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


Wynia’s Week: Let Mark Rutte go to Brussels, if they want him, that is.

Wynia’s Week: Let Mark Rutte go to Brussels, if they want him, that is.

Mark Rutte is doing everything in his power to please in case he is offered a top job in Brussels. If they want him and if he is willing – which would be sensible – CDA and D66 mustn’t stand in his way, writes Syp Wynia. During the first RTL election debate of 2019, Klaas Dijkhoff, chair of the VVD parliamentary party, let slip a couple of times that after ‘Rutte Three’ there would be a ‘Rutte Four’. Dijkhoff had a strategy. What he was actually saying was that the cabinet would not fall after the provincial elections, Mark Rutte would not be finished and Mark Rutte would not be going to Brussels. But by protesting too much he is giving credence to the idea that the cabinet will be teetering on the edge, that Rutte will be a spent force and that he could be moving to Brussels. The problem is, of course, that potential candidates for the VVD leadership and/or the post of prime minister are few and far between. Halbe Zijlstra, who bragged about a non-existent visit to Putin, exited politics a year ago and is not likely to return. Edith Schippers has just accepted a job as president of  DSM Netherlands,  a lucrative and comfortably low-profile, lobbying job. It would be quite a turn up for the book if she were to leave DSM after such a short time to return as locum prime minister. But who knows. And Klaas Dijkhoff himself? Two years ago he would have been the logical choice. In his role as parliamentary party chair he is the face of the VVD but he has been struggling. Short of his 40th birthday he has already lost his bloom. What does a denial from Rutte actually mean? In practice succession problems have a way of solving themselves. A good example is the CDA leadership crisis of 2001. Leader Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, tripped up by party chair Marnix van Rij, stepped down after which number two on the list Maria van der Hoeven was to take his place but didn’t because her native Limburg opposed the move. Up stepped an unknown from Zeeland. Jan Peter Balkenende became party leader, won the elections, became prime-minister and stayed in the post for eight years. The VVD is not facing the same challenge but it could be around the corner, if Mark Rutte was to go to Brussels, for instance. Rutte denies he’s going but meanwhile he is doing all he can to show he’ll be ready and able should the call come. After having played the Eurosceptic – mainly to a Dutch audience – Rutte has been an avid Europhile for the last three years. He goes around making speeches promoting European unification and the European parliament gave him a standing ovation, quite an endorsement. He even let his party draft an enthusiastic European election programme. And because a Rutte denial usually means it’s probably true, Rutte will pack his bags and go to Brussels as soon as is practically possible. Other candidates to step into Donald Tusk’s footsteps there are none. Currently Rutte has the broad approval of the parliament, and he is running the risk of being the established favourite. How did Rutte’s predecessors do? Without the support of the French and the German leaders, aspiring EU top job candidates will get exactly nowhere, as Ruud Lubbers, who fell out favour with German chancellor Kohl experienced in 1994. In 2009 Jan Peter Balkenende thought he could count on Angela Merkel’s support. He couldn’t. For French president Nicholas Sarkozy it immediately became a no-brainer. Rutte, however, is on good terms with Merkel and Macron, is admired by people like the young Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz and has the respect and trust of his fellow- government leaders. The fact that, after Merkel, he is the most senior in rank also helps. Whether Rutte really wants the job nobody really knows. But it would be pretty stupid if he didn’t  - if it came within his grasp (and from what we know now, it could). If, like Rutte, you have been party leader for the last 13 years and prime minister for almost nine then you know the end is nigh and it might not be an enviable one. Lubbers never got used to not being prime minister and ended up with international career that never took off properly. Kok’s career as prime minister ended with a cabinet break up, the murder of Pim Fortuyn and a historical election defeat. Balkenende knew in 2007 that a job in Brussels in 2009 would be ideal and then, when it fell through, made the terrible mistake of running for office again in 2010. Honourable escape Rutte should know that if the opportunity arises for him to go to Brussels he would do well to seize it. It would save him from languishing in the top echelons in the almost certain knowledge that things will turn nasty. And what better for a prime minister of a small country than a second career in an international top position? Rutte would be mad to say no to Tusk’s job if it were offered. But there is that pesky problem of his succession. We don’t know if Rutte Three will survive the coming months. If it doesn’t then there is nothing to stop an outgoing prime minister from taking on something else, especially if it’s an honourable job. If it does and Rutte consents to go to Brussels, the other parties should not stand in his way. Elections because of Rutte leaving? Nonsense There would be no need for the cabinet to fall in the latter scenario but a formateur would have to be appointed ( logic would suggest a member of the VVD) to assemble a new cabinet based on the existing coalition. If that fails, elections would be in order. A formateur to take the job of prime minister, surely the VVD can come up with someone? Noises from  D66 and CDA to the effect that the cabinet will fall anyway once Rutte goes is inconsistent hogwash. Why would an avidly Europhile party such as D66 want to keep fellow European-liberal party member Mark Rutte from accepting a top job in Brussels? The Christian Democrats, when it was thought Balkenende was in with a chance in Brussels, thought they could solve the problem of a new prime minister with a bit of backroom politics. And now it would take an election? Not very credible, is it. This column was first published in Wynia’s Week. Syp Wynia is a journalist and columnist who writes primarily on politics and economics, as well as Europe, migration and the government’s finances.  More >


