Foreign minister Stef Blok says sorry for multicultural society comments

Foreign minister Stef Blok has again spoken about his comments last month in which he said there are no successful multicultural societies and that Suriname is a failed state. Blok described his comments as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘careless’ in a note to Labour MPs who had called for an explanation. ‘I should not have done this, certainly not in my role as foreign affairs minister,’ he said. ‘I am sorry... My words were in no way meant to give racism free rein or to exclude certain population groups. Blok said earlier that he ‘regretted’ the comments, which were broadcast by current affairs show Zembla in mid July. The minister was speaking to Dutch nationals who work for international organisations and said later his remarks were aimed at stimulating debate. On Thursday, GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver called on Mark Rutte to distance himself from Blok’s comments, saying it is incomprehensible that the prime minister has not yet done so. The issue is likely to be raised at Friday’s cabinet meeting and will come up for debate when parliament resumes in September.  More >

Scrapping dividend tax will cost €2bn

The government’s controversial decision to scrap the tax on dividends will cost the economy €2bn a year rather than the earlier estimate of €1.4bn, the AD reported on Thursday. That means the treasury will have to find a further €600m to balance its 2020 spending plans, sources have told the paper. The government wants to scrap the tax in 18 months time. The move to abolish the tax will only benefit foreign firms and was not included in any of the manifestos of the four parties which form the current coalition government. Prime minister Mark Rutte believes the move may encourage more foreign firms to set up operations in the Netherlands. Opposition parties, however, have claimed that scrapping dividend tax is an economically unproductive measure and that the government bowed to threats from multinational companies such as Shell and Unilever to move their headquarters out of the Netherlands. In March Unilever announced it was closing its joint headquarters in London and basing its operations solely in Rotterdam.  More >

Denk told to refund referendum cash

Political party Denk has been ordered to refund most of the subsidies it received for campaigning in the recent referendum on new phone and internet tapping laws because it was not properly spent, the AD reports. The commission in charge of monitoring how the grants were used has told Denk to refund €16,000 of the €22,229 it was awarded for campaigning. Denk, for its part, blames the online marketing agency it used for not doing a proper job. In particular, the commission said the voter research carried out by OptimusAd on behalf of the party's policy bureau Statera focused too much on Denk supporters. Denk, however, says OptimusAd did not justify its approach and delivered a very thin final report. OptimusAd denies providing shoddy work and has invited Denk, which has said it will refund the money, to talk about the problems. In total, some 200 organisations and private individuals made claims on the €2m in grants set aside to fund campaigns for and against the new law.  More >

Russian trolls have little impact in Dutch

Russian-based professional trolls sent more than 900 tweets in Dutch over two years – but they had almost no impact on public debate, according to an investigation by NRC. The newspaper said it had studied more than 200,000 tweets sent from the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg, the 'troll factory' said to have influenced the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as US president. In the Netherlands, troll accounts were mainly active in discussions about Islam and immigration. The co-ordinated bombings carried out by Islamist terrorists at Brussels Airport in March 2006 sparked a series of tweets in Dutch using English hashtags such as #IslamIsTheProblem and #IslamKills. Six of the accounts sent an identical tweet 'Pfff dit vindt ik verschrikkelijk', containing the same grammatical error (a so-called 'dt-fout' in the verb form), over the space of several hours. Troll accounts focused their attention on the Netherlands, mainly by retweeting comments by alt-right cheerleaders such as journalist Wierd Duk and conspiracy theorist Joost Niemöller. One account, going by the name of @Ten_gop, retweeted 32 messages by PVV leader Geert Wilders in four months. Ironically, the fake accounts had more success in the Netherlands with tweets in English. More than 6,000 Dutch troll accounts shared 30,000 English-language messages with a total of 9.5 million followers. Fake followers In a separate development, some of the Netherlands' highest-profile politicians saw their follower count slashed after Twitter removed millions of fake accounts from its system. Geert Wilders lost around 15% of his nearly 1 million followers following the clear-out. The two MPs from the Denk party, Tunahan Kuzu and Farid Azarkan, had their numbers slashed by 34% and 39% respectively from a much smaller base. Twitter said around 6 per cent of all accounts had been culled in the operation, designed to improve the website's credibility.  More >