Brussels tells the Netherlands, other EU countries to clean up golden visa schemes

The European Commission is urging the Netherlands and 22 other countries to halt schemes granting 'golden' visas and passports to foreign investors because of the risk they could involve criminal cash. The commission said in a new report on Wednesday that allowing people to pay for citizenship or residence presents serious risks to the country itself, but given free movement rules, has an impact on the entire union. Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta grant foreign investors citizenship without requiring them to live in those EU countries in return for hefty fees. And the Netherlands is one of 20 countries offering a residence permit in return for payment. In the Netherlands people can qualify for a residency permit if they invest €1.25m in an innovative company or a firm which has added value for the Dutch economy. The commission said there is a lack of 'transparency and oversight' for the residence schemes, including too few statistics on how many people obtain a residence permit in this way. It plans to set up a group of experts to improve the supervision of the schemes. Spain, Cyprus, Portugal and Britain are said to gain the most financially from operating the schemes. A foreign ministry spokesman told the Volkskrant that officials are looking into abolishing the Dutch system. has contacted the IND for comment.  More >

Fishing industry furious over pulse ban

Dutch fishermen have reacted furiously to Brussels' decision to phase out pulse fishing, a form of trawling using electric currents. 'Lies and emotion have beaten science,' fishermen's organisations said after the vote. 'The European Council, the European Commission and the European parliament have been misled by the lies and emotional campaign fought by French environmental organisation Bloom.' In total, 42 Dutch trawlers will have to stop pulse fishing this year and 42 can continue until 2021. The agreement also states that six trawlers can continue to use the technique for research purposes. Dutch farm minister Carola Schouten said the compromise was 'the best' that could be won in the negotiations. It is, she said, a dark day for the Dutch fishing industry which had been banned from a 'sustainable and innovative' way of fishing. The financial damage to the Dutch fishing sector could be as high as €200m, the fishing organisations said. Research Dutch fishermen have invested millions of euros in specialized equipment since the ban on pulse fishing was lifted several years ago under a scheme to allow research into ‘innovative methods’. Some 40% of the Dutch fleet now uses the system. Pulse fishing involves sending a current of electricity through sections of the sea bed, partially stunning sole and plaice and forcing some into the net. Its supporters say pulse fishing is less destructive than beam trawling, which involves dragging a heavy metal bar across the sea bed. Opponents say it is a cruel and unnecessary method of fishing and is depleting fish stocks.  More >

Dutch PM calls for a strong Europe

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has warned that a no-deal Brexit will have a 'devasting' impact on Britain and called on the EU to be more realistic in two high-profile outings seen by some as job applications for a senior Brussels role. In a front page interview with the Financial Times, Rutte said he was alarmed that Britain appears to be doing nothing to prevent itself crashing out of the EU. 'At the moment the ball is rolling towards the Dover cliff and we are shouting "stop the ball from rolling any further" but nobody is doing anything at the moment - at least not on the UK side,' the FT quoted Rutte as saying. The Netherlands, one of Britain's biggest trading partners, is likely to be a major loser after Britain pulls out, but Rutte said at the moment the Netherlands is only seeing benefits. He again referred to the '250 companies' which are 'close to taking a decision to move here'. Last weekend, the Dutch foreign trade agency said that 60 companies set up operations in the Netherlands because of Brexit in 2017 and 2018. Rutte gave the interview to the FT and other European newspapers in Zurich where he had been invited to give the annual Churchill lecture at the European Institute of Zurich University. Reality check In that speech, Rutte said his key message today is that 'the EU needs a reality check.' 'Power is not a dirty word,' Rutte said. 'Realpolitik must be an essential part of Europe’s foreign policy toolkit. Because if we only preach the merits of principles and shy away from exercising power in the geopolitical arena, our continent may always be right, but it will seldom be relevant.' 'I believe that the EU needs to pursue its own interests, in the knowledge that power and principles aren’t mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand,' the Dutch PM said. Europe, Rutte said, should stick together 'now more than ever'. Chaos 'If the chaos of Brexit teaches us anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as splendid isolation. I’ve often argued that the mere fact of being embedded in the EU framework makes us stronger and safer,' he said.  'Let me emphasise that, for me, there’s no contradiction between strong member states and a strong EU. Quite the opposite, in fact. Without strong member states there cannot be a strong EU.' Referring to US president Trump's strong criticisms of multilateral organisations and the EU, Rutte said: 'US policies under this president could well be the incentive we need to make changes for the better.' This could include making the UN more effective, reforming the WTO and making sure that 'the EU as a whole and European Nato members individually take more responsibility for their own safety and security. Even if that comes with a price tag.' Rutte is widely regarded in European circles as a strong contender for one of the EU’s top jobs after May’s European parliamentary elections but has consistently denied any interest in moving to Brussels.  More >

'Time is running out on Brexit': Rutte

Time is running out to reach a deal on Britain's withdrawal from the EU, prime minister Mark Rutte said after talks with British prime minister Theresa May. 'The ball is in London's court,' Rutte said on Twitter, adding that he supported the resumption of talks in Brussels. Britain is poised to crash out of the EU on March 29 unless May can renegotiate her deal. Rutte has said repeatedly that the 27 EU member states are united in their approach to Brexit and that the deal was signed by EU ministers last year is the ‘best we can get’. Talked to Theresa May on the state of play regarding #Brexit. Time is running out. The ball is in London’s court. The importance of reaching an agreement is clear to all. I support the resumption of talks in Brussels. — Mark Rutte (@MinPres) February 12, 2019 Last weekend it emerged that 60 companies have either moved to or set up new operations in the Netherlands rather than Britain over the past two years because of Brexit.  More >

Brexit threatens crucial medicine supply

Some 50 key medicines may no longer be available for patients in the Netherlands if Britain crashes out of the EU in a no-deal Brexit, Dutch health minister Bruno Bruins has told MPs. The original list of 2,700 drugs considered to be at risk because of Brexit has now been cut back to 50 after alternative sources were found for most, the minister said. The 50 drugs on the list are 'critical' in that they are used to treat a life-threatening illness, are used by vulnerable groups or have no alternative on the Dutch market. Nevertheless, even after a hard Brexit, 'exceptions could be made so that the remaining drugs can still be imported from Britain,' Bruins said. 'The fact that a drug is on the list does not mean that there will be an actual shortage.' Bruins and the Dutch medicines board have refused to make the list public, saying to do so would encourage hoarding and price speculation, both in the Netherlands and in other countries. Two-week supply Dianda Veldman of the Dutch patients federation said it would be 'dramatic' if some drugs were no longer available after March 29. 'We recommend people always have a two-week supply at home.' However, people should not hoard drugs because that could mean other patients missing out altogether, she told broadcaster NOS. The problems will arise because drugs produced in the UK will no longer fall under the same rules and have the same certificates if there is a no-deal Brexit.  More >