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


Wynia’s Week: taxation and inflation – citizens are out of pocket

The Dutch government knows how to look after itself but is leaving its citizens out of pocket, writes commentator Syp Wynia. The third Mark Rutte-led government is still failing to deliver on spending power.  Supermarket prices and energy bills are rising faster than wages. Taxes have been mounting to a record high, resulting in budget surpluses and rapidly diminishing government debt. Meanwhile the economy is showing signs of fatigue before people have even started to enjoy the fruits of its growth. It is a little known fact that the Netherlands is the inflation champion of the European Union. Only some Eastern European countries are showing similarly high price hikes. In the Netherlands price increases – almost 3% in April on a yearly basis – are almost entirely the result of tax hikes under Rutte III. Without them Dutch inflation would be at the European average of 1.5%. And while wages are not completely stagnant, a raise of almost 3% is not on the cards. Dutch workers are, on average, not gaining but losing ground. Higher value added tax on food (from 6% to 9%) resulted in a price hike of 3.6%  compared to the year before. And energy prices went up by a whopping 11.6% because of higher taxes to finance climate measures, an increase never seen in the civilised world. Outside Europe (in Canada, Australia, and South Korea, for example) energy costs are down! The state looks after the state The Dutch government is making life more expensive for its citizens but is sitting pretty itself. Finance minister Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) was looking at a surplus of €11.4bn last year, despite a pay rise for civil servants, increased healthcare costs and a considerable hike in  European Union contribution. The budget deficits of the first cabinets led by Rutte have rapidly turned into a budget surplus of 1.5 % of GDP. Hoekstra is raking it in thanks to tax hikes, and an as yet flourishing economy, prompting an IMF prediction of a reduction of Dutch government debt to 40% of GDP by 2023. Rutte and Hoekstra If this were to happen government debt would sink to the lowest level in the history of the Dutch kingdom, in itself no mean feat. But compare that to the disposable income of the Dutch workers which has hardly gone up since the turn of the century, not at all in line with the jubilant predictions of several cabinets, including Rutte III. That cabinet came about after an election campaign built around the economic situation of the citizens. In practice, the collective tax burden – taxes and premiums – grew as it always did under Rutte, first to get rid of the budget deficit and please Brussels and secondly to finance the monumentally pretentious climate ambitions of this cabinet. And, last but not least, it grew to keep up with spiralling healthcare costs. The Netherlands is tax champion The collective tax burden in the Netherlands is much higher than in the rest of the developed world, according to OECD calculations. The European average is 34.2% of GDP. When Rutte first became prime minister in 2011 the Dutch came in at 35.9%. In 2019 it is 39.6%, the highest it has been for the last 25 years. Income tax may have eased a bit this year but that does not compensate for higher taxes on tobacco, wind turbines and solar farms, higher taxes on cars, higher healthcare premiums and higher employee contributions. The current cabinet policy means those taxes will go up again in 2020. Those higher taxes are a result of a deliberate policy and there is no minister or coalition politician who can deny it. In today’s money the rise of collective taxes under the Rutte cabinets amounts to a total of €30bn in extra taxes a year. Eight million households are now paying €3,750 more a year compared to 2011, the first year of the Rutte era. Companies too have shouldered part of the higher tax burden, some 45% of the total the Council of State claims. But even so, the collective tax burden for the average household has still increased by over €2,000 under Rutte. Despite a more lenient income tax under Rutte III this cabinet is still both the tax and inflation champions. Instead of a €1000 decrease as promised, the Dutch are paying a €1000 more. And that is without taking into account the future costs  of electric cars and gas free homes. Who will pay for those is anyone’s guess. And now the economy is tanking as well The continuing tax hikes under Rutte are doubly sad because the signs are that the years of prosperity are coming to an end. From 2.17% growth in 2017 and 2.5% growth last year, the prognosis for this year and the next has tumbled to 1.5%. And for the years after that the cabinet predicts a growth of just over 1%. When government finance was in a bad way – in 2012-2013 in particular – taxes went up and so did prices. The result was that a failing economy became worse, bringing more unemployment and stagnating wages in its wake. When the economy revived between 2014 and 2019 citizens were going to reap the benefits, or so they were promised. It never happened, as rising collective taxes creamed off any rise in spending power. Disposable income And now that a disposable income rise could – and it is very much ‘could’ – still happen, the economy is starting to tank and earlier promises count for nothing yet again. Even the usually sanguine Council of State has had enough and wants part of the budget surplus to go towards tax relief. Meanwhile next year’s budget was done and dusted on April 26th. What it will look like no one knows until Prinsjesdag, five months from now. But Rutte did say that ‘we must prepare for economically more difficult times’. And yes, those times are not only coming they are here already. The economy is showing signs of slowing down before the purchasing power of the citizens of this country had a chance to profit from the good years. 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 >


