Asylum requests still face delays despite more staff, minister says


It will probably take until 2021 before the immigration service IND can process asylum requests within the legal time frame, junior justice minister Mark Harbers told MPs on Thursday. Last year, 5,500 more asylum requests were made than had been forecast and this, combined with government spending cuts, has boosted waiting times again, the minister said. The IND is supposed to rule if an asylum seeker should be given a refugee permit within six months, although this can be extended for complex cases. Last year the IND took on an extra 200 members of staff to cut the waiting lists, and a further 150 people are being employed this year, Harbers said.   More >



Senators to get code of conduct

Senators in the upper house of the Dutch parliament are to get a code of conduct for the first time, which will govern how they work with lobbyists, the work they do outside the senate and how to deal with gifts. The rules have been drawn up partly following pressure from the Council of Europe, and partly due to several high-profile conflicts of interest affecting the 75 members of the upper house. The commission which drew up the rules says it has taken the specific circumstances of the senate into account. The job is not a full-time position and most senators have other paid employment. Last year, two VVD senators, Loek Hermans and Anne-Wil Duthler, were implicated in conflict of interest cases. Hermans resigned from the upper house over his role at healthcare organisation Meavita, which went bankrupt in 2009, while Duthler was criticised for using her own advisory agency to analyse a bill that she voted on. Another conflict of interest case involved the PvdA’s Senate group leader, Marleen Barth, who stepped down after it emerged she had tried to secure a rent reduction for her husband, former Wassenaar mayor Jan Hoekema, when he stayed on in the mayor’s residence after leaving office. Although the Netherlands ranks among the least corrupt nations in the world, taking eighth place on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, there are concerns about the lack of formalised integrity rules in parliament. The European council’s anti-corruption unit Greco published a report last year criticising the lack of oversight, citing the row over Alexander Pechtold’s inheritance of an apartment in Scheveningen from a foreign diplomat. Pechtold was not obliged to declare the €135,000 property in the MPs’ register of gifts.  More >



Councils try online debt prevention scheme

Two of the largest Dutch municipalities have launched an experiment to stop people getting into debt by helping them pay their household bills. Utrecht council is testing a 'digital housekeeping book' on 300 people on low incomes, which allows them to keep track of their fixed costs such as electricity, gas, rent and health insurance in a single app, as well as income sources such as benefits and supplements. The facility includes a financial buffer of up to €1,200, whereby the council will issue a temporary loan to cover people's bills where they might otherwise have a shortfall. People on low incomes often struggle with cashflow problems because their benefits are spread throughout the month or arrive a few days after bills are due. The Hague council has rolled out a scheme that was initially tested on 150 residents to a larger group of 5,000. The city also works with participants and service providers to look at ways of reducing households' overhead costs. Nadja Jungmann, a researcher in debt and payment collection at Hogeschool Utrecht, said the initiatives were designed to help householders before they got into serious financial difficulty. 'In the past organisations only turned up at your door when you were in debt. But by then the problems are already serious. What we need to do is stop people acquiring these debts,' she told NOS. She stressed that the measures did not address the underlying problem of the increasingly complex benefits system. 'The lower your income in the Netherlands, the more different pots your money comes from. People on the lowest incomes are also the most vulnerable people. And we've made it very complicated for precisely those people.' Linda Voortman, the GroenLinks alderman in Utrecht who is overseeing the experiment, said there was a large group of householders in the city who stood to benefit. 'In Utrecht we have 14,000 to 35,000 households in debt, and a large group on low incomes.' Junior employment minister Tamara van Ark said she hoped other municipalities would adopt the scheme if it proved to be successful. 'Studies are being carried out at the moment into how to improve the system of subsidies. 'Having a single payment date is an interesting option, but because it involves a very large number of payments, that might be hard to arrange. I see offering something like this through financial services and apps as a viable alternative.'  More >


Coalition MPs say Huawei must be kept out

Two of the four Dutch coalition parties have said they do not want Chinese telecoms company Huawei to be involved in rolling out 5G networks in the Netherlands, following the FD’s revelations about industrial espionage at ASML, the Financieele Dagblad said on Friday. GroenLinks, the biggest Dutch opposition said in February that Huawei should be excluded from the tender process because of security fears. ‘It is very simple,’ VVD MP Wybren van Haga told the paper. ‘If a company does not keep to the rules, you don’t play with them. China clearly does not respect the international rules of trade and has no respect for the intellectual property rights of western tech companies.’ The CDA is also opposed to Chinese involvement in the project. On Thursday, the Financieele Dagblad said Chinese spies have stolen a large number of company secrets from chip machinery maker ASML. The spies were highly placed R&D workers who were able to get away with source codes, software, price strategies and secret user manuals, the paper said. It bases the claims on its own research and Californian court documents. The scandal comes at a sensitive time for the government, which is currently trying to draw up a formal strategy to deal with Chinese economic interests. Earlier this month, the AIVD security service warned about the risks of using Chinese equipment for crucial infrastructure and said digital attacks and espionage by countries such as China, Iran and Russia pose a real threat. In the US Huawei has been accused of espionage on behalf of the Chinese authorities and the US ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, told Trouw earlier this year that the company should be kept out of the Dutch market. ‘This is very, very important to us,’ Hoekstra is quoted as saying.  More >



