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


Commissie Stiekem – much ado about nothing

Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk is not being honest about his dealings with parliament's security committee over the NSA leaks, writes Nicola Chadwick Many would say politicians are notorious for lying. Being married to one, I wouldn’t like to go that far. However, they do have a habit of omitting, framing, burying and twisting the truth. In Dutch politics, it is a mortal sin to misinform or lie to parliament. So when Edward Snowden revealed that 1.8 million pieces of data on Dutch telephone calls were passed on to the US, home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk asked the two Dutch intelligence agencies, the AIVD and its military counterpart the MIVD, whether they had been the source of the data. On hearing ‘negative’, Plasterk appeared on the evening news in October 2013 to express his horror that the privacy of Dutch citizens was being violated by US agencies. Only to hear a couple of months later that it was, in fact, a third institution, a combined AIVD and MIVD committee known as the CIVD, which had collected and passed on the information. This is the moment an upstanding politician should come clean and admit he had been poorly informed himself. If he had done that he would have faced severe criticism: shouldn’t a minister know what is going on within his own ministry? And besides, he had already spoken on the issue in the Lower House, and therefore inadvertently he’d misinformed parliament. Face-saving scheme So what does Plasterk do? He goes to parliament's security committee, nicknamed the Commissie Stiekem (secret committee). The Commissie Stiekem was set up to enable state and security secrets to be revealed to parliamentary party leaders without making them public in parliament. It was never meant as a face-saving scheme for politicians who had failed to get to the bottom of the matter. Once something has been revealed in the secret committee it is a criminal offence to tell anyone outside the committee. Of course, as these things do, the facts came to the surface and a debate was eventually held in parliament in February 2014, during which the opposition supported a motion of no confidence against Plasterk. The matter would then have gone away, had it not been for a report in the NRC newspaper that in fact the parliamentary leaders had already been informed that the Netherlands’ own agencies had passed on the data. The fact that the NRC knew this meant someone had leaked. Whodunit Now the race is on in the media to find out who. Labour party leader Diederik Samsom seems the most likely candidate, but what about Christian Union MP Arie Slob – wasn’t it a bit strange that he left parliament so suddenly? However, the sneakiest role is played by VVD leader Halbe Zijlstra, who declined to give Plasterk permission to reveal he had actually informed the parliamentary leaders. When it turned out someone had leaked, it was Zijlstra who secretly filed a complaint with the public prosecution department, knowing full well it would be much ado about nothing and may well cost someone his or her, no probably his, political career. If Plasterk thought this matter was so important he had to go live on the NOS news to speak out against the US blatantly violating our privacy, why did he not find it equally important to inform citizens of the Dutch kingdom that it was actually its own security agencies that had collected the information on behalf of the US secret service NSA? And wasn’t it paramount to rectify the matter for the sake of restoring relations with our allies, the US, after it had been wrongly blamed for collecting the data without the knowledge of the Dutch authorities? Mission impossible According to newspaper reports, it took the public prosecutor one and a half years to find out that 'one or more members of the CIVD have come into the picture with regard to the possible leaking of information'. Now a group of MPs has to investigate the matter in just three months. What’s more the names of the suspects will remain unknown to the committee investigating the case. Wait a minute. Isn’t that a mission impossible? Oh, but they are only investigating whether or not the case should be prosecuted – not who should be prosecuted. More a who-cares than a whodunit. In the light of the attacks in Paris, this matter seems even more trivial than it already was. Not a single Dutch citizen cares about who leaked, but they should care when a politician misuses a political instrument to cover up his own failings. Not to mention the severity of this kind of data being passed on by our own security agency. Plasterk survived Plechtold’s motion and promised honesty next time he is in the wrong. However, this may have become a matter of principle: if it is up to Zijlstra someone’s head should roll and it could be his coalition counterpart. Nicola Chadwick is a freelance translator/journalist/editor who regularly blogs on Dutch current affairs and politics. This column was first published on her blog Amsternic.  More >