Moroccans are doing very well despite useless integration policy: D66

Moroccans are doing very well despite useless integration policy: D66

Despite a worse than useless integration policy, young Dutch Moroccans are doing very well in the Netherlands, write D66 parliamentary party chairman Rob Jetten and integration spokesman Jan Paternotte. It is 50 years ago this week that the Netherlands and Morocco signed to a special deal regulating the migration of Moroccan workers to the Netherlands. Despite a completely inadequate integration policy, integration has been a resounding success as the new and successful generation of Moroccans shows. Although three quarters of the Moroccan ‘gastarbeiders’ who came to this country in the 1060s have returned to Morocco, many decided to stay. They, and their children and grandchildren in particular, have found their place in Dutch society and are putting their stamp on this country’s history. Ajax’ Champions League success couldn’t have happened without Hakim Ziyech, parliament wouldn’t meet without Khadija Arib and the Voice of Holland wouldn’t be the same without Ali B and his positive energy. University These people are no longer the exception. The number of children with Moroccan roots whose schools advise them to go on to pre college or university secondary education exceeded 40% for the first time last year and shows the biggest increase of all population groups in the last 12 years. One in three is now in a Havo or VWO stream. In 2005 that figure was only one in five. Girls, in particular, are doing well, tipping boys with a Dutch background to the post when it comes to gaining a diploma. ‘A remarkable advance’, the Telegraaf called it. The number of second generation Moroccans on welfare benefits has dropped to 6.7%, or one in fifteen. Moroccan Dutch are increasingly marrying outside their own group. That is not the whole story: Moroccans are still over-represented in the crime figures, although these too are dropping. Acceptance and emancipation of people who identify as lhbit still leaves much to be desired but, as a whole, the figures for the Moroccan Dutch are reason for optimism. Prejudices For Dutch Moroccans, in particular, this is an extra special achievement because they are most often the victims of prejudicial treatment. ‘As a Moroccan I like to visit people at home’, joked stand-up comic Najib Amhali, referring to the image of Moroccans as born criminals. From former Labour MP Rob Oudkerk’s ‘kutmarokkanen’ [effing Moroccans, DN] to Wilders’ ‘fewer Moroccans’ chant Moroccans have been labelled as a group by the left and the right. It’s a label that puts the score at 2-0 the moment a child with Moroccan roots is born in this country. Differences in school CITO test scores and advice regarding recommended further education show that Moroccan children are rated lower than their CITO scores would justify. For the last few decades we have learned to encourage children, but when it comes to children with Moroccan roots the message is often that this is not their country. Graduates And once a Moroccan girl graduates from university, perhaps the first in her family to do so, she is turned down for a job because her cv does not include a year in the management of a student organisation. In 2017 the Vrije Universiteit found that ethnic origin is a determining factor for employers. A Dutch applicant with a police record for violence is three times more likely to receive a positive response than a person with an Arabic name and a blameless past. Just think how quickly integration could take place if we ditched prejudice, discrimination and old boys networks. Why focus on incidents involving Moroccan Dutch who leave the straight and narrow when the bigger picture shows things are getting better all the time? Fortunately the focus does shift every once in a while. Moroccan young professionals Mohcine Ouass and Mohammed Azzouz were recently singled out for praise by SCP director Kim Putters for their Gamechangers Academy which sees successful Moroccans coaching parents to stand up for an appropriate school advice for their children. Fundamental mistake These efforts could have been avoided and integration could have been more successful still if the Dutch government hadn’t made a fundamental mistake 50 years ago. The people who were recruited for work in the Netherlands were not seen as human beings but as working hours. ‘Get undressed, bend over, and be searched, like cattle’ Fahri Isik, one of the workers, described the vetting procedure he and others were subjected to at the time. Integration was not a goal. The men were put up in boarding houses, without language lessons or ‘inburgering’. Once they were reunited with their families it was looked upon favourably when newcomers clustered together in an area. It did not matter because they would be going back anyway. Benefits were also given without asking too many questions. This was the origin of the communities which became Moroccan and Turkish islands in the big cities, with high unemployment and, later, high criminality. The politicians who opted for this laissez faire policy of integration were, in reality, committing a political crime. Syrian refugees Decades later lessons have not been learned. When tens of thousands of Syrian refugees came to the Netherlands they were treated in much the same way. Language classes were out because these might tempt people to stay. And once a residency permit was granted people were left to organise their own ‘inburgering’. And yet. Despite Wilders and despite decades of a completely useless integration policy a new generation of Moroccans is making a big success of itself. And that is quite an achievement. We are calling on minister Koolmees to celebrate 50 years of Moroccan labour migration by making a radical change to the integration legislation, ensuring that newcomers will never have to battle their way up from such a disadvantaged position again. And let’s bury Rob Oudkerk's’ K-word once and for all. This article was published earluer in the Volkskrant  More >


