Senate opens door to elected mayors, D66 celebrate win

The Dutch senate has voted in favour of a plan to remove the way mayors are named from the constitution, a measure which clears the way for the introduction of elected mayors. The measure, proposed by coalition party D66, managed to win the necessary two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional change. Senators from the Labour party, the fundamentalist Christian SGP and the independent OSF voted against the move. Currently mayors in the Netherlands are technically crown appointees and nominated by the local authority they will represent after behind-the-scenes meetings. The door is now open to some form of elected mayor, either by a straight vote in the municipality or, for example, by allowing the biggest party on the council to fill the role. Earlier this month the Volkskrant reported that while support for the Labour party (PvdA) may have collapsed at last year’s general election, the party continues to dominate when it comes to new mayoral and other official appointments. So far this year, 11 Labour party supporters have been named as mayors, the same number as for the right-wing Liberal VVD and well above the number of D66 (7) and CDA (6) appointments. The issue of how to elect mayors is likely to be a dominant theme in the run up to next March's provincial council elections. In addition, D66 leader Rob Jetten will use it to show that his party is in favour of administrative renewal, despite voting to phase out advisory referendums.  More >

Dutch government faces a busy year

The 'yellow vest' protest movement may have failed to take off in the Netherlands so far, but the Dutch government does face a number of challenges in 2019 - not least of all two important elections. Support for the four coalition parties is down sharply on March 2017, when the current government was elected, and the cabinet is unlikely to have a majority in the upper house of parliament after this year's provincial and senate votes. This, commentators say, make it all the more important that the government start delivering tangible results in 2019. 'Up to now, the lack of results can be explained by the need to gather widespread support ... but that excuse becomes less actual, the longer the cabinet has been in office,' wrote Trouw in an editorial on Monday. 'There is no time to lose for this cabinet.' NOS political correspondent Ron Frensen says that 2019 is the year in which the cabinet must make real progress and tackle issues such as climate change and bogus self-employment which have provided ministers with headaches this year. 'This is an election year in which citizens must finally benefit from economic growth,' wrote Elsevier in its last issue of the year. 'But while the energy transition still has to begin, the coalition is already worried about rising energy bills. Will ministers opt for Paris or the middle class?' The main issues on the political agenda in 2019 Coping with the shortage of skilled workers: The Dutch unemployment rate has fallen below 4% and some sectors of the economy are suffering from a serious shortage of staff. The construction sector in particular has been hard hit - threatening plans to build tens of thousands of new homes. Several primary schools have introduced a four-day week because of the shortage of teachers. Reforming the pension system: talks between unions and employers on reforming the Dutch pension system broke down in November and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees is now coming up with his own plan. Experts believe that the Dutch pension system – a combination of a state pension (AOW) and corporate pension schemes – needs to be reformed because the aging population is putting more pressure on the current pension system and pension funds are having to pay out to more people for longer. Stamping out fake self-employment: The cabinet was not successful in efforts to stamp out bogus self-employment in 2018 - a strategy often used by companies to employ people on freelance contracts without holiday and pension rights. New proposals are on the cards in 2019. Plans to introduce a system whereby freelancer contracts which include a low hourly rate are automatically turned into a regular contracts – if they run for more than three months - have fallen foul of EU legislation. Boosting the financial security of freelancers: As yet there is no agreement on whether freelancers should be required by law to contribute to a pension scheme or disability insurance scheme. The government has commissioned research on the pros and cons in 2019. Tackling climate change and reducing the use of natural gas: the five working parties coming up with proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the Netherlands finally published their plans on December 21. The plans were immediately slammed by critics for giving industry and easy ride and making tax payers pick up the bill. Even economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, who is in charge of the process, has said the agreement is ‘not definitive’ but an ‘important first step’. In particular, the decision to phase out the use of natural gas in private homes has come under fire at a time when the Netherlands' neighbouring countries are upping their use of gas. Opening Lelystad airport: Plans to open Lelystad airport to commercial air traffic took further knocks in 2018 and this is now unlikely to happen in 2020 as planned. It is becoming 'increasingly complicated', transport minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen said last month. European and provincial elections: Elections for the 12 provincial governments take place on March 20 - provincial councillors will then elect the senate on May 27 and it is very unclear whether or not the government will be able to cling on to its majority. In particular, right wing newcomer Forum voor Democracie, is likely to win seats from the established parties. The European elections take place on May 23. The Netherlands currently has 26 seats but this will go up to 29 in May. The total number of seats in the European parliament will be cut from 751 to 701 after the election, because of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.  More >