Geert Wilders grandmother was a refugee too

Geert Wilders grandmother was a refugee too

History tells us that Europe wouldn't be Europe without refugees, write professor of migration law Thomas Spijkerboer and PhD student Martijn Stronks. Are Europeans prepared to offer protection to non-Europeans? That is the central question in the refugee debate. The apparent reluctance to do so has everything to do with the fact that non-Europeans are regarded as outsiders. That is why it is important to remind people that Europe and refugees go together, like Bert and Ernie and Sesame Street. Recent history shows that Europeans have not always been opposed to refugees. Their protection is purely and simply a matter of self-interest. During WWI, a million Belgians fled to the Netherlands. Most returned when the war was over, but not all. Virginie Korte-Van Hemel (junior justice minister from 1982 to 1989), for instance, is the daughter of Belgian musician and refugee Oscar van Hemel. From 1933, many Germans fled to other European countries and to the United States (the Manns, relatives of Anne Frank, Albert Einstein) where, after the Anschluss in 1936, they were joined by Austrians (among them Sigmund Freud, who fled to London). The Spanish civil war (1936-1939) led to an exodus of Spaniards, most of whom ended up in France. Writer Jorge Semprun was one them. Many fled from occupied countries to Britain, like Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema (of film and musical Soldier of Orange fame) and the High Commissioner for Refugees Van Heuven Goedhart. A small number of Dutch Jews managed to flee to safety. After WWII, millions of refugees were milling around Europe, so many in fact, that a special International Refugee Organisation was founded to deal with them. There were displaced people, German minorities from Poland and Czechoslovakia (Günter Grass), Jewish survivors, and groups on the run from the Red Army. Dutch Indies A separate group came from the Dutch Indies and Indonesia to the Netherlands. They were ethnic Dutch or ‘Indo’s’ who fled the fighting of the war of independence (the Bersiap period, the police actions ). They were categorised as repatriates although many of them had never set foot in the Netherlands before, or hadn’t been there for a very long time. Although many had Dutch nationality and couldn’t be classified as refugees they felt like refugees and their welcome in the Netherlands reflected that. One of Geert Wilders’ grandmothers and housing minister Stef Blok’s father came to the Netherlands as repatriates. In 1951, 12,500 Moluccan soldiers from the KNIL Royal Indonesian army were transferred to the Netherlands on the order of a Dutch court because their position in Indonesia was too precarious. They were treated as refugees although they weren’t included in the VN refugee treaty. Steady stream From 1945 to 1950 international relations became ever more tense. A slow but steady stream of refugees from the communist countries entered western Europe. More came after the communist take-over in Czechoslovakia (the father of human rights activist Boris Dittrich), the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 (junior minister Dzsingisz Gabor) and Czechoslovakia in 1968 (television presenter Martin Simek and tennis star Richard Krajicek). Until 1975, refugees also came from countries with fascist regimes. Greeks, Spaniards and Portuguese who left for political reasons didn’t claim refugee status because it was easy for them to get residency permits as migrant workers. Between 1992 and 1995, many refugees from the former Yugoslavia were given asylum in western Europe. In 1999, refugees from Kosovo also made their way to western Europe until Nato managed to put a stop to the incipient genocide of Kosovar Muslims with a military intervention against Serbia. Asylum seeker numbers and the problems of housing them were as great then as they are now. All refugees We Europeans are all refugees. Modern history shows that we’ve had to seek refuge in and outside Europe on many occasions. It also shows that we managed to build a life for ourselves in our new home. But the events of today uncovers something even more fundamental. Protecting refugees is not altruistic, it is a mutual insurance policy. I hope my house won’t burn down. But it might happen and so I pay my insurance premium every month. Meanwhile I hope that I won’t need that insurance but that someone else will profit from it. That seems altruistic but isn’t: I know I’m covered as well in the event something happens to me. Or, as footballer Marco van Basten is supposed to have said: when I play Germany I bet on a German victory. That way I can’t lose. The same is true of refugee law. We, as members of the global community, have agreed to help each other out in times of trouble. If all we have to do is welcome refugees we should not complain but count ourselves lucky that we’re not the ones having to leave our country behind. And we know that if that sea level keeps rising our grandchildren will find a new home elsewhere, too. This article appeared earlier in the NRC Translation: DutchNews  More >