Organic food scandal highlights farmer and inspection failures

Organic food scandal highlights farmer and inspection failures

This week broadcaster RTL found that hundreds of Dutch organic food producers were being allowed to sell their products as organic, even though they did not meet all the rules. Organic expert Hugo Skoppek says the findings are a national scandal. I am simply shocked. Nothing in life is 100%, but the fact that RTL investigators found hundreds of 'organic' products on sale that do not fully comply with the regulations for organic food in the Netherlands is indeed scandalous. We hear contemptuous statements about the organic integrity of producers in developing countries, implying that something like that does not exist in the Netherlands. Well, apparently it does. Organic farming is a challenging enterprise and requires farmers to have a wide variety of skills and experience. But given a certain degree of understanding, it allows farmers to operate with relative ease. From the type of violations reported by RTL nieuws, it appears that the farmers in question do not only lack a moderate understanding of organic practices and the EU organic regulations but have a blatant disregard for animal welfare which most farmers, organic or conventional, would despise. There is no excuse for the repeated discovery of hungry pigs, calves without drinking water, overcrowded barns, and filthy cows. Reliability So where does this leave Skal, the national control authority and therefore the independent supervisor for reliability of organic products in the Netherlands? The findings of the RTL nieuws investigation clearly indicate that SKAL has failed its mandate. Almost 10% of the farmers don't comply with some of the rules. If that figure had been 3-4%, I would consider it tolerable as an industry insider, although I believe that many consumers would still find this unacceptable. What bothers me most is that one farmer was granted several three-month periods to provide his cows with straw. This should have been rectified on the spot with the inspector present. If the farmer did not have any straw available to comply, the structural problem which was later discovered would have been apparent right there and then. Ultimatum I sincerely question SKAL's lack of enforcement of its own policies. What is the point of setting an ultimatum and not enforcing it? If SKAL or its inspectors are perceived as being too lenient, that could be interpreted as allowing or even inviting non-compliance. This, too, should have been discovered during an internal review process and corrected. And what about the role of the government? Last year, farming minister Carola Schouten ordered an evaluation of Skal and said after its findings were made known that the organisation should make better use of its power to impose sanctions. Let us be clear here. This is not just about a few organic farmers in violation of the EU regulations. This is about the reputation of the entire Dutch organic industry. Let us hope this scandal does not have repercussions throughout Europe as consumers lose confidence in Dutch organic products. As citizens we rely on the government to do their job and provide the necessary oversight to ensure that our institutions function properly. This will become even more imperative as our societies  implement the Paris Climate Agreement. In that context – as in the organic one – they must act effectively, reliably and forcefully. Hugo Skoppek is a 40 year veteran of the organic food industry and has worked at all levels of the supply chain. He was also involved in developing certification organisations in both Europe and the Americas.  More >


To mark Holocaust Remembrance Day: Why I am proud to be stubborn

To mark Holocaust Remembrance Day: Why I am proud to be stubborn

This grainy photography of a Dutch farming family is a testament to the stubbornness that led to a small boy being saved from the Nazi death camps. Adrianus van de Berg knocked hard on the table. The village priest in front of him retreated in panic. Van de Berg was stubborn. He had stubbornness that was born out of countless Dutch raining mornings at the farm. 'The boy stayed here because I said so - and so it will be,' he said.  The priest tried to convince him that the dark skin Portuguese Jewish boy he was hiding in his farm might endanger his family, perhaps the entire village. But Van de Berg was stubborn. My grandfather was stubborn too. A descendant of a Portuguese Jewish family that dealt with diamonds, he insisted on opening a record store in the centre of Amsterdam, risking ostracism from his family and the diamond industry. When the Nazis took him and my grandmother, Sarah Viera, to the Westerbork labour camp, he stopped being stubborn and returned to his profession. He polished diamonds for the Nazis and it kept him alive for several months, until he was taken to Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. But he made sure his son, my father, would survive. He handed him to a Christian family for safekeeping, and from the train that took him to Sobibor, he managed to throw a note to a Christian relative who was in the Dutch resistance, and asked him to take care of the child. Members of the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation had to be stubborn. In those dark times, when a lot of Dutch preferred to cooperate with the Nazi regime, you had to be stubborn enough to transfer a three-year-old Jewish toddler from family to family, until they found the Van de Berg family and stubborn Adrianus. Later they would call it heroism, but knowing the Dutch people as I do, I'm sure there was a lot of stubbornness there. The van de Berg family: Adrianus, Maria and their six daughters hid my father in their farm at the village of Berlicum in southern Holland, until the end of the war. Adrianus, a Catholic Dutch farmer, insisted that my father would become part of the family, and so it was. My father is also quite stubborn. For more than 30 years, he struggled with the bureaucratic mechanism of the Yad Vashem institute to make sure that Adrianus and Maria would receive the title of Righteous Among the Nations. In the end he succeeded, long after they passed away, and the title was given to their surviving daughters. My grandfather, Uri Rodrigues-Garcia, was murdered in Sobibor on July 23, 1943. That day, 26 years later, I was born. I got his name, and apparently also his stubbornness. I insisted on following my path, even if it was different from my family. Even now I'm fighting the keyboard, struggling to suppress the thoughts about the Holocaust, about what it did to my father, to our family - but I'm stubborn. Stubbornness is sometimes considered an annoying, negative feature. Perhaps this is why many people do not really like Jews - they are too stubborn for some tastes. Holocaust Day is a day when I think about human nature, its conflicting and complementary aspects. I'm thinking about the Dutch who collaborated with the Nazis and turned over Anne Frank, and the Dutch who insisted on saving my father at risk to their lives. Holocaust Day is a day when I am proud to be stubborn, a descendant of a stubborn family and a stubborn people who insists to remember and never forget. To remember what the Nazis tried to do and almost succeeded, and not to forget Adrianus van de Berg, a stubborn Dutchman to whom I owe my life. Uri Rodrigues-Garcia is Home Page editor of the daily newspaper and news site 'Israel hayom' (Israel today). Married with two children, he lives in Jerusalem. His relatives (There is no blood connection, but he still considers them family) live to this day in Berlicum, Brabant.  More >


