Rutte says foreign minister can stay in job despite controversial comments

Foreign minister Stef Blok can continue in the job, despite his controversial comments about migration and multicultural communities, prime minister Mark Rutte said on Friday. ‘If you make a mistake, then you have to correct it, and that is what he has done,’ Rutte said after his weekly press conference. Blok has had contact with his Polish and Czech counterparts to explain some of his comments and this is enough for him to continue his job, Rutte said. ‘If you make a mistake and your correct it, that is valued,’ he said. ‘And that does not get in the way of effective foreign policy.’ In  his comments, made to a closed meeting of Dutch workers at international organisations, Blok suggested that black people in Eastern Europe were constantly beaten up. Apology On Thursday 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. 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.  More >

Longer sentences for 'ghetto' crooks: VVD

People from problem neighbourhoods who commit crimes should face double the penalties of people living elsewhere and parents should be forced to send their children to daycare so they learn Dutch language and culture, says former junior justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff in the AD. Dijkhoff, who currently leads the VVD in parliament, said in an interview with the paper that integration has 'failed' and that he believes the Netherlands is failing to give people the freedom they should have. Dijkhoff was referring to families in which women are treated as second-class citizens and in which children start school without speaking proper Dutch, the paper said. 'We are not a free country if that freedom is not for everyone,' Dijkhoff told the paper. The AD says his ideas are based on measures being taken in Denmark to prevent ghetto forming. He wants the cabinet to draw up a list of areas where the non-western immigrant population tops 50% and where unemployment and crime are high. Dijkhoff said he also backed the introduction of compulsory lessons in 'democratic values and traditions