Mark Rutte should kickstart a campaign to keep Britain in the EU

Mark Rutte should kickstart a campaign to keep Britain in the EU

Apart from the British economy itself, it will be the Dutch economy which will be hardest hit if the Brits decide to leave the EU, warn economists Rick van der Ploeg and Willem Vermeend. The UK is one of this country’s most important trading partners and investors and a Brexit would result in an economic downturn and the loss of many thousands of jobs. According to the polls, prime minister Mark Rutte's second cabinet isn’t doing very well. Friends and foes are divided about why that should be, but according to the golden rule in The Hague political circles, there can only be one culprit and that is the coalition itself. The fact that the Netherlands is one of the best performing economies at this moment confirms this, and history teaches us that this can only benefit the ruling parties. However, the polls are telling a different story. This month the OECD praised the Netherlands to the sky: things really couldn’t get much better. The economy will grow by 2.2% this year and by 2.5% in 2016, it predicted. And in 2017 it will grow by 2.7%. Unemployment will go down and the budget deficit will shrink to 0.7% of GDP in 2017 (Rutte 2 started out with a budget deficit of 4% of GDP) State debt will be among the lowest in Europe. The cabinet hopes to breeze through its remaining mandate on the strength of this rosy picture and score a resounding victory at the general election in March 2017. That may be too optimistic. Unforeseen circumstances Economic forecasts have a way of not materialising and there are always unforeseen circumstances to spoil the fun. Over the last decades the world economy has been fluctuating wildly, changing the prospects of individual economies almost overnight. We are no prophets of doom but there are other scenarios to be considered apart from the optimistic OECD forecast. There are serious indications that the world economy will be slowing down from 2016, mainly because of a lower growth rate in emerging economies such as China. This will have a negative impact on open economies of which the Netherlands is one. Growth will go down and unemployment will rise. Not only will the coalition have to field that blow, it will also have to cope with a society increasingly worried about the level of health care, care for the elderly, the power of Brussels and the refugee crisis. There is another danger, closer to home. It’s the UK referendum about the British membership of the EU, to be held before 2017. Prime minister David Cameron told chairman of the European council Donald Tusk in a letter last week he wants speedy negotiations about a wish list that might possibly keep the Brits in. EU worries Cameron wants more powers for national parliaments and a restriction of the rules surrounding European migration (EU migrants would have to wait four years before becoming eligible for benefits). He also wants better protection for countries outside the monetary union, such as Britain, from decisions made by the euro zone. Most European leaders have already spoken of their concerns about the consequences of a possible Brexit. They feel Britain is a EU member that is difficult to please and predict that the population will vote for the pound in their pocket and reject a Brexit. The annual benefit of the EU membership for British households is between £1,200 and £3,500 (around €1,500 to €4,400). Other EU countries are also pointing out that international think-tanks predict a Brexit would plunge the country into political and economic chaos. The British economy would be left reeling after taking a €80bn hit (around 2% of GDP) and unemployment would skyrocket. American economists are speaking of economic suicide while Barack Obama’s administration has made it clear that without EU membership Britain’s political role would be negligible. Negotiations Looking at the latest UK polls, these dramatic consequences haven’t hit home yet. Opinion is split down the middle, although the refugee crisis and a backlash over EU threats about a floundering UK are benefiting the Brexit camp. There are some very good reasons why the EU should start negotiating with Cameron. For political and economic reasons the EU can’t afford to lose Britain as a member. Without it, the EU will lose economic strength and political influence and the risk that other countries will follow suit will become greater. A Brexit would slice off one-sixth of European GDP and a quarter of the defence budget. Not only will the British economy suffer, the EU economy will take a pounding too. It also has to be noted that the British aren’t the only ones to be dissatisfied about what they see as too much EU interference. Many in the Netherlands feel the same. If Britain leaves the EU, the Dutch economy will be hardest hit, apart from the British themselves. After Germany, Britain is our most important trading partner. Exports account for some €50bn and 300,000 jobs. With investments worth €180bn, Dutch companies are large-scale investors in Britain which in turn is one of the biggest international investors in the Dutch economy. A Brexit also means losing an important political partner in the EU and power will inevitably move even further towards France and Germany. For Mark Rutte this should be enough reason to kickstart a European campaign to keep the UK in the European Union. His slogan should be: European when needed and national when possible. This means certain powers will be handed back to the member states and that cooperation in areas where nations share a common interest (security, employment) will be strengthened. In this, the British are our most important ally. This article appeared earlier in the Telegraaf  More >