Universal suffrage is not so universal in the Netherlands

Universal suffrage is not so universal in the Netherlands

Not all taxpayers in the Netherlands are created equal and much needs to be done to ensure everyone has the right to vote, say Sally Wyatt and Hans Radder. With the provincial elections just behind us and the European elections around the corner, analyses and articles abound. But there is one issue that hardly ever makes the news: that of suffrage. The right to vote, and to be voted for, is an essential part of democracy. Universal suffrage is the result of a long historical process in which the right to vote was granted step by step to more and more citizens. It is 100 years since the introduction of universal suffrage and the lower house of parliament is organising a series of activities aimed at greater public awareness of the value of our parliamentary democracy in which ‘every vote is of equal value’. Some votes are more equal But in practice some votes are more equal than others. In the present system only Dutch nationals can vote in the national and provincial elections (and, indirectly, the election of the senate) while the European elections are open to all EU nationals. However, the democratic system is built on the principle that all citizens of a country should have a say in the nature and implementation of government policy. They are, after all, directly affected by its consequences. The first kink in the current system is that people with a Dutch passport who have been living, say, in Canada for 20 years are eligible to vote in both the national and European elections. They are given a say in policies which will affect them very little, if at all. This is primarily a point of principle, as very few people in this category actually avail themselves of this right. Taxpayers The second kink is of practical importance as well. A person who has lived in this country for 20 years and paid tax for every one of them is deprived of the democratic right to vote in the national and provincial elections because she holds a Canadian passport and not a Dutch one. A large number of people who have lived here legally and for a long period of time (over five years, say) but who do not have the right passport are unjustifiably excluded from ‘universal’ suffrage. It seems ‘inburgering’ - the process of integrating into Dutch society - is largely a matter of duties rather than rights. The system is also strangely inconsistent. Local council elections are open to anyone who has  been legally resident in this country for over five years while for the water board elections anyone registered here is eligible. Nationality The link with nationality, so eagerly criticised by the Dutch where countries such as Morocco and Turkey are concerned, goes against the principle at the heart of a democratic system. It is high time the kinks in our constitution were ironed out. In his recent book, The people vs Democracy: Why our freedom is in danger and how to save it American political scientist Yascha Mounk advocates the concept of ‘inclusive patriotism’. A democratic system lives by the involvement of citizens in the fortunes of the country or region in which they live. That involvement needs to include not just some but all of those who live there. The introduction of truly universal suffrage in the Netherlands and Europe would bring such an inclusive patriotism one step closer. Hans Radder is emeritus professor of philosophy at the VU in Amsterdam Sally Wyatt is professor of digital cultures at Maastricht University This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Wynia’s Week: The creaking ‘party cartel’ is about to croak