Asylum campaign group returns from Greece

Refugee children on the Syrian border. Dutch campaigners who drove overland to Greece to pick up 150 refugees from the country's refugee camps are returning back to the Netherlands empty handed. Organiser Rikko Voorberg from the We Gaan Ze Halen (We will bring them back) group told Dutch radio that the Greek authorities did not respond to requests for a meeting. They had planned to bring the refugees back to the Netherlands in a fleet of some 30 cars. ‘We have always said we hoped for a miracle and it did not happen,’ Voorberg said. ‘What has happened is that the relocation of refugees is back at the top of the political agenda.’ Junior immigration minister Mark Harders said before the group left for Greece that any refugees they picked up would be sent back because they have to request asylum in the first European country they arrive in.   More >

Climate agreement finally published

After nine months of talks, the 300 organisations, lobby groups and private individuals taking part in round-table climate talks have drawn up a 200 plus page report outlining ways the Netherlands can cut carbon dioxide emissions. Five separate groups have been working on the plans, covering mobility, electricity, industry, agriculture and the built environment. The aim is to reduce CO2 emissions by 49% in 2030, compared with 1990. The presentation on Friday, however, was marred by environmental groups and the FNV trade union refusing to sign the agreement. Green groups are angry that industry won't face a carbon tax, and the FNV says the impact on low income households will be too great. Opposition MPs are also critical and environment minister Eric Wiebes said on Friday that the agreement is 'not definitive’ but an ‘important first step’. In particular, the cabinet will look closely at the impact of the measures on income. ‘If people are going to be faced with high costs and investments, then we have a problem,’ he said. ‘Everyone has to be able to participate.’ The main measures: By 2021 all local authorities should have briefed home owners and landlords when each of their neighbourhoods will be cut off from the gas supply By 2030, some 1.5 million homes and buildings should be properly insulated and gas-free Homeowners faced with large bills for insulation will be able to get a special loan which is attached to the house. The outstanding loan will remain with the house and its new owner if they move Homeowners will also be able to apply for subsidies - €100m to €150m will be available per year The tax on natural gas will go up. Low-income households will get extra help over a four year period Housing corporations must start making their properties durable at a rate of 30,000 to 50,000 a year Private landlords will have to beef up the insulation and change the form of heating for their own properties. Rents in the future will partly depend on the energy rating a property has In 2021 people buying an electric car costing under €60,000 will be able to get a subsidy of €6,000. This will go down by €400 a year until it hits €2,200 in 2030 The cost of buying a diesel or petrol car will go up from 2021, as will the tax on petrol and diesel No new petrol or diesel cars may be sold in the Netherlands from 2030 Industry will face higher energy taxes and the 350 biggest polluters will be have to make plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Companies which fail to to this will be fine and the money put into a fund to pay for CO2-reducing projects Coal and gas-fired power stations will face a tax on CO2 emissions, but not as high as agreed in the coalition agreement All coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands will be shut by 2030 The number of wind and solar farms will be expanded Economist Rick van der Ploeg told the Volkskrant that even though heavy industry is the biggest polluter, it will largely escape sanctions. He too backs the introduction of a tax on CO2. Van der Ploeg, a professor at Oxford University, told the paper that the government's strategy is a 'disaster'. 'If I was in the Netherlands, I would be protesting,' the former Labour minister said. 'The subsidies for heavy industry will be paid by the man in the street via the energy tax and other tax increases,' he said. 'Carbon pricing is not only cheaper, but you can do good things with the proceeds.' Regrettable Ankie Broekers-Knol, a VVD senator and current leader of the upper house of parliament, told the Telegraaf that she considers the climate agreement to be 'regrettable'. It is not only undemocratic, but puts too much weight on the shoulder of the ordinary man, she told the paper.  More >