We need a discussion on ethics to cope with innovation

We need a discussion on ethics to cope with innovation

Innovation is moving so fast it leaves citizens –and the law – standing, says trendwatcher Farid Tabarki. What is needed is a discussion on ethics. What do 3D printed drones, an Amsterdam Uber taxi driver and a camper van in Egmond have in common? Yes, they all move but that’s not what I’m getting at. All three are examples of the challenges of today. I’ll come back to that later, but first: King Willem-Alexander in China. When the king addressed the China Executive Leadership Academy he was asked to explain how a small country such as the Netherlands had managed to become a major exporter with a prosperous population. His answer was: ‘Independent courts and independent supervisors guarantee equal treatment of every citizen before the law, and the protection of human rights.’ This was immediately labelled as a comment on ‘human rights’ – not surprising when you look at the Chinese reputation for breaching them. Rules and regulations That same week, Freedom House published its ‘Freedom on the Net’ report which states that China beats even Syria and Iran when it comes to internet restrictions. It’s a huge achievement, but then the Chinese are used to doing things on a large scale. The king was right. Dutch prosperity is largely the result of a properly functioning state of law and reliable, if somewhat labyrinthine, rules and regulations. But sometimes the rate of innovation leaves the law behind and holes appear. Which brings me to the drone, the taxi driver and the camper van. Everyone can 3D print a drone. The question is who owns the air space it flies in? And what about the photographs it takes? Can Google simply go ahead and use drones to deliver packages, as it says it will be doing from 2017? Game changer The Uber taxi uses a smart platform which has infuriated drivers who work under the old system based on licences and rules. The camper van is the one whistle blower Ad Bos had to live in when he lost his job. Nowadays a hack or a download on a USB stick is the quick way of revealing government and company secrets. An ethical discussion is required for all three issues: how do we deal with privacy, small-scale initiatives and government transparency? These are not easy subjects for citizens to ponder. The human brain is hard put to take in the nature and the speed with which innovation happens, and the collective brain can’t keep up at all. Companies are already using what Deloitte calls ‘RegTech’, software to deal with complicated regulations. Ghandi – who started out as a lawyer – wanted laws to be ‘codified ethics’ but that ideal is now further away than ever. At Christmas, an institution which, apart from increasingly ugly decorations, has not seen any innovation for the last decades, the king has an excellent opportunity to elaborate on the subject in his speech. Farid Tabarki is a trendwatcher and founder of Studio Zeitgeist. Twitter: @studiozeitgeist This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   More >