Wynia’s Week: The creaking ‘party cartel’ is about to croak

Thierry Baudet’s frequent mention of ‘the party cartel’ has finally wiped the smile of the said cartel. If the three ‘people’s parties (VVD, CDA, PvdA and perhaps D66) can be considered ‘the cartel’ then it is losing power fast. The traditional parties still have a finger in every pie but as their support declines, that is bound to change. The fact that these parties are falling out of favour was never more obvious than in the last provincial elections. The three parties which,  in some configuration or other, have ruled this country for at least a century no longer command a provincial majority. Even with D66, which was a regular coalition member in the last 50 years, the cartel gained no more than 43% of provincial seats. Compare this to 30 years ago when the combined vote for CDA, PvdA and VVD was as high as 81.,5% and 88.2 % counting D66. The erosion of power is now being reflected in the senate where the cartel now represents a minority. And that means the absolute power of the party cartel in numerical terms across the whole of parliament has been broken. For the last two years CDA, VVD and PvdA have been a minority in the house of representatives as well. In the national elections of March 2017 only 39.37% voted for one of the traditional parties. With D66 in tow the cartel managed to scrape through with a small majority of 51.6%. Unstoppable trend The downfall of CDA, PvdA and VVD (and perhaps D66) is spectacular and appears to be unstoppable. In 1986 they garnered 85.27% of the vote and that has now gone down to not even half that. Although political scientists put the end of pillarisation in the Netherlands at 1966 it would make more sense to pick 2019 for its demise. Perhaps the Dutch loosened their socialist and religious ties during the 1960s but that did not mean the pillarised parties and institutions lost their grip on politics and consensus politics. It’s evident even now. The three classic government parties, with a combined membership of 111,000 (slightly over a third of the total), have a minority in the lower house of parliament and an even smaller minority in the senate as well as the provincial states, but they still rule the roost. Whether it’s the national government, advisory bodies, public broadcasting, local authorities or ‘lobbycratic’ positions: the big three of the last century are continuing to wield power, minority or not. Until they don’t, of course. At least that’s what you would think. Cartel: 9 out of 10 mayors In the Netherlands nine out of ten mayors come from the ranks of one of the three traditional parties which, between them, occupy only four out of ten seats. How can this be? There are many explanations. But one thing is certain: the fingers of The Hague and the king’s commissioner are deeply immersed in this particular pie and are pointing invariably at candidates of their liking. King’s commissioners, it goes without saying, are also part of the cartel. Five hail from the CDA, two from the VVD, one from D66, and ChristenUnie – the youngest member of the self-appointed group of constructive’ parties – now also boasts one. And take the Council of State, the cabinet’s most important advisory body. The advisory department of the Council of State is traditionally filled with former politicians or civil servants with a political profile. At the moment it comprises people like Jan Franssen, Frank de Grave and Dick Sluimers, all VVD, and Ad Melkert, Ralph Pans and Nico Schrijver who are PvdA. Marijke Vos, GroenLinks and D66’s Thom de Graaf come from the senate – another shortcut which is popular in cartel world. Close ties between Hilversum and The Hague It would be too much to chart the whole of cartel world but public broadcasting provides a perhaps illuminating example. The Hilversum-The Hague combo is an interesting one because it reveals a mutual dependence. Public broadcasting is dependent on money from The Hague and politicians like favourable media exposure. That is how public broadcasting companies originated: as the broadcasting/political arm of the socialist, reformed and liberal families. In 2019 that means quite a few VVD members can be found in the upper echelons of the broadcasters because the VVD has the most votes and a prime minister to boot. Tjibbe Joustra is chair of the NPO while former VVD leader Ed Nijpels chairs AvroTros. Former VVD alderman Eric van der Burg is chair of NTR and former VVD chair Bas Eenhoorn  of WNL. That takes some beating although the links between KRO-NCRV with CDA (and GroenLinks) and Vara with the left in general and EO with ChristenUnie are evident as well. But it’s not just broadcasting – the whole of the affiliated lobby culture is crawling with people from the traditional parties. They can be hired to penetrate into a political power block to an extent that is well-nigh impossible for those outside the loop. These are parliamentary party workers who have, for instance, bagged a cushy job in the climate industry in order to promote their company or technology to the Binnenhof, or (former) MPs who are being paid to influence their colleagues, or (former) ministers who return to the senate to do some additional lobbying from there. Is the VVD going the way of the PvdA? This is how things are done in this country. But how long can it continue to be ruled along these atrophied lines? The people’s parties long enjoyed the support of the people and built their positions of power on the back of it. But once in power they started to take the voters for granted, a terrible mistake. The CDA lost heavily, first in the 1960s and 1970s, then in 1994, 2010 and 2012. The PvdA lost in 1994, 2002, and 2006 and, by its own estimation, will never rally after the national elections of two years ago. Of the Big Three only the VVD managed to keep its head above water but that is by no means a guarantee it will not sink in the future. VVD aldermen have said they want the party have its own message instead of Rutte’s government accords. And what if that doesn’t happen? ‘We will then go the way of the PvdA’. The cartel is creaking, that much is clear. And the less its members realise it, the sooner it will collapse. 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 >


Going Dutch in Amsterdam was a humbling experience

Going Dutch in Amsterdam was a humbling experience

In February DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe became Dutch. Not because she wanted to or because she felt that the time was right. She became Dutch because of Brexit. I am, immigration department figures show, one of hundreds of British nationals who are taking Dutch nationality in response to Britain’s crazed decision to leave the EU. For me it was a straightforward process. My husband is Dutch and we have been married for 30 years, so I can use the optieregeling – which means I get to keep my British passport as well. I did not have to go through the process of inburgering – taking exams to show I speak the language and that I know how to apply for a job at Hema. All I would have to do, they said, was fill in a short form, provide a copy of my birth certificate, and pay €187. I had, of course, lost my birth certificate, so I applied for a new one. Six weeks later it had not arrived and my appointment at the gemeente was coming ever closer. I phoned Britain. An official told me it had been sent by post and should have been with me weeks ago. She did not seem particularly bothered that it had been lost along the way and recommended I have a new one, this time delivered by DHL. Seven minutes DHL delivered my birth certificate super fast… in perfect time for my first appointment. I headed off convinced I would be there for hours. I was out again, I think, in seven minutes. My appointment was on time but I, alas, had not read the instructions properly and my birth certificate was missing that all important apostilate – a stamp to say the birth certificate that Britain had just send me was in fact the genuine article. Seems slightly over the top, but there you go. Two weeks later I was back again… this time with that crucial stamp. Again unbelievable speed from the British authorities but I guess they are dealing with these things round the clock at the moment. And that, basically, was that. I paid the €187 and was told that I would get an invitation to attend a naturalization ceremony within three months. Sure enough, a few days after I got a letter from the IND telling me that as a British national I should do nothing until they tell me what to do about Brexit, I got a letter inviting me to show up at the town hall and become Dutch. National anthem It was not something I was looking forward to. I had heard horror stories about everyone having to sing the national anthem. As an avowed Republican, I decided to cross my fingers so I would not have to swear any allegiance to a king. There was, of course, coffee and tea on offer in true Dutch style when we arrived. We sat, sandwiched between a young African couple with their baby and a group of Dutch youngsters with a friend I took to be French. Then it all began, and how I wished it was already over. We listened to a brief homily about what being Dutch is all about (equality, freedom of speech) watched a short video about what being Dutch is all about (equality, freedom of speech and lots of canals, windmills and orange) and then it was time. One by one the new Dutchies in the room walked to the stage, said ‘dat zweer en beloof ik’ and were given their official certificate of Dutchness and a book about key moments in Amsterdam history. They were then applauded by everyone in the room and had their photo taken in front of a photo of the palace on the Dam. There was a big pile of books on the table in front of the civil servant in charge of it all. I had seen from the list when we came in that I was third from the bottom. It was going to be a long afternoon. Names One by one the names on the list were called to the stage. There were lots of names I took to be eastern European, bright young girls and men who raised their right hand and swore in crisp, accented Dutch. There were a couple of women, perhaps from Somalia, who came on stage with their husbands and children, dressed for the occasion in their best clothes, and who posed for the photo in a happy family group. There were several young women in Islamic headscarves who were obviously born and raised in Amsterdam, judging by their accents. One young man in a suit and bright orange tie hugged and hugged his male partner after making his pledge. The wife from the young African couple in front of us came back from the stage beaming with delight. An elderly Turkish woman – grandma perhaps – who could not get the words out straight and collapsed in giggles after her fifth attempt, posed happily with the rest of the family for the photo to great applause. New Dutchies It was a never-ending stream of new Dutchies from all over the world. As the pile of books on the stage diminished, I knew my time was getting closer. When my name was called I walked to the stage and made my pledge. Then it was all over. At the back of the hall there was ‘wijn en fris’, plus the classic Dutch staples – herring, bitterballen and cheese. We joined the queue for a bitterbal and a glass of wine and watched as one of the catering workers tried to deal with question about whether the bitterballen were halal or not. He did not know the answer and muttered under his breath. Group by group we filed out of the room and went our separate ways. I was left feeling enormously humbled. There was me, loud-mouthed Brit with my cynicism about the whole process, surrounded by people who had gone through so much to get here, who were refugees, or partners who had given up lives in another country and who were just so delighted to become Dutch. I have not yet applied for a Dutch passport but my certificate of Dutchness sits in the in-tray in my office. The whole process was, all in all, a lesson in humility. Despite Brexit and all the nonsense that it brings, I realise that I am one of the lucky ones.  More >