Council of state warns MPs about accords

Parliament is undermining its own powers by translating wide-ranging agreements with third parties, such as the climate accord, into legislation, the government's most senior advisory body said on Thursday. The Council of State, which advises on new legislation from a legal perspective, made the comments in its 2018 annual report. While it is sensible to sit round the table with unions, employers and consumer organisations - as happened with the climate agreement, energy agreement and housing agreement - the changing political arena will have an impact, the report said. This means in some cases too much responsibility for policy is being taken away from politicians and legislation is being used to give legitimacy to agreements made with third parties. Parliament is no longer determining what is needed, but third party  organisations, the council said. Shell and housing corporations, for example, represent their shareholders and members interests when discussing climate change or housing. And MPs must remember that 'legislation is more than a compromise between various interest groups', the NRC quoted the council as saying. In addition, the quality of legislation is also being reduced by the focus on sub groups, rather than society in general, the council said.  More >


MPs debate rules for foreign party finance

Many Dutch MPs agreed that financing of political parties needs to be tightened up, in a debate on Thursday. Last year, a parliamentary commission called for a ban on any foreign donations and home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren wants an even narrower limit, to only gifts from within the EU, reports the NRC. She said that free movement of money within the EU, however, will make it difficult to impose restrictions. The government also wants more transparency on donations, making it compulsory to register all foreign gifts rather than just ones over €4,500. Currently, money from charities or organisations also only has to be registered according to their name and location but in future, Ollongren wants the name of the chairman to be reported too. Criticism In the parliamentary debate, however, MPs disagreed on the best option. Selçuk Öztürk, of Denk, said he was pleased that Geert Wilders’ PVV would no longer be able to receive donations from the anti-Islamist American David Horowitz Freedom Center, which had given more than €100,000 to the party before 2017. ‘[But in the EU] you also have the extreme right, such as Orban and Le Pen,’ said Öztürk. He said he fears that Thierry Baudet’s Forum voor Democracy, the main winner in recent elections for provincial councils and the Dutch senate, might receive money from ‘his boreal friends.’ Baudet had previously been criticised for a victory speech using the word ‘boreal’ which has also been employed by far-right politicians to mean Aryan or ‘white’. In the parliamentary debate, SGP MP Roelof Bisschop said that they might as well call for an entire ban on foreign donations rather than limit them to Europe. The PVV and Forum voor Democracy did not take part. Mark Rutte’s VVD party’s financial support mostly comes from six foundations, the NRC added, and it is unclear who is behind them.  More >



Ministry name changes cost nearly €32m

Ministry name changes implemented by ministers at the start of the new cabinet period in 2017 have cost nearly €32m in terms of software and branding, according to finance ministry auditors. Several ministries took on new departments when prime minister Mark Rutte's third cabinet came into office. The economic affairs ministry became the ministry for economic affairs and the climate, while a new ministry - farming, nature and food quality - came into being. The most noteworthy change was the decision to rename the security and justice ministry the justice and security ministry - a switch which cost €2m to implement, the Volkskrant said. The most expensive change, accounting for over €26m, was the decision to bring back the agriculture ministry, whose work had been done by the economic affairs ministry in the previous administration.   More >


Climate policy puts Forum out of NH talks

There is little chance that nationalist party Forum voor Democratie will be part of the coalition to run the Noord-Holland provincial council, negotiator Hans Smits has said. Forum, the right-wing Liberal VVD and the left-wing green GroenLinks all emerged with nine seats after last month's provincial council elections, with Forum winning slightly more votes than the other two parties. However, given Forum's stance on the environment - the party wants an end to solar and wind power projects - there is a 'fundamental difference' with the other parties, Smits said, after holding a first round of talks. There is, therefore, 'no point' in holding further talks to put together a coalition which involves Forum, the former Schiphol airport boss said. In Zuid-Holland, where Forum was also the biggest party, talks are underway to form a coalition around the new party and the VVD.  More >