Will the Dutch come clean on their murky tax deals? I should coco

Will the Dutch come clean on their murky tax deals? I should coco

What’s the easiest way to upset a Dutch finance official? Call his country a tax haven, says journalist Gordon Darroch. Five years ago the Obama administration named the Netherlands as one of three low-tax countries (along with Ireland and Bermuda) that had allowed US multinational corporations to pay just €16bn in tax on €700bn of earnings, which converts to a rate of just under 2.3%. It prompted splutterings of outrage from the Dutch embassy in Washington and the Americans meekly withdrew the accusation. But the bad smell lingered like a week-old herring. Since then Dutch ministers have been resolute in shutting down any mention of the h-word. The defence against Obama’s declaration was that corporation tax is transparent and set at 25.5%, which puts the country in the medium tax bracket. What it omitted to mention was the Dutch tax administration’s habit of drawing up generous pre-nuptial agreements with multinational firms to entice them to relocate to the Netherlands. Benefits The benefits on both sides are obvious: the company cuts a hefty slice from its tax bill, while the Dutch nation nets a small income with little or no extra burden on its infrastructure. All countries have tax incentives to attract foreign investment, but the Dutch have been unusually prolific: a report by the economic institute SEO in 2013 concluded that €278bn flowed through Dutch-based shell companies every year. And the system is more opaque than transparent, since many of these companies take the form of Special Financial Instruments, which are not publicly registered. Last year the combined assets of the 14,400 SFIs amounted to €3.5 trillion. But since the global financial crisis the Netherlands’ tax arrangements have come under scrutiny from the European Commission. Two years ago Brussels drafted plans to require member states to outlaw letterbox firms, which were siphoning €150bn out of the region every year – the equivalent of the EU’s entire budget. That doesn’t include the tax lost through the cut-throat competition between jurisdictions in the eurozone. Financial research institution Somo found that 19 of Portugal’s 20 largest multinational firms were registered in the Netherlands for tax purposes, putting €2.5 billion of profits beyond the reach of the Portuguese exchequer. Portuguese Systematically depriving another country in the same currency zone of tax revenues is akin to cutting off your nose to make your face more efficient. Yet when Portugal’s domestic debt ballooned after 2008 and it sought bailouts from countries such as the Netherlands, Dutch commentators and politicians queued up to denounce the supposedly feckless Portuguese. Such lack of humility and self-examination does not bode well as Europe tries to harmonise its members’ tax regimes. Two weeks ago the European Commission ruled that a deal between the Netherlands and Starbucks, which allowed the coffee chain to put nearly €20bn of profits out of reach of the tax authorities, amounted to illegal state aid. The Dutch government threw up its arms in horror, insisting the deal complied with international tax laws and the commission, not it, was at fault. Thus we had the bizarre spectacle of ministers in The Hague protesting against a decision that allows it to claim up to €30m in back taxes from a multinational company. Coco Old habits, it seems, die hard. This week NRC revealed that Dutch bank ING was heavily involved in drafting a law that created a tax break for a new type of financial security known as contingent convertibles, or cocos. Cocos are a hybrid financial vehicle devised to shore up banks’ equity reserves in times of crisis. They function like bonds, but can be converted into share capital if a pre-set threshold is reached. The banks argued that these instruments should be tax deductible in order to bring the Netherlands into line with other jurisdictions. But there was a problem: if the exemption applied solely to banks, there was a high risk that Brussels would class it as state aid for financial institutions and veto it. The Dutch financial regulator AFM had already ruled that cocos were unsuitable for most ordinary investors because of their complexity. Finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem brought in the measure last June, bringing the banks €350m a year in tax relief. It took the form of an amendment to the Finance Act rather than a separate law, meaning it did not have to be vetted by the Council of State. Documents published by NRC show how ING, together with former finance minister Gerrit Zalm, now chairman of the nationalised bank ABN Amro, made several revisions to the draft law, including removing any reference to financial institutions. The suspicion is that the government and the banks were colluding to put Brussels off the scent. European Commission Economist Sweder van Wijnbergen told NRC: 'If there is any suggestion of state aid it has to be reported to the European Commission. These documents show that this suggestion existed, Dijsselbloem knew about it and sought a wording, in co-operation with the banks, that would steer the commission off course.' In the immediate aftermath of the banking crisis the Dutch government was in the vanguard of nations calling for more stringent financial regulation within the European Union. Dijsselbloem, in his role as chair of the group of eurozone finance ministers, was praised in Brussels for his firm handling of the Greek debt crisis. But back home in The Hague his ministry facilitates the kind of virtuoso accounting that would make a Greek restaurateur salivate. If the Netherlands wants to be taken seriously as one of Europe’s leading financial nations, it needs to practice tax compliance as well as preach it. Gordon Darroch is a British journalist living in The Hague. This column was first published on his blog Words for Press.   More >


A cost-benefit analysis of refugees will only fuel hysteria

A cost-benefit analysis of refugees will only fuel hysteria

A cost benefit analysis of the refugee crisis will inevitably focus on the costs and fuel the hysteria of Wilders' hordes. It would be better - and cheaper in the long run - to concentrate efforts on establishing a long-term policy, writes  economist Marcel Canoy. According to CPB director Laura van Geest, it doesn’t do to calculate the costs of refugees. According to Volkskrant columnist Frans Kalshoven – with in his wake a couple of applauding professors - this is exactly what should happen. Kalshoven’s argument is simple and logical. There are a number of objectifiable effects (accommodation costs, for example). Why not map these so you can separate them from the unobjectifiable, ethical and sometimes emotional issues (for example, the extent to which our society is willing to be fair or empathic). I’m with Kalshoven on many things. It’s fine to make a cost benefit analysis of matters natural and cultural before asking the ethical question of what we are prepared to spend on a symphony orchestra or a nature reserve. But it won’t wash with refugees. The costs of decent facilities (bed, bath and bread) are easily calculated. The benefits are speculative (what will happen to the labour market?) or impossible to express in figures (the impact on stability, solidarity or sense of security). Those benefits can’t be written off under the heading of ‘ethical arguments’. These are real benefits which can easily translate into solid euros, even if we have no idea how many. Unquantifiable You could argue that good researchers would give prominence to these unquantifiable benefits as well. Laura van Geest probably realises that the government's macro-economic think tank CPB doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to doing justice to benefits that are difficult to quantify. Health care is a good example, and so is the CPB report into the cost and benefits of migration (2003) in which unquantifiable benefits were reduced to insignificant footnotes. Even if the CPB were to rise above itself and make an honest attempt at interpreting these benefits, they would undoubtedly fall victim to the usual fate in the public discourse: uncertain benefits will always be equated with non-existent ones. The refugee crisis needs a thorough and calm political decision making process. A sustained European asylum policy will lead to stability in the region and a firmer sense of security. A mature handling of the migration issue will lead to selection and positive effects on the labour market, and greater public acceptance. Kalshoven’s well-meaning but naive attempt to rid the debate of emotion will achieve exactly the opposite. A cost benefit analysis of refugees will inevitably put the spotlight on costs and that will give Wilders’ already hysterical hordes more ammunition. It would be much better to do our utmost to increase the long-term benefits. That would be better for migrants and asylum seekers, better for Europe and better even for disgruntled citizens. Marcel Canoy is an economist, academic and lecturer at the Erasmus School of Accounting & Assurance This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   This column comes with a PS from the writer: Misunderstanding 1 Some have seen this column as an attempt to gloss over effects, or even ban research. That is not the case. Research should only be carried out if it contributes something to society. I tried to explain that this analysis does not contribute anything to the quality of the decision making process and therefore isn’t fit for purpose. Misunderstanding 2 Refugees versus refugee policy Cost benefit analyses are made to evaluate policies, not people. This analysis is not about what refugees ‘bring’ but what the costs and benefits are of a more or less stringent refugee policy. Misunderstanding 3 The counterfactual A cost benefit analysis usually comes with a counterfactual: what happens if we don’t carry out this policy? Asylum policies in particular are costly but relatively cheap compared to the costs of a destabilised region or the erosion of the European Union. It is impossible to quantify this complex matter. That is why I think we should leave this to the ‘wisdom’ and insight of politicians, which will, of course, be subject to the usual democratic checks and balances.  More >