‘Mass immigration’ says more about the people who use the term

‘Mass immigration’ says more about the people who use the term

Define your terms and don't fudge the facts about immigration, says Leiden professor Leo Lucassen. One of the spectres conjured up by Thierry Baudet in the last few weeks is that of ‘mass immigration’. It is a menace to the Netherlands and Europe, Baudet told voters but what the Forum voor Democratie leader meant exactly remained unclear. Should we count Germans, Americans and Poles or is he just referring to those who are destroying our wonderful European culture? In other words, is ‘mass immigration’ code for Muslims and Africans? In the light of his musings on ‘boreal’, white Europe it most likely is the latter. Doomsday scenario Apart from the introduction of this veiled extreme-right term, Baudet has shown few other signs of originality. The inventor of the term ‘mass immigration’ in a Dutch context is Geert Wilders who started to use it some 15 years ago. In the run-up to the 2010 elections Wilders never tired of presenting a doomsday scenario in which he explicitly cast ‘non-Western’ immigrants by which he, of course, meant Muslims. Unlike Baudet, Wilders came up with numbers. Some 25,000 immigrants a year come into this country, he said, but interestingly enough, the number at the time didn’t come anywhere near. If we look at the annual net migration rate (immigration minus emigration) between 2002 and 2007 we even see a negative rate before it slowly climbs up again. Refugees The number of asylum seekers, which peaked during the 1990s, fell to an all-time low and family reunification among Turks and Moroccans all but stopped. But these facts did not matter to the rabble rousers of not only the PVV but Rutte’s VVD as well. It appealed to (and stimulated) feelings of discontent about immigration which had been on the rise, especially after the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh. Wilders was clear about his definition of ‘mass immigration’ but did not let the facts get in the way of a good story. In the case of Baudet it is the other way around. The positive migration rate has been going up in leaps and bounds since 2013, from 19,000 to 87,000 in the last year. And this year we will see similar numbers. There are all sorts of reasons why you would object to this development: the busy Randstad will be even busier, nature will come under greater pressure, there will be even more foreign students etc. But that is not the sort of apocalyptic vision Baudet and other radically right-wing politicians are dishing up. His main concern is for the ‘hordes’ of Africans and Muslims who, especially in the guise of asylum seekers, will give the final push to the process of ‘omvolking’ [from ‘Umvolking’, a Nazi term for strategic population transfers to Germanise areas, DN] Cracks A closer look soon reveals the cracks in Baudet’s boreal brainchild.  The number of asylum seekers has gone down again considerably since 2016 and most of the immigrants come from his beloved white Europe. Of the 242,000 immigrants to the Netherlands in 2018 (some 155,000 left that year) 60% came from other European countries (including the Netherlands) and less than 10% came from Africa. Apart from 25,000 asylum seekers and dependents from Asia and Africa, it was mainly highly trained newcomers from all parts of the globe, including the Americas, who came here for the purpose of work or study. The most important reason for the strong growth from 2014 is the strong economy which boosted the demand for labour at both ends of the spectrum. In an open economy such as the Netherlands this immediately translates into increased immigration. There are simply not enough people to meet demand. Unemployment is at 3.5%, which is lower than before the 2008 crisis and those who are unemployed at the moment are not all capable of physically demanding work (in the greenhouses) or highly specialised jobs (high tech etc.) Labour market Even if the exploitative legal and illegal constructions used by employers to bring in Eastern European workers were to be tackled, demand would still exceed supply in times of economic prosperity. In other words, the Netherlands should count itself lucky that, despite the negative political and social climate concerning immigration, there are still lots of people who want to work here. The term ‘mass immigration’ says more about the people who use it than about what is really happening. And if we do want to discuss it we should first make clear what is meant by it and who is behind the abstract figures. But, first and foremost, we should leave our xenophobic dog whistles at home. Leo Lucassen is research director at the International Institute of Social History and professor of Global Labour and Migration at Leiden University This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant  More >