Save the postal service by writing a love letter

Save the postal service by writing a love letter

How to keep the postman safe in the era of e-mail? Put pen to paper and write a love letter, advises economist Mathijs Bouman. This is what I fished out of my No-bestickered post box this morning: a letter from a solar panel seller, a folder from a web shop in office supplies and a blue envelope from the tax office. The first two immediately end up in the paper recycling bin while I swear to myself never to buy anything at a web-based shop that still uses paper to promote its wares. All the tax office has to tell me is to file my return before the first of May. This I have to do online, making the letter a silly anachronism. And so, throughout the year, my post box is the recipient of nothing very significant at all. Lots of promotion material addressed to me and the occasional bill from an energy company which, after a number of unfortunate experiences, no longer has automatic access to my bank account. Your post box is probably much the same. E-mail and the internet have turned the once proud postie into a distributor of useless folders. Logical And that is not exactly a big earner. It’s no more than logical that PostNL wants to buy competitor Sandd. Perhaps the two together can postpone the inevitable end by another couple of years. As an economist, the prospect leaves me cold. What would be the cost to prosperity if we are spared these useless leaflets? Precisely nothing. But as a citizen I am attached to the postman. Every once in a while he brings me something truly wonderful. A Christmas wish from a far-away friend, a postcard from a distant land or a voting card with which to exercise my democratic right. So, how to save the postman? Belcampo (real name: Herman Pieter Schönfeld Wichers, 1902-1990), the Netherlands’ best storyteller, gives us the solution. In one of his finest short stories he writes about a country that wants to ban the telephone after an economist has found that it is only used for unimportant tittle tattle and the costs exceed the benefits. But just before the phones are disconnected someone comes up with a brilliant plan. Once a year, on a certain date, every person in the country will ring their significant other and say ‘I love you’. This will increase the well-being of the citizens by so much that the costs of the telephone network become a mere trifle. So here is my proposal. Once a year, on a certain date, every person in the Netherlands will send a love letter to his or her significant other and send it by post. Not on boring Valentine’s day of course but on July 21, Belcampo’s birthday. The social benefits will skyrocket and the postie will be safe. This article was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Employers who can’t find staff need to up their pay rates

Employers who can’t find staff need to up their pay rates

  Employers who can't attract staff need to stop advertising and start paying, says economist Mathijs Bouman. I'm sorry employers of the Netherlands but you are still not getting the message. At every congress and event in the land you tell me how important it is to conquer new markets, embrace new technologies and, especially, how essential it is to put the customer first. Customer service, that’s what it’s all about for growing companies. But customers are not your problem when it comes to growth. In fact, customers who find someone at the other end of a phone line at your company can count themselves lucky. With so many unfilled positions you are hardly going to free up staff to answer the telephone. According to new figures from the UWV jobs agency 46% of jobs are difficult to fill. Construction and industry in particular are having a hard time finding staff. One in 10 employers is expecting quality of work to fall because of lack of personnel. Staff shortages are depressing growth. So it’s not really the customer who is king but the worker. Only those companies able to attract and keep staff will grow. How do companies go about making themselves attractive? The politically correct answer would be: by tempting  (potential) workers with stories of the greater good that you want to serve with your company, and vistas of personal growth and helping to create a better world. You will give them the freedom to use their creativity and positively encourage mistakes because they are the best way of learning. And if, after this post-modernist drivel, there is a candidate left who still wants the job you do what you should have done straight away: offer a fantastic salary. We all like to think work is more than money but in the end no one gets out of bed for less than a proper wage. Primary employment conditions is the name of the game. If you want to attract staff you have to use honey, the expensive kind and lots of it. That is why it is so pathetic that no more than 4% of Dutch employers is willing to up wages when a position remains unfilled. Instead, they make more noise about it. Some 38% advertise more while 27% have other staff members take over tasks and almost a quarter of employers use a recruitment agency. But more noise and more advertising are not going to help when workers can pick and choose. Better pay would. In order to balance supply and demand the price of labour needs to go up. That’s how things work in a market economy. Employers of the Netherlands: get your pocketbooks out and start dishing out more euros! This column was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Impotent ministers, impotent MPs and impotent voters: Wynia’s week