Democracy the Wilders’ way

Democracy the Wilders’ way

Wilders' PVV is doing its xenophobic best to stop refugees coming to this country, and the VVD isn't far behind, writes cultural historian Thomas von der Dunk. Thanks to ‘Steenbergen’  we now know have a good idea of what the Wilders Youth means by the ‘peaceful resistance’ to the arrival of war refugees: intimidation and threats. To the noisiest of Wilders’ elite troops ‘democracy’ simply means having their way and ‘listening to citizens’ means they don’t have to listen to anyone while making sure no one can be heard either. According to this particular interpretation of the concept of democracy, by rights, scum rules. Constant Kuster, the leader of the neofascist Nederlandse Volksunie, stated in the NRC that that is exactly how it should be. And after the events at Steenbergen Wilders said the resistance movement was fine and dandy. In the aftermath of ‘Wormer’ he signed the appeal for calm in the refugee debate but a few hours later he was back in the old resistance groove. What we have learned from the failed storming in Woerden and the attack in Wormer is that the testosterone bombs in Wilders’ ranks pose more of a threat than the odd excitable refugee. Internet as a sewer Meanwhile the internet has become the open sewer in which every semi-literate dimwit can dump his xenophobic turd. The vague feelings of fear – lecherous Muslims who rape and spread disease around every corner–which the extreme right likes to exploit (see too the Law and Justice party in Poland) have their roots in the anti-Semitic clichés of the thirties. Then, as now, parents were advised to keep their daughters under lock and key. True, a person who has lived in a cocoon for the last ten years loses contact with reality and will become, perhaps inevitably, paranoid. That makes Wilders completely understandable and very interesting as a psychiatric case. His place, however, is in the loony bin, not parliament. Parliament itself is not blameless. For years it did nothing to counteract the likes of Wilders. At last CDA leader Buma led the other parties in a frontal attack and it resulted in a complete meltdown of Wilders and his party. So it can be done, and without relying solely on a lone courageous woman in Steenbergen. Botox tourism The main parliamentary obstacle in the way of decency is the VVD whose tone in the debate makes the party the spiritual home away from home for the PVV electorate. Halbe Zijlstra’s comments about botox tourism did not lead to any criticism of him in his party. No one called for his resignation. Not one. It illustrates yet again the complete lack of a moral compass in his party which has reduced politics to bartering, first with one-time pal Geert and now with China. Last week Willem Aantjes died – a politician from a completely different era and with completely different political values. In 1978 he stepped down because he understood that the image of politics would be better served if he left. Zijlstra, in spite of the trail of moral destruction in his wake, will never understand this. Apart from the rampant vulgar xenophobia there is, of course, a civilised form. It is the NIMBY variant prevalent in the better neighbourhoods once so pithily explained by Robert Lansschot in the NRC: it’s much better for the refugees themselves to be housed in poor neighbourhoods. Cheap shops What would they want with our pricey patisseries when it’s cheap call shops they want? The only refugees that should be welcomed with open arms are the tax refugees, argued kindred spirit Paul Fentrop. They are the true victims of these troubled times. The VVD agrees. We have only to watch them squirm under the OECD attack on the Dutch post box firms. This civilised xenophobia, which in the Hague’s chic Benoordenhout did manage to prevent an empty barracks to be turned into an asylum seekers’ centre, is rife among the ‘broadminded’ who, in order to benefit their jobs or companies, approve of open borders but let other deal with the consequences. That this doesn’t go down too well in the poorer neighbourhoods will be readily understood. The shortage of social housing is largely the fault of those politicians who have been flogging it and who are now refusing to build more because it will ‘attract refugees’. You know which party they belong to.  More >


The Dutch are not innovative and ambitious enough on renewables

The Dutch are not innovative and ambitious enough on renewables

The Dutch are not innovative and ambitious enough when it comes to renewable energy, writes trendwatcher Farid Tabarki. Some years ago the province of Noord-Brabant was debating what its new provincial anthem should be. Guus Meeuwis’ Brabant was a candidate but didn’t win. But it did provide the province with a new slogan: ‘That makes you think of Brabant’. Meeuwis, you see, in the final bit of his song, thinks of Brabant ‘because that is where the lights are still on’. A nice example of stealth advertising, I’d say. Interestingly enough, Philips announced last year it was going to close down its lighting unit in order to concentrate on medical technology. Their ‘digital health strategy’ includes the manufacture of portable measuring equipment, robotic arms and MRI scanners, all made in Best. A hop and a skip away, in Veldhoven, we find the headquarters of high-tech firm ASML, which started out as a Philips-ASML joint venture. The machines ASML makes for chip manufacturers have to conform to the implacable Moore’s law: the computing power of chips doubles every eighteen months to two years for the same price. Chief innovation officer Tesla Motors opened a factory in Tilburg a couple of weeks ago. CEO Elon Musk did the honours, in the presence of economic affairs minister Henk Kamp. Musk knows a thing or two about innovation: he is the man behind Paypal and with his company SpaceX he is attempting to open a gateway to the cosmos for a broad target group. Kamp, being the minister for economic affairs, should by rights be the national Chief Innovation Officer but as far as renewable energy is concerned unfortunately he is not. According to Eurostat figures the Netherlands brings up the rear with a pitiful 4.5% renewable energy production. Only Malta and Luxemburg are doing worse. Meanwhile, Sweden heads the list with 52.1%. Worse still, the Netherlands won’t even be able to achieve the modest 14% target it committed to for 2020 in the not very ambitious National Energy Accord of 2013. It’s hardly surprising. In the Netherlands innovation is caught up in a byzantine web of incomprehensible rules and regulations. Take the ‘postcode rose’ for instance, a strange construction which decrees that local energy users will only be granted a tax break if they fall within a four digit postcode area or one of the four adjacent four digit postcode areas. Who comes up with these things? The promotion of the electric car isn’t getting anywhere either: the target of 200,000 cars by 2020 was recently halved. A national market of public charging stations, including a uniform feed-in tariff, is nowhere near. Renewable energy, faster computers and more knowledge of the human body – when I think of Brabant I now think of all three fundamental, disruptive developments. The nation is lagging behind. ‘Thinking of Holland I see broad rivers moving slowly through interminable low lands’ wrote poet Hendrik Marsman. When I think of Holland I see the same slowness when it comes to innovation and ambition. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad   More >


Health insurers should stop wasting money on advertising

Health insurers should stop wasting money on advertising

Health insurance companies should not waste money competing against themselves with glossy advertising campaigns and pointless PR 'dialogues', writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe. It is almost that time of year again - the time when health insurance companies bombard us with television adverts full of shiny happy people and try to persuade us that they have the best policies. So not great timing for CZ then, with the news that two hospitals in Noord-Holland have stopped carrying out cataract operations on people with a CZ policy because there is no more money to pay for them. It is not the first time healthcare providers have said no because the budget has run out. And it is likely to happen more and more, as health insurance companies try to find ways to highlight their differences by offering 'budget policy this' and 'value for money' that. Discounts There are all sorts of insurances out there. There are discounted policies for people who are members of this or that charity - such as the Wadden Sea Association. You can get a special tailor-made policy if you are a graduate or planning a family or on a budget. In fact, there are some 40 different brands competing for your attention. They are, however, all owned by the same 10 companies, four of which control 90% of the market. In other words, a lot of the end-of-the-year frenzy is company X competing with itself. The Consumentenbond last year said the total marketing bill for health insurance companies – including the cost of temporary staff and administration - is around €400m. Advertising research group Nielsen put their actual spend on adverts at around €59m, of which 85% was spent in the last two months of the year. Absurd It's an awful lot of money to persuade us to switch companies, and even more absurd when you consider all the basic health insurance policies offer exactly the same thing - because the government decides the bottom line coverage. This autumn, however, health insurance companies have been running a different campaign - based on the slogan 'Healthcare (unfortunately) is about money as well'. The campaign has taken the form of full page adverts in daily newspapers and news magazines and aims to stimulate online debate about how the health insurance system works - in particular when it comes to cash. Facebook The response to this little public relations exercise, judging by a quick look at the special website zorgdialoog.nu, has not been exactly overwhelming. The three different full page ads, which will have cost tens of thousands of euros, have generated a grand total of 608 comments at the time of writing. The Facebook page has just 79 likes. In other words, more money that could have been spent on carrying out cataract operations has gone down the drain. Healthcare is, unfortunately, about money and ensuring value for money in particular. But end-of-year advertising blitzes and PR initiated dialogues are, financially, a very bad deal for patients.  More >


Translating the Dutch constitution into Arabic is a waste of money

Translating the Dutch constitution into Arabic is a waste of money

An Arabic translation of the constitution - no matter how riveting - won't shed much light on the rules of our society, writes Reinout Wibier, professor of civil law at Tilburg University. Home affairs minister Ronald Plasterk wants to give refugees a copy of the Dutch constitution in Arabic. ‘These people are coming to a country they know nothing about. I think it’s right to tell them about the basic rules in our society in their own language,’ he says. It leaves you wondering if Plasterk has ever leafed through a copy himself. In the first place, there’s nothing in the constitution about the basic rules in our society. There’s all sorts of other stuff in the constitution, such as the fact that we are all equal before the law (article 1, the ban on discrimination) and other basic rights, like freedom of speech and religion. Law making Refugees will be pleased to read that the Netherlands won’t lock them up for belonging or not belonging to a religious group, but I have a feeling they sort of knew that already or they wouldn’t have come this way. Apart from that, the constitution contains a lot of constitutional rules about how laws are made by the government and parliament, and that the government is made up of the king and his ministers. All very interesting but hardly the thing for refugees trying to find their way in Dutch society. The perusal of the constitution without any legal background knowledge is a useless exercise anyway. Take article 7, par. 1, about the freedom of the press. ‘No person needs previous permission to express thoughts or feelings by means of the press, subject to that person’s responsibility before the law.’ In order to understand exactly what you can and cannot do according to this article, you will have to study the necessary jurisprudence and quite a lot of legal literature. Extensive study The freedom of religion article (6, par 1) is even worse. If a person feels it is his right based on his religion to demolish a bus shelter because of an offending ad (to mention an absurd scenario), an appeal to article 6 won’t help him in a court of law. The constitution wasn’t written for the interested layman (whether refugee or born and bred in this country) and the contents are far too complex to put into the right context without extensive study. But even if these two hurdles could be taken, handing out a translation of the constitution remains an exercise in futility. What a refugee need is advice on how things work here, practically and socially. How people interact. How you present yourself during a job interview. How a 3pm appointment with a council official means you present yourself at the reception desk at 2.55pm, where you don’t shake hands with the receptionist but do with the civil servant in question. Social guide They need to know what the mores are at the supermarket (put it all in a basket, then put it all on the conveyor belt, don’t open prepacked rice and spaghetti packs to weigh out the amount needed). They have to find out which subjects are okay to talk about in company (the weather, the national football team, the children, the song festival) and which questions are best avoided ( how much do you earn?, what religion are you?, aren’t you afraid your wife will have an affair with a work colleague?). If only the basic rules of our society were so easily accessed and that a law encompassed them all. The minister would do better to budget for a social guide to the Netherlands (and have it translated into Arabic), or Dutch classes for refugees. Doling out a translation of the constitution is a waste of money. This article appeared earlier in the Volkskrant  More >