Wynia’s Week: How to make housing problems worse by making them better

Wynia’s Week: How to make housing problems worse by making them better

The lack of housing has become one of the biggest social issues during Mark Rutte's period as prime minister. But subsidies and over-regulation, as mooted by the government and Amsterdam, will not help, says Syp Wynia. When the economy nose-dived some 10 years ago building activity was given a small boost but petered out under subsequent Rutte governments as the crisis deepened. Cut backs and higher taxes meant the building sector was hit heavily, with local councils halting construction on new builds. But meanwhile immigration continued... and at an accelerated pace. On balance the Dutch population increases by 100,000 new inhabitants a year, mainly through to immigration. As expats are being welcomed and Poles and asylum seekers are allowed in, this has never resulted in a big-scale home building programme. Instead expats use their often higher income to find a place on their own while asylum seekers are given preferential treatment when it comes to a social housing. There is much silent rage about the lack of houses and the unfair treatment of starters and hardworking Dutch people who are earning wages that put them just over the social housing limit and are unable to find something affordable. Guinea pigs This cabinet is only making the problem worse by wanting to be top of the climate champions list, with people’s homes used as guinea pigs. Gas will be banned from new builds and existing homes will have to find an alternative. The cost for each home varies from €20,000 to around €80,000 euros. The regulations in the wake of the climate measures mean fewer and exorbitantly expensive new builds. Housing in the Netherlands has sunk to the bottom of the pile as far as the budget is concerned despite the fact that, according to the constitution, it is the duty of the authorities to provide ‘sufficient housing’. Granted, this 1983 addition was slightly bizarre but it has nevertheless gone totally unheeded by the government since at least 2010. Residual In practice housing has become a residual item on the agenda, limping in after the budget deficit, open borders, the influx of ‘knowledge workers’, asylum seekers, nature, climate and the interests of provinces and local councils. The housing shortage was never considered a serious problem during the Rutte years. Now hundreds of thousands of people are forced to live with their parents or pay rents that swallow half of their income. Provinces and local councils are to blame too. The governments macro-economic think tank CPB published a report on March 25 this year which charts the faltering building activity in the Netherlands. It turns out provinces are concerned with nature but not with housing shortages. Local councils are not taking their responsibility but are chasing their own interests instead. If there is no money in it for them they are not interested. I am all for the protection of what is left of nature in this country so godwits and lapwings can have some space as well. But if that is what the government wants then population growth should be limited – and that growth is mainly down to immigration. It’s a well-known left-wing paradox which Rutte III is equally incapable of solving: opening borders on the one hand, saving nature on the other. But you can’t have both, especially when agriculture has protected status as well. Land prices are a good indication of the situation. Untouched land costs €1, agricultural land €6 and building land €425 euro on average. Nature is being protected, agriculture is being protected but citizens are sitting ducks.  Cannabis The first category of big losers are people with a right to social housing but are not considered ‘urgent’, as are asylum seekers. In Amsterdam this means you could be on the waiting list for 15 years while finding your way via the dodgy landlords of illegal and expensive accommodation. And if you finally have a cheap house you will never give it up, even if you have moved elsewhere. More than half of Amsterdam’s rental market consist of social housing of which at least 20% is rented by people who earn too much, rented out illegally, rented out to tourists or used for growing cannabis. The second category comprises those who are no longer eligible for social housing because their earnings take them just over the limit. At the same time they cannot afford to buy a house or rent a place outside the social sector. There is nothing for them. Things haven’t become easier since new, more stringent, financing rules for buying a house have come in and the lack of rentals is such that rents are going through the roof. A tiny apartment can easily cost €1,250 a month. Rutte III and the odd local council claim they want to remedy the situation but tend to take measures that make things even worse. They are focusing on extra homes in the ‘middle rent’ segment of €730 to €1,000 a month. They want to achieve this by telling housing corporations to make more homes in this category available or by imposing a rent cap on investors. If minister Kajsa Ollongren and local councils such as Amsterdam go ahead with this the problem will become worse, the big problem being that the Dutch housing market is practically non-existent and out of whack, especially in Amsterdam. There is no normal supply and demand mechanism and rules abound. The minister seems more interested in building wind turbines and solar parks than in building homes for citizens.  5% Housing is subsidised in the Netherland. Some 36% of the total rental market consist of social housing and that is more than anywhere else in the world. It’s absurd of course in a country with such a high standard of living. The housing corporations have built up their capital through subsidies and all kinds of perks not available to private competitors. And their ‘social’ tenants are being subsidised compared to their less fortunate neighbours because they are paying (far) less rent and are often eligible for a housing allowance to boot. Home buyers are entitled to a mortgage tax break – although this has been getting smaller -  and have other tax breaks which could be considered subsidies. This means 60% of home owners is living in a subsidised property. That leaves a very small market of 5% for private rentals. And that private landlord is continually beset by rules and regulations and limits which are less than encouraging for (foreign) investors. However, change is on the way.  Foreign investments in the rental market are on the increase. What the investors are doing is similar to what prince Bernard Jr, alias the slumlord, is doing. But it would be wrong to point the finger at them. They are symptoms, not the cause, of the a sick housing market. That sick housing market won’t recover by administering Ollongren’s medicine or that of the Amsterdam local council. The problem is subsidies and over-regulation and they are trying to solve it by more subsidies and over-regulation. It’s subsidies and rules for all now and it won’t end well. Let’s make things better by making them worse. The mind boggles. 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 >