Impotent ministers, impotent MPs and impotent voters: Wynia’s week

In the Netherlands governments govern as if elections and even new cabinets are just by the by. It’s diversity and sustainability galore and anyone who dares criticise Brussels is a populist. Where can a voter find refuge these days? asks Syp Wynia. Who wouldn’t want to be a minister? A nice, chauffeur-driven car, a ministry at your beck and call and a weekly outing to the Trêveszaal, the most beautiful place for a parliamentary get-together ever. But does a minister have any say at all? Take the current cabinet. Most ministers came into view seven months after the government accord. They were supposed to carry out an agreement in which they had no say whatsoever. Only prime minister Mark Rutte (VVD), agriculture minister Carola Schouten (ChristenUnie) and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees (D66) were actually present when the accord was written – with Schouten and Koolmees taking a back seat. And how about CDA’s Hugo de Jonge? He may be deputy prime minister but he still has to do what the accord tells him to do. And junior minister Menno Snel? He wasn’t even a member of D66 when he was asked for the post of junior finance minister. Hardly had he said 'I do' when he was asked to defend the abolition of the dividend tax plan, which he had had nothing to do with. And when the plan was voted down, he had to defend that decision as well. The government contract But there are politicians whose fate is even worse. I am talking about the innumerable MPs who have chained themselves to the same government accord, without having any influence on its contents whatsoever. Because that is what a government accord is - a contract which MPs pledge to support for as long as the cabinet lasts and which is executed by ministers who have had equally little say. But it gets more pathetic still. Behold the Dutch citizen. He has the right to vote but very little idea of what it will achieve. There is a reasonable chance that the party with the most votes bags the top post. But who that prime minister  teams up with and what policies they will follow is anybody’s guess. I had a chat with a former politician the other day. He said he used to wonder about the imperviousness of Dutch policy to elections and cabinet changes. You do what is expected of you and it turns out it’s not wildly different from what was expected of your predecessor. The olden days: verzuiling This is nothing new. We used to have verzuiling. People were Catholics, Socialists or different shades of reformed Protestant, and it was clear which way they would vote. Political leaders pretended to be at loggerheads but in fact the Catholic-Socialist coalitions from the 1950s weren’t so different from the VVD-led cabinets of a decade later. And now, does it really make that much of a difference where the cabinet members come from? Since 2010 Rutte’s cabinets have been propped up by VVD, CDA, PvdA, D66, ChristenUnie and SGP (and, briefly, by PVV). Despite the occasional indignant exchange, consensus rules in parliament. Even when faced with a referendum result showing that the Dutch population really isn’t crazy about a bigger, more expensive and more powerful Europe, Dutch ministers and the prime minister continue to support a bigger, more expensive and more powerful Europe, albeit after some moaning and groaning. Or take the global  Marrakesh ‘migration pact’. The Belgian government collapsed but in the Netherlands, the government parties said there was nothing in it or that is was a jolly useful pact. Some ifs and buts were inserted into the document which no one will pay any attention to.  Until, that is, the moment the agreement made by New York, Geneva and Brussels is declared standard policy and no one knows who in the Netherlands was responsible. I will tell you: it was the The Hague Consensus. Being a world leader The climate agreement kerfuffle is more of the same. During the first cabinets under Rutte, the Netherland wanted to be Europe’s most frugal spender in the hope of cocking a snoot at countries with big budget deficits. The fact that this made the crisis at home worse was a minor consideration. Roll on Rutte III and the Netherlands has emerged ‘triumphant’ from the crisis. Time to become Europe’s number one climate champion. No other country in the world – excepting the odd small Scandinavian country but then they have water power and a lot more space – has formulated such stringent climate policies. And again, the interests of the people seem to count for nothing. As long as we are European champion at something. And so the The Hague Consensus is made up of such things as the Climate accord, the Climate law and the gas ban. The Climate law – which originated with GroenLinks and PvdA – is supported by left-wing ‘opposition’ parties and the four government parties. The gas ban, which is forcing the population to abandon gas at a price without the climate improving one bit, rather the opposite, is supported by almost all parties in the lower house. One party state There will be provincial elections in March and European elections in May. Climate policy will dominate the March elections while in May the main theme will be people’s willingness to support the Dutch cabinets’ policy of a closer European union. The VVD knows trouble is brewing. It may be the biggest party since 2010 but support has been crumbling, hence parliamentary leader Klaas Dijkhoff’s sudden u-turn on the climate policy which his party is fully behind. And hence the CDA attack on Rutte’s foreign policy which is not critical enough of countries such as Italy. But, as voters know all too well, it is all a charade. In 1990 historian J.W. Oerlemans called the Netherlands a ‘one party state’. And at the time it was. The ruling parties no longer had an ideological anchor and only pretended to oppose each other in order to gain votes. By subsequently voting for parties for the elderly, LPF, SP and PVV voters showed they had had enough. But things have fundamentally stayed the same. The The Hague Consensus still rules. The voter rarely is the decisive factor . He is – if such a thing were possible – an even more pathetic figure than the politician who must blindly support a  government accord. And so, I think I am right in concluding, many Dutch voters are racked by doubt. Even if he thinks CO2 emissions should be limited he can still be of the opinion that it is crazy for the Netherlands to take up the lead role while proposing mad schemes such as a gas ban. And even if he thinks European cooperation is a fine thing, he should also be allowed to have reservations about taking the dead end road to a European Transfer union. A wasted vote? But, says this eminently reasonable citizen, should I really vote for the likes of Wilders or Baudet if I don’t like climate championships or European Transfer unions? This is a question that not only CDA voters or VVD voters grapple with. PvdA voters, too, are scratching their heads. I know them, you know them, and perhaps you are one of them. The answer is that it seems very likely that those who don’t wish to adhere to the The Hague Consensus have little choice but to vote for Wilders or Baudet – although some people will draw the line at this. But isn’t such a vote a wasted vote when all that will happen is that The Hague continues its climate hype, its endless chatter about diversity and its labelling of Eurosceptics as ‘populists’? It is a dilemma, it cannot be denied. Stay at home and your vote counts for nothing. Vote for the The Hague Consensus and you may vote for something you had not bargained for. Vote against and you may be overruled time and again. The Netherlands is a country of impotent voters. Even a minister has more say – even if he is just taking carrying out the government accord. This column was first published in Wynia's Week. Syp Wynia is a journalist and columnist who writes primarily on politics and economics, as well as Europe, migration and the government's finances.  More >


Dutch climate agreement flawed, cabinet must do better

Dutch climate agreement flawed, cabinet must do better

Economists Willem Vermeend and Rick van der Ploeg say a carbon tax is inevitable to save a flawed climate agreement. In December 2015 195 countries and the EU signed up to the Paris climate agreement, committing themselves to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century compared to 1990 levels. To achieve this the global net total of emissions of greenhouse gases, and carbon dioxide in particular, would have to be practically zero in the second half of this century. China (30%), the United States (15%) and the EU (10%) are responsible for over half of current global CO2 emissions. The Dutch emissions level is around 0.4% but this country’s per capita emissions rate is higher than the European average. The Paris agreement also stipulated that it is up to the individual countries themselves to choose which measures they implement to achieve the climate goals. Recent calculations have shown that CO2 emissions are still increasing and that the present climate policy will do nothing to bring climate goals closer to being realised. By the end of the century global temperatures will have risen by well over 3 degrees Celsius. Wake up call ignored During the climate conference in Poland in December 2018 it became clear that this alarming message has not had much of an impact. There is even a worldwide trend to put climate policy on the back burner, often as a result of pressure from fast-growing populist parties. This trend looks set to continue. With most countries facing lower economic growth the focus will be on promoting business and increasing consumer purchasing power. And that means that taxes as an incentive to limit CO2 emissions will fall by the wayside. The Netherlands stands out In many countries the enthusiasm for climate policies is on the wane. The current cabinet is steering a different course and wants this small country, whose emissions are negligible on a global scale, to become the world champion of climate change busting measures. That is why the Netherlands has to reduce CO2 emissions faster than other countries, while taking the extra costs this will pile on businesses and private individuals in its stride. The Dutch way of arriving at a national climate agreement left much to be desired. It united a motley crew of representatives from the world of business, environmental organisations, unions, employers and experts each with their own fish to fry to negotiate a deal. Not surprisingly, this led to a large number of extremely expensive compromises which are not going to do the climate any good. The same goes for the 600 climate measures included in the failed agreement offered to the cabinet last year. The Telegraaf rightly characterised this approach as ‘ground-breakingly stupid’. No broad support Anyone courageous enough to plough their way through the polder accord will be struck by its unbounded bureaucracy, the size of the government subsidies and the lack of attention to the effectiveness and execution of the measures. On top of that, it is the people on lower incomes who will be footing the bill while companies, among which are some of  the biggest polluters, escape financially unscathed. In the last week protest against the agreement has been mounting in and outside the coalition while voters have expressed their disapproval in the polls. Dutch influence on global warming is minimal. But Rutte’s attempt to head the international climate effort could be a wise move after all. It gives us a chance to fulfill our international and moral obligations and gainfully export valuable knowledge and experience in the area of energy transition. However, in order to take the lead internationally the government needs a different kind of agreement and the kind of broad national support a compromise agreement will not bring. Revolutionary technology Instead of the multi-partied approach a new climate policy will have to be based on hard criteria, such as efficiency, efficacy and climate profit at the lowest price. This policy, which will stretch over a number of decades, must take into account revolutionary technological developments which lead to tools that will give us cheaper and more effective ways of reducing CO2. The compromise approach is based on the old economy. The new economy is dominated by digitisation and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data analyses, nano tech and 3D printing, which will considerably accelerate energy transition and reduce its costs. The current climate agreement is promoting a bureaucratic and expensive approach to banning gas from homes and public buildings in the shape of heat pumps. Countries like Japan and the UK are opting for gas and additional hydrogen technologies. The UK is adapting the gas network for hydrogen transport, a relatively cheap option which the Netherlands would do well to explore. Digitisation At the heart of the cabinet’s climate policy must lie digitisation, new technologies and extra R&D in these areas. This echoes the message in The Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, an international report in which experts claim that digitisation technology and other new technologies can reduce the worldwide emission of CO2 by about 50% by 2030. The implementation of technological innovations and so-called breakthrough technology in subsequent years would make it possible to realise the Paris climate goals. If the cabinet stimulates digitisation and innovative technologies, it could boost energy transition, creating not only sustainable economic growth and new jobs but also a greener economy and a healthier environment. This would make climate policy inspiring an reduce the financial burden for citizens. Green perspective We have said it before: businesses should pay a tax on CO2. This would create an incentive for entrepreneurs to use new technologies to improve climate policy. Potential loss of competitiveness could be compensated for by using the revenue for lowering the financial burden on businesses, for instance by reducing employer contributions. Without such a tax, which will see businesses contribute their fair share, sufficient social support for climate policy will be very difficult to achieve. This column was first published in the Telegraaf  More >


Wynia’s Week: The pope, the bishop and sister Urgenda

Wynia’s Week: The pope, the bishop and sister Urgenda

Climate change in the Netherlands has become a matter of faith, says columnist Syp Wynia. Forum, the magazine of business lobbyists VNO-NCW, published an interview with Alliander energy boss Ingrid Thijssen recently. As Alliander provides a third of the Netherlands with gas and electricity you would be right to expect the interview to focus on this activity but no, its themes were guilt and atonement. Ingrid Thijssen personifies the way the Netherlands looks at gas and electricity: not as energy but as transitional phenomena on the road to Paradise or the Promised Land. Ingrid Thijssen makes it abundantly clear that she is carrying a heavy burden of responsibility. Not in the sense of having to deliver the best service at the lowest price to her customers but to her grandchildren when, in 2050, they ask her : ‘Grandma, what did you do during the transition?’ Energy transition She is not so much worried about the coming of the energy transition – she envisages a country covered in windmills, solar panels and cars powered by electricity or  hydrogen – but she does fret about how much she will have done to make it happen. Ingrid Thijssen is from a ‘Protestant Christian’ family from Bodegraven and a sense of social responsibility was ‘drummed into her’ from a young age. She admits that the ‘sombre’ sides of her religion have had an effect: ‘It stays with you and what remains is an enormous sense of duty and there is not much wrong with that.’ Thijssen translates the message from her childhood into ‘taking responsibility, good stewardship’, she says. ‘Making energy transition happen is not an easy task which I undertake wholeheartedly .’ In order not to crumble under the burden she practices yoga. She is also a member of D66 in her spare time. Ingrid Thijssen IS Climate Country the Netherlands. She is committed, driven, wants a better world, cherishes her Calvinist roots but has put a modern gloss on them and so does not fear the final judgement of god but that of her grandchildren. Ingrid Thijssen unites the whole Dutch climate saga of the Dutch leading role in the climate debate, the ban on gas but also the road to redemption for destroying the planet. Believers She is one of many believers in the world of gas, electricity and climate. Utility companies seem to be their natural home and although they are mainly transporting lots of gas, all they really want to do is deliver green electricity.  Out and out Calvinists, ex-Calvinists or neo-Calvinists, they are all completely enthralled by ‘Paris’ and ‘IPCC’ and, consequently, the climate and energy accords of Ed Nijpels. All these are scripture for those looking for new spiritual support. A journey on foot from Hilversum to Paris by public television presenters on the eve of the Paris climate agreement bore an uncanny resemblance to a Catholic procession. And although the narrative of guilt and atonement around climate, gas and wind is more Protestant in nature, some Catholic rituals also get a look in. Not only could the Netherlands become the first climate-neutral chosen country, it is also home to prophets predicting doom if it doesn’t happen. People who are not experts must shut up, say the self-appointed climate high priests who put everything they don’t like on the Index of forbidden climate publications and ex-communicate their authors. Orthodoxy There are Catholic indulgences (CO2 compensations for Rob Jetten and other flying cosmopolitans), pilgrimages to Canossa and a climate inquisition which will descend on you if dare question the Dutch ban on gas (something the rest of the world is not even thinking about, far from it). As always happens with orthodoxy and fundamentalism, reason, humor and nuance are the first to bite the dust. Al Gore is the pope, Ed Nijpels an archbishop and sister Urgenda is the keeper of the faith. And the climate heretic? He will burn in hell, the only place that never runs out of fossil fuels. Without the omnipresent philosophy of the climate church, the Netherlands would never have been so caught up in energy transition, climate neutrality and gas bans. Until half a century ago this was still a country of believers although even though the churches were emptying at a revolutionary rate. Lack of religion There is something to be said for the idea that the lack of religion opened up the way for all sorts of new-fangled beliefs. First it was the Third World and development aid, then the multicultural society and now it’s the Climate Neutral World. I have argued for a proper investigation into the link between empty churches and the rise of the sustainability faith. But meanwhile, the last remaining believers and the ChristenUnie and the PKN have joined as well. Half a century after the Dutch cultural revolution the country has entered a new phase. Not one of flower power and peace for all. It’s a far nastier revolution, one that is intolerant and hostile to those who do not adhere blindly to the new faith. This column was first published in Wynia's Week. Syp Wynia is a journalist and columnist who writes primarily on politics and economics, as well as Europe, migration and the government's finances.  More >


Wynia’s Week: Klaas Dijkhoff’s yellow vest is losing its lustre

Wynia’s Week: Klaas Dijkhoff’s yellow vest is losing its lustre

VVD stalwart Klaas Dijkhoff told the Telegraaf newspaper this weekend that he could not support the cabinet's climate agreement which was sealed at the end of last year. Despite the apparent split, Columnist Syp Wynia does not believe the coalition is in trouble. Klaas Dijkhoff, who leads the VVD in parliament, opened election year 2019 by launching a broadside on climate change ‘moaners’, including coalition partner D66’s Rob Jetten. Dijkhoff told the Telegraaf he did not feel bound by the climate agreement the cabinet entered into with a number of companies and organisations. Dijkhoff now thinks the ‘common man’ has had too little say in the matter and that there is no need for the Netherlands ‘to become a beacon of light for the rest of the world’. The VVD’s second in command, in so many words, is threatening to topple Mark Rutte's third cabinet. ‘If it’s a choice between the cabinet and the interests of ordinary citizens, I will always be on the side of the citizens,’ he says. But how seriously should we take Klaas Dijkhoff’s attack on D66? Is the VVD really going to ditch the climate accord or re-negotiate it? It doesn’t seem very likely. The VVD has always been a wholehearted supporter of climate policy as drawn up in the climate accord. Paris The climate agreement was the result of a number of round-table talks led by former VVD leader Ed Nijpels and under supervision of VVD minister Eric Wiebes, but is really no more and no less than the implementation of the government accord of 2017. The outline of the present climate agreement can be found in that document, the product of seven months of negotiating by VVD prime minister Mark Rutte. If the climate agreement is unrealistic and prohibitively expensive, then that is because the cabinet has committed itself to climate goals that are impossible and often ridiculous. It set itself the ‘most ambitious goal of the Paris agreement’ i.e. halving (49%) 1990 levels of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and reducing them by as much as 95% by 2050. The European Union, the most ambitious emissions slasher in the world, is setting its sights on no more than 40% by 2030. But Rutte III is aiming for a European goal of no less than 55%. Ban on gas Dijkhoff is directing his ire at the climate agreement and the price citizens will have to pay to implement it. The Netherlands should not aspire to be a ‘beacon of light’, he says, but despite his protestations he is not prepared to drop the 49% (or 55%, or 95%) - far from it. Dijkhoff’s parliamentary party came out in full support for switching off the gas mains in older homes and a ban on gas for new homes last year -a move which doesn’t help the climate but will result in a bill of €200bn for private home owners alone. Far from wanting to stop the ban, Dijkhoff wants to subsidise home owners to make the change - as if that won’t have to be paid from (higher) taxes. That is the reason Dijkhoff is very reticent when it comes to explaining to the Telegraaf what changes he would like to make to the present climate agreement. He fails to mention any measures he would like to see scrapped, which is doing his credibility no favours. Small wonder then that he was immediately accused of ‘election rhetoric’: the costs for climate policy, already unpopular, are particularly unpopular with VVD voters. On the agenda are provincial elections on March 20 (followed by senate elections) and European elections on May 23. The electorate has a tendency to show its dissatisfaction with cabinet policy in these relatively less important elections.    Testing public opinion Dijkhoff’s credibility is not helped by his reputation as a launcher of ideas in the public domain as a way of testing the waters. Most of these fizzle out in time and are never talked of again. Unhelpful too is the VVD’s – and Dijkhoff’s – apparent enthusiasm for the proposed climate policy until now. And the man in the street has not figured prominently on the VVD agenda in recent years. In December prime minister Mark Rutte traveled in person to the umpteenth UN climate conference in Katowice in Poland. He demanded more climate change busting measures, not fewer. The European goal should be upped from 40% to 55%, he said. And no, the whole yellow vest thing was not going to happen in the Netherlands. Rutte told public broadcaster NOS: ‘This is another example of how the Dutch do things: we are very ambitious but we also talk to a lot of people so society as a whole can embark on the journey.’ In view of this Dijkhoff’s yellow vest loses its visibility somewhat. He is creating an artificial little election row with coalition partner D66 (while shutting up Thierry Baudet and Geert Wilders) – that is what it boils down to. €3,500 more And so to the VVD and the man in the street, and to the latter’s financial burden in particular. The VVD has not shown itself overly concerned with the citizens in the wake of the 2017 elections. It concentrated its efforts on business, especially big business. It promoted the ban on gas, which is forcing home owners to spend more. Easing the financial burden for citizens has not been the party’s first concern for some time. Despite a raft of election promises the collective tax burden has increased year on year. At the time of Rutte’s first cabinet that burden was 35.5% of GDP. This will go up to 39.2% in 2019, according to macro-economic policy unit CPB. That is a rise of 3.7 percentage points in nine years. GDP in 2019 is going to be around the €770bn mark and 3.7% of €770bn is €28.5bn. That means people are paying €28.5bn more in taxes and premiums compared to 2010. Divided among around eight million households in the Netherlands and the final bill for 2019 will be over €3,500 per household more than in 2010. A threat to himself And that doesn’t even include the lion share of the climate costs. At the time of his first climate budget debate, minister Wiebes talked of tens of billions of euros a year. Later, he smoothed the waters by saying it was a mere half a percentage point of GDP a year. But even that represents a third of total projected economic growth. That half a percentage point a year until 2050 would represent a reduction in prosperity the size of two economic crises. In other words, relieving the tax burden for citizens is not something citizens will have to look to in the VVD. Threats, such as the one made by Klaas Dijkhoff about the climate agreement, should be taken with a big lump of salt. Dijkhoff himself signed the government accord, the climate agreement (and was ‘proud’ to do so, he said) and he also signed the gas ban. So what he is really doing is threatening himself. That just about sums it up. This column was first published in Wynia's Week. Syp Wynia is a journalist and columnist who writes primarily on politics and economics, as well as Europe, migration and the government's finances.  More >


The Netherlands not too small to make big climate effort: D66

The Netherlands not too small to make big climate effort: D66

With just 11 years to halve CO2 emissions, the draft climate agreement presented on the threshold of 2019 came not a day too soon. But defeatism is rearing its ugly head, says D66 parliamentary party leader Rob Jetten. The recent agreement bore all the hallmarks of Dutch ‘poldering’. There is no country in the world that includes so many parties and interests in the quest for a broad consensus. Hundreds of experts, social organisations, unions, and energy companies gathered around the negotiating table. Left wing leaders Diederik Samsom and Kees Vendrik worked cheek by jowl with former VVD leader Ed Nijpels on hundreds of measures to combat climate change. The last week of the year saw another typically Dutch phenomenon. Before the financial implications of the agreement could even be determined, opposition parties and opinion makers from left to right went into full attack mode. Their criticisms were partly aimed at the role of industry but then a new argument came to the fore: for the Netherlands to tackle climate change would be an exercise in futility. Bigger polluters The reasoning is simple. The Netherlands is responsible for 0.5% of global CO2 emissions. Forum voor Democratie leader Thierry Baudet pointed out that China, with over 10 billion tons of CO2 and almost 30% of global emissions, is a far bigger polluter. The editor of the Telegraaf wrote that the Dutch impact on climate does not justify the severity of the ‘sacrifices being asked’. Trouw columnist Sylvain Ephimenco even talked of ‘Green Khmers’, an unfunny reference to the Khmer Rouge regime which killed two million Cambodians in the 1970s. These comments are reminiscent of the climate scepticism of some years ago, when self-appointed climate experts said there was insufficient evidence for climate change and therefore we should do nothing. That is now being replaced by climate defeatism, a surrender before the battle is fought. Yes, it is very strange to sit on a sunny beach in October. Yes, extreme weather is a threat to life. But what can a small country like the Netherlands do? Let’s just strike the colours and forget international agreements. Global economy It is undoubtedly true that the Netherlands with 0.2 % of the world population is not the biggest CO2 producer. Yet, we do come 18th in the global economy rankings and our emissions per head of the population are three times the global average. If the Netherlands won’t bother with the Paris agreement then why would countries with smaller economies even try? Remarkably, it is the conservatives who are most affected by climate defeatism. But let’s have a look at another guarantee of our security. The Dutch contribution to NATO is less than 1%. What use is that? If the conservatives are turning against the efforts to improve the climate, they would have to oppose defence investments as well. Lead by example The Netherlands wants to lead by example internationally. Al Gore praised the Dutch climate agreement and MPs from all over Europe are looking on in awe at the draft agreement and are exploring ways to adopt the ‘Dutch model’. Climate opportunities are irresistible: cleaner air in our inner cities, a decent income for farmers, food produced with respect for nature, lower energy bills, comfortable housing, safety for the people of Groningen, thousand of jobs in climate improvement related sectors. And the biggest innovations we have seen in our lifetime. Thanks to the climate agreement we are one for the first countries to apply ‘Paris’. We will be looking at the financial implications critically and see to it that the burden is divided fairly. Industry will have to get involved. What we mustn’t do is to let professional pessimists infect us with their defeatism. Big oaks from little acorns grow. Translation by DutchNews.nl. This article first appeared in Dutch in the Volkskrant  More >


Nijntje is Miffy, not Fluffy and she’s also a statue in Des Moines

Nijntje is Miffy, not Fluffy and she’s also a statue in Des Moines

What do you do if you have been sent to live in the Netherlands as a trailing husband for six months, while your wife works in a high powered job? Visiting columnist Joe Weeg has been exploring his neighbourhood. Part 2: Miffy Henriette Priester is helping me learn Dutch during my stay in the Netherlands. Not such a big deal, one would think. I figured that with the right motivation and a little time I could learn just about any language. French in a weekend? C’est moi, mon cher. German before noon? Hah! Before you can say Ich bin ein Berliner. Learn Dutch over a couple of months? Please. I go Dutch all the time. Henriette is the wife of a husband/wife team that runs the gym, Absolutely Fit, in The Hague. She is a mother to many of us in the gym, she has her own adult children, and now has three grandchildren. Henriette knows how to teach. She began my informal Dutch lessons by only speaking Dutch to me. 'Hoe gaat het?' Henriette says very slowly with a lot of hand gestures. Cleverly, and after much thought, I respond: 'What?' — which I say way too loudly because I’m an American. Sure, I have had my struggles. Last week, when I was in the checkout line at Albert Heijn, the Dutch Hy Vee, there were about 30 Dutch folks behind me, harried and rushing to get home for dinner. A check-out clerk about three cash registers over began yelling at me. At least I thought she was yelling at me because she and everyone else waiting in line were looking directly at me while she was talking. I couldn’t understand a word. So, I defaulted to smiling. Very broadly. Several people immediately backed away. But one kind Dutch woman leaned over and said in English: 'She is wondering if you would like to go over to her line and check out.' Hah! I hurried over to her line and began to unload my groceries. The check-out woman nodded at me and said something more in Dutch. Nope, zero understanding. She tried again. Not helpful. Mercifully, she indicated where my debit card should go. I put my tram card in the slot. Oops. Okay, here’s the debit card. She then ended with a final flurry of words. Is she speaking Swahili? Thirty tired shoppers watched this transaction with fascination. As did I, because I was apparently having an out-of-body experience somewhere in Australia. Finally, red-faced and embarrassed, I quickly packed up my groceries and raced for the exit. 'Meneer, meneer,' the cashier said loudly, and pointed to my toilet paper left at the cash register. Everyone looked at the toilet paper and then at me. Whose toilet paper is that? I wondered aloud. Not one of my best moments. I grabbed my toilet paper and fled the store. As you can see, Dutch lessons were going quite well when Henriette introduced me to books that have been used for over sixty years to teach Dutch kids to read — Dick Bruna’s Nijntje which I promptly translated incorrectly as Fluffy. Fluffy goes to the sea. Fluffy flies. Fluffy goes on a walk.These books are not only great for Dutch lessons, but are made out of such heavy paper that you can gnaw on the edges if you’re still teething or, as I discovered, if you are slightly anxious. 'I used the Nijntje books for my children and the children of my children,' Henriette says. Really? If children learn Dutch from these books, why can’t I? So Henriette sent me home with half a dozen Nijntje books. And I tried to read them. Mmm . . . harder than they look. I turn the page. Yup, there’s Nijntje doing something. Is that Nijntje on a boat or is she bathing? Okay, I think Nijntje is going on a walk. With a large cheese? Lord help me, for a rabbit without a nose Nijntje seems to have quite the vocabulary. And it only gets worse. I pick up book after book after book. A total disaster. I can’t translate one word. I hate Nijntje. And then I read about the new art sculpture back home in Des Moines, Iowa. The Miffy Fountain. A wonderful sculpture by Tom Sachs that is located in Des Moines Western Gateway Park. The Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundations wrote about the Miffy Fountain with understandable pride: 'Miffy is a character recognized globally as a symbol of childhood. . . The American artist Tom Sachs uses the image of the little bunny to comment on the commercialization of every human experience, no matter how innocent or traumatic, to sell these products.' The little bunny? Oh my lord, Miffy is Nijntje, which I incorrectly translated as Fluffy. Tom Sachs made a sculpture from Dick Bruna’s Nijntje. My worst nightmare — Nijntje has come to Des Moines. I can never return home! So I asked my son, Emmett, to scout out the new Miffy Fountain for me in Des Moines. 'Dad, I can’t see a thing. She’s coated in plastic. I think for the winter.' Hah, I knew it. Miffy is trying to go undercover. Why? Well that’s a no-brainer. She can’t speak English. She’s Dutch. I’d like to see how she fares at Hy Vee. Don’t worry, folks, I have a solution for all of us. And it’s not learning a new language. Too hard. Instead, we just need Dutch letters. No, not letters in Dutch, but 'Dutch letters' — made of chocolate. The next time you walk past the Miffy Fountain, or, for that matter, walk past me, offer us a Dutch letter. Why? Duh. Chocolate is the world’s language. Natuurlijk.  More >


‘The threat to Dutch in higher education is no idle chitchat’

‘The threat to Dutch in higher education is no idle chitchat’

In the garden of higher education, Dutch is being weeded out. It’s alarming that the education minister seems oblivious to the demise of Dutch in higher education, say Annette de Groot, Erik Jurgens, Jean Pierre Rawie and Ad Verbrugge. The language policy of education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven is like a garden where English is allowed to bloom unhindered while Dutch is withering on the vine. In a recent radio-interview with journalist Frits Spits the increasing influence of English in higher education was recognised at once, but then the subject was conspicuously avoided. All the minister was willing to say was that we should not accept the prevailing idea that all teaching is already being done in English. ‘Higher education is still mainly conducted in Dutch’, she said. In other words, the public commotion about the unbridled colonisation of Dutch higher education by the English language is just so much idle chitchat. This stance wilfully denies the disastrous effects of anglicisation on the quality of Dutch education, and on the Dutch language itself. One-sided It also legitimises the one-sided approach to internationalisation favoured by universities. This simply comes down to removing the language barrier for foreign students so radically that in many cases not a hint of Dutch remains. No other European country has allowed its higher education to be taken over by English quite on the same scale. No other country shows so little appreciation for its native language. Besides, had the minister had the relevant data to hand she would have known that English is already the dominant language in Dutch universities. In the last academic year almost half of all university programmes was exclusively conducted in English, including almost three quarters of the master’s programmes (512 out of 811) and a quarter of the bachelor’s programmes (94 out of 406). This year will probably see the tipping point from more programmes taught in Dutch to more of them taught in English. In addition, a large part of the remaining programmes is euphemistically called bilingual while, in fact, they are largely taught in English. In many of these programmes all lectures are exclusively in English. Recruitment tool Replacing Dutch with English has been an enormously successful recruitment tool. The number of foreigners among the first-year students increases spectacularly in the year following the anglicisation of the programme. Take as an example a number of the psychology programmes across the country.  Twente University saw the number of foreigners among the first-year psychology students rise from 50 to 80% at a stroke, while Maastricht University saw it rise from 52 to 86%. The Amsterdam-based universities Vrije Universiteit and University of Amsterdam made the biggest leaps in the number of foreigners among the first-year psychology students, from 5 to 57% and from three to 53% respectively. But now the universities are reaping what they sowed with their less than creative approach to internationalisation. They can no longer cope with the increase in the number of students, which during the last couple of years has been primarily due to the rise in the number of students from abroad. And the emphasis on English has other, unintended, effects. Take the consequences for language and the use of language. Dutch students and lecturers are compelled to use English. But their English is demonstrably worse than their Dutch, in contradiction to the much-touted pr stories that the Dutch speak such excellent English. This fact limits their ability to understand and to express themselves. And that again affects their thinking processes, which are closely bound up with language. Pitiful The level of Dutch present with students in all-English programmes stays at secondary school level and does not improve during their studies. At the same time students will seldom reach the academic level in English that they could have achieved had they been taught in their own language. Worse still, most students will have to function in their chosen professions with an inadequately developed level of Dutch. That is a pitiful state of affairs.  Lastly, Dutch as a scientific language will gradually disappear. It is a sad fact that concern for the conservation of the Dutch language is often labelled as creepy nationalism. That is not at all what it is about. What it is about is the balance in the use of Dutch and English. So minister, put your gardening clogs on and tend to that beautiful indigenous plant that is our language! Annette de Groot is emeritus professor of language psychology at the University of Amsterdam. Erik Jurgens is emeritus professor of law at the University of Maastricht and the Vrije Universiteit. Jean Pierre Rawie is a poet. Ad Verbrugge is senior lecturer in cultural philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit and chairman of Beter Onderwijs Nederland. This column appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >