Minister launches drive to get people out of their cars and onto bikes

The infrastructure ministry is launching a major drive to try to get commuters out of their cars and onto bikes to cut both pollution and traffic jams. Some 200,000 more people should be cycling to work by the end of this cabinet period which will 'contribute to mobility, livability and health,' junior minister Steintje van Veldhoven said on Tuesday. The plan involves encouraging more employers to pay their staff 19 cents a kilometre in travelling expenses if they use their own bike to get to work. The payment is part of the Dutch tax system but few employers use it. Van Veldhoven now wants to talk to employers to encourage them to make the payments. Someone who cycles some seven kilometres to work every day can benefit by up to €500 a year tax free if employers participate, the Volkskrant calculated. Half of all car trips in the Netherlands are shorter than 7.5 kilometres which is 'a fine distance to cycle,' Van Veldhoven, who cycles to work in The Hague, said in her briefing to MPs. Electric bikes, she said, are suitable for longer distances. The government has allocated €100m to improve facilities for bike commuters, including more and better cycle lanes and improved bike parks at stations, with most of the money going on bike parks. Van Veldhoven also wants to stimulate the use of shared bike schemes and to encourage local authorities to give cyclists priority at roundabouts. She also suggests finding out if traffic lights for bikes can be altered so the light stays green for longer in the rain. The finance ministry said earlier this year that it will reform the current tax rules for company bikes, which are complicated and discouraging to companies and cyclists.  More >

Dutch won't ban firecrackers, rockets

Ministers will announce later on Friday that they have decided not to implement a nationwide firework ban in an effort to reduce the injuries and damage to property caused during the New Year firework frenzy, broadcaster NOS reported. Although many mayors and the police favour a ban on the sale of fireworks to the general public, ministers have been able to reach agreement among themselves, the broadcaster said. Instead, councils will be able to continue establishing 'firework free zones' in areas near zoos, pensioners homes and schools, an option which few take up at present, because of the problem of enforcement. A spokesman for the Dutch national police union told the broadcaster that the firework lobby has 'won again'. The New Year festivities are an enormous risk for the police and present a 'gigantic problem', he said. 'The police have to deal with a large group of people who have been drinking or talking drugs, all carrying fireworks,' he said. Safety board   Last year the Dutch safety board OVV said firecrackers and rockets should be banned during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in order to cut back on injuries and damage to property. Some 500 people end up at accidents and emergency departments with serious injuries during the New Year’s Eve celebrations, making it the most dangerous time of the year in many places, the board said. However, NOS says the cabinet will agree to implement several other of the board's recommendations. Firework sellers will be required to provide their customers with free protective glasses and supports for setting off rockets. Last week, the Dutch local authorities association VNG wrote to home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren saying the idea of allowing local authorities to decide themselves whether or not to ban certain types of firework will not be effective, and would have a knock-on effect on neighbouring towns. The four big cities in particular want a nationwide approach but, the VNG states, tougher rules will be useless unless there is enough capacity to police the ban.  More >

Stormy debate on PVV deportation bill

Draft legislation from the PVV which would see people from the Antilles deported if they committed a crime led to a stormy debate in parliament on Thursday, and several MPs walked out. MPs are angry that the PVV has pressed ahead with drawing up a bill, even though the Council of State has said the measure would be unconstitutional. The measure is ‘impossible to implement’ one MP said, while others accused the PVV of failing to come up with a proper solution. The PVV says people from Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten should be deported back to the Caribbean islands if they commit crimes, because Antillean youngsters are over-represented in crime figures. According to the NRC, several MPs walked out when the debate generated into a shouting match. The fundamentalist Protestant group SGP was the only party to see any possibility of supporting the PVV bill, the paper said. However, that too would require ‘very many changes’, MP Roelof Bisschop said. The bill’s proposers will answer MPs questions at a later date.  More >

Rob Oudkerk is after Amsterdam mayor job

Former Amsterdam alderman Rob Oudkerk and Labour party supporter is one of the 85 people who have now applied for the job of Amsterdam mayor. Oudkerk, a family doctor whose political career floundered after it emerged he used the services of prostitutes despite being married, has gone public with his application in the Parool newspaper. In the letter, Oudkerk writes about how ashamed he was about giving up his job in Amsterdam in 2004 when the revelations became public. 'Despite the shame, that inner voice telling me did not go quiet,' he wrote. 'You could say I have a calling to serve the city of my birth.' Applications for the Amsterdam job were reopened after king's commissioner Johan Remkes said not enough quality candidates had come forward. VVD supporter Onno Hoes, the former mayor of Maastricht who resigned after claims about his private life, is also reported to have applied. Former GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema and Amsterdam alderman Carolien Gehrels are also thought to be after the job.  More >

GroenLinks loses two stalwarts over love

The chairwoman of left-wing green party GroenLinks and one GroenLinks MP have stepped down after being caught out lying their romance. Marjolein Meijer and MP Rik Grashoff had told party leaders their romance began in April 2017 but yesterday the date was revealed to be late 2016 and before the general election The two party stalwarts are stepping down because they 'had not put the full truth on the table', the party said in a statement. 'These new facts have lead to a breach of trust between the party management, supervisory board and MPs.' Grashof,a former party chairman, was number 5 on the GroenLinks list for the 2017 general election and Meijer had a major role in drawing up the list. Party leader Jesse Klaver said in a letter to party members that no-one should judge others when it comes to love. However, in a close team, you need to be able to trust that everyone is telling the truth, he said. 'This is an unfortunate way to say goodby to two colleagues who have meant so much for the party,' Klaver said.  More >

Call to rethink plan to raise pension age

The government is coming under pressure to revise its schedule to raise the state pension age amid evidence that life expectancy is increasing more slowly than anticipated. The pension age is currently increasing by four months a year and is due to reach 67 by 2021, under plans brought in by the last cabinet. The move was designed to ensure pensions remain affordable as life expectancy and the number of retirement years increases. After 2021 the pension age will be calculated annually based on projected life expectancy, though it will never decrease. However, actuarial research published in the Financieel Dagblad indicates that the average life expectancy may be close to its peak and the increase to 67 could be postponed until 2026 without affecting the economy. 'The idea is that raising the state pension age (AOW-leeftijd) should compensate for the increase in life expectancy,' said actuary Daan Kleinloog. 'If the aim is to ensure that all generations receive their state pension for the same number of years, then it is currently moving too fast.' The research comes as employers and trade unions are negotiating a new pension settlement. A leaked draft published in Dutch media last week indicated that the two sides both wanted to postpone the later retirement age until after 2025.    More >

Putin attacks 'partial' MH17 inquiry again

Russian president Vladimir Putin has gone on the attack against the investigation into the shooting down of Flight MH17, accusing the international joint investigation team of partiality. In an interview broadcast on Austrian television, Putin suggested that the absence of Russian experts in the inquiry meant that his country's point of view was not properly represented. 'All arguments need to be taken into consideration, including Russia's,' he said. 'Justice can only be done if Russian researchers are allowed to take part. 'It is a huge tragedy and it is terrible what the families have gone through, but the investigation must be objective.' Last week Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok stepped up the pressure on Russia to take responsibility for the disaster, after the JIT presented comprehensive evidence showing that the missile which brought down the plane was fired from a mobile launcher transported from the Russian military base in Kursk. In a speech to the UN Security Council in New York, Blok said Russia 'has a duty to cooperate constructively and shed light on the truth, not to obscure it with a continuous fog.' Australia and the Netherlands have formally held Russia liable for the act of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines plane as it flew over the disputed territory of eastern Ukraine in July 2014. All 298 people on board were killed, including 196 Dutch nationals. Russia has steadfastly denied any involvement.  More >