After his senate win, give Thierry Baudet a chance to take responsibility

After his senate win, give Thierry Baudet a chance to take responsibility

Thierry Baudet has been able to capitalise on government laxity, despite the fact the country is doing well. So now the cabinet excludes Baudet at its peril, say economists Willem Vermeend and Rick van der Ploeg . The latest figures show the Dutch economy is one of the best performing in Europe. Growth figures are looking healthy, unemployment is low and government finances are in tip top shape. The Netherlands also ranks among the top 10 of European countries for competitiveness, innovation, the investment climate etc. The social security system and the pension and care systems are the envy of the world. And just recently the Netherlands came fifth in the UN list of happiest countries. The current government and the preceding cabinets could be forgiven for feeling just a little proud of this ‘little earthly paradise’. Payback time But then came the provincial elections. Distinctly unforgiving voters made perfectly clear that their definition of paradise is a different one and opted en masse for Thierry Baudet’s Forum voor Democratie. Baudet has been trying to convince people since the inception of his party that things are not going well for this country, that the current cabinet's policies are having a disastrous effect and that the coalition should pack it in and go home. His clever election campaign earned him not just a landslide victory but the leadership of what is now the biggest party in this country. Did it come as a bolt from the blue? Not really. Thierry had a simple and clear message which he kept repeating over and over: ‘put an end to the current immigration policy now’, ‘down with the ridiculous climate policy’, and ‘make Rutte III pay for the fact it is not listening to the voters’. Rutte III made Baudet big Almost all voters were against the abolition of the dividend tax. Rutte III did not listen. Many voters wanted to hang on to the referendum. Rutte III did not listen. Many people were angered by the cabinet’s scaremongering tactics around the climate policy, the hike in energy premiums and the expensive investments in gas free homes. People were worried about their pensions but once again Rutte III did not listen. Rutte’s ministers failed to find a solution to the ‘public sector crisis’. People who work in the public sector (care, education, police) clamoured for improvements but felt they were not taken seriously. Voter confidence in the promised increase in purchasing power also plummeted. Thanks to Rutte III  Baudet was able to profit massively from the growing discontent. Let Forum take responsibility The established parties congratulated Baudet on his victory and rightly so. But they mustn’t now carp on about protest voters that made Forum big, or about the party’s lack of experienced people to govern the provinces. As the biggest party, Forum must be given every opportunity to take responsibility. Established parties should not contrive to exclude it because if they do the disaffection among the people will grow and so will Forum at the next national elections. Mark Rutte, faced with his party’s loss and the loss of a majority in the senate, said he would ‘have lots of coffee mornings with all the parties' to try to build support. The other big winner of these elections, GroenLinks' Jesse Klaver, thinks the prime minister now has no other option than to come to him. But the VVD and CDA are wary of having to advocate for the substantial hikes in tax for citizens and businesses which are at the heart of Klaver’s climate policy. In order to retain a majority in the senate the cabinet can also turn to the PvdA. We think Lodewijk Asscher would be a better choice than Jesse, who mainly represents well-educated voters with a passion for combating climate change. Rutte worked well with the PvdA in the last cabinet and, with the help of the social-democrats, should be able to solve the public sector crisis, get on top of pensions and the labour market and strike deals on purchasing power for the low and middle income groups. Economic downturn However, the cabinet would do well not to ignore the Forum presence in the senate. There are signs the Netherlands is on the brink of an economic downturn. Rutte III will have to come up with a package of measures consisting of tax breaks for citizens, investment boosts for businesses and government investment. Foum could help achieve a majority by throwing its weight behind such a package. A climate policy not characterised by ineffectual measures and economically damaging taxes could be part of this package. The Netherlands is already heading the European league table on tax levels and the limit has been reached. Extra taxes The planet is not going to be saved by tax hikes which damage the economy. What will help is government investment in the latest technologies to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy, and investment in research. The Netherlands must also invest in a green business climate. A key element is to devise an attractive business package for smart start-ups which operate in the field of energy transition. If we use that package to recruit smart folks from all over the world, the Netherlands could become a start-up centre for energy transition. Thanks to Rutte III and Rutte II this country has enough millions to finance a modern and effective climate policy, with the added advantage of tackling the economic downturn in a sustainable manner. This column appeared earlier in the Telegraaf  More >