a better common approach. The forthcoming UNGASS conference provides the ideal opportunity to break the current impasse. Junior minister Van Rijn, as the coordinating government representative, would do well to take the lead in making this policy change happen. We propose that 10% of the current drugs policy budget is invested in limiting the effects on health. This money should not only be used to treat addicts but also to train substance abuse social workers. Money is also needed to fund programmes for youngsters. In Eastern Europe, 30% of users start using drugs before the age of 15. Apart from providing medical help steps also need to be taken to improve these youngsters’ living conditions. We ask the junior minister to highlight the vulnerability of those who are at risk of abuse as a result of the present drugs policy. Why not use micro financing to help make people less dependent on criminal organisations or drug syndicates? The time has come to introduce a new, realistic vision aimed at health instead of repression. This article was published earlier in Trouw  More >


The European Union is ignoring the Dutch referendum on Ukraine

The European Union is ignoring the Dutch referendum on Ukraine

Ukraine and Brussels are busy implementing their treaty of association, even though it has not been fully ratified. The Dutch referendum on the treaty is being sidelined, write campaigners Thierry Baudet and Erik De Vlieger. We are frankly astonished at just how the European Union is ignoring the upcoming referendum in the Netherlands. Never before has there been such a massive reaction against a proposed expansion of the European Union: nearly half a million people in the Netherlands supported the GeenPeil coalition of concerned citizens, websites and think tanks. And never before has it been swept under the carpet so brazenly.  At this moment the polls show that some 75% of voters would vote ‘no’. The commission simply issued a statement to the press on December 31 saying the entire association treaty would become operational from January 1. ‘On 1 January 2016, the European Union (EU) and Ukraine started applying the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (..) the rest of the Association Agreement has already been in force since November 2014.’ Ratification Earlier, Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko took to Twitter to say ‘the Brussels parliament ratified the association accord. All EU countries have now completed the ratification process.’ When he visited the Netherlands he claimed – at a joint press conference with Rutte: ‘The referendum won’t block this association treaty.’ The Dutch prime minister refrained from comment. Only the fact that GeenPeil gathered enough signatures to initiate a referendum effectively stopped the Netherlands from ratifying the treaty. We, the citizens of one of the oldest democracies in the world, have still to approve the agreement. Foreign minister Bert Koenders said it himself in October 2015 in his reply to a number of parliamentary questions. He added: ‘The treaty can only become operational if all parties ratify the it.’ Consultative Meanwhile, the government is blithely adopting the treaty. Agreed, the referendum is consultative and therefore non-binding. Nevertheless, the letter and spirit of the referendum law suggest that a possible negative outcome must be given serious consideration by the Dutch state. The government has manoeuvred itself into a position in which it is unable to do so. So suppose it’s a ‘no’ vote - could the Netherlands still opt out? This policy flouts every democratic principle. It flouts common sense. And it flouts the consultative referendum law which also states that no law can become operational while a referendum about it is being held. The fact that the European train is thundering on regardless clearly shows that the institutions in Brussels regard their democratic roots as museum pieces - or worse still, as mere decoration. The final say in the European decision-making process hasn’t belonged to the citizens for a long time. The consultation of the people is becoming a farce, a democratic shadow play, just for show. We think that is wrong. Demands That is why we demand the Dutch state: 1 Stop the implementation of the association accord as of now until the Dutch citizens have voted. 2 Explain, in its capacity as EU president, to the EU and Ukraine that the Netherlands has not ratified the treaty – in spite of what Poroshenko says. 3 Formally request the EU and Ukraine to halt the implementation of the association accord out of respect for the Dutch democracy until the results of the April 6 referendum are in. 4 Outline all legal and political possibilities in case the people vote ‘no’ and parliament asks the government to respect the vote; If the Dutch government does not respond satisfactorily to these demands we will initiate summary proceedings to subpoena the Dutch state and use the legal route to make sure the democratic rights of Dutch citizens are respected. Thierry Baudet is a writer and Erik de Vlieger an entrepreneur. Both were involved in the initiative to call a referendum about Dutch support for the treaty between the EU and Ukraine. This column was first published in the Volkskrant.  More >


Three ways Dutch diplomacy is different

As holders of the EU presidency for the first half of 2016, the Dutch have a chance to show off their unique sense of diplomacy on sensitive topics like immigration and refugees. So what should we expect, asks Greg Shapiro? While the Dutch are known for being tolerant, that doesn’t mean they’re not still judgmental as hell. To prepare yourself for Dutch leadership, here are three ways Dutch diplomacy is different. 1) Honesty The Dutch pride themselves on being open and direct - sometimes at the expense of politeness, or tact, or even diplomacy. I was once introducing my mother – an American - to a group of Dutch people and someone commented on her outfit. The comment wasn’t ‘nice outfit,’ but rather: 'It’s too bad American clothes are so baggy. But of course that’s because you are all so overweight.' This Is the Dutch way of saying ‘welcome.’ 2) Chauvinism Or, it’s actually the lack of chauvinism. The Dutch seem to be allergic to anything resembling bragging. When dealing wth the Dutch, it’s important to ‘doe normaal.’ Just act normal. Be yourself. And it’s important NOT to do ‘opscheppen’ or ‘piling it on.’ The Dutch are known for their belief in equality. Specifically, if you start talking yourself up or acting bigger than everyone else, they’ll cut you off at the knees. For example, in Dutch meetings, it is NOT okay to say ‘My idea is great!’ However - remembering Point 1) - if you say ‘Your idea is stupid’ that’s OK! And why stop there? As one Dutch meeting partner once said to a colleague: ‘Your idea is stupid. And your beard looks like you have pubic hair on your face.’ 3) Honesty plus Dutch courage When Dutch honesty is mixed with ‘Dutch Courage’ (alcohol), it’s like a truth serum that makes them share every single observation and judgment that comes into their head, no matter how inappropriate. Frequently after a show, I’ll have someone come up and say:
 ‘I saw you onstage! You were not very funny. You’re so loud! Such an American thing. I think it’s to hide the fact you’re so ignorant… That means stupid. Wow, you look angry now. Are you going to shoot me with your gun? Bang! Bang!’ In America there’s the phrase ‘Never discuss politics in mixed company.’ In the Netherlands, expect uninvited political commentary in the first two minutes of your conversation. Even right after September 11, I’d have Dutch guys come up to me and say: ’You know America had it coming, right? You funded the Saudis. You armed the Afghans. You should have seen it coming.’ At the time, I wanted to punch the guy. But in retrospect, I wish there had been more drunk Dutch guys in the Bush White House. For more insights on how Dutch diplomacy is different, watch Greg Shapiro’s United States of Europe. Greg Shapiro is the author of 'How to Be Orange’ and the upcoming ‘How to Be Dutch: the Quiz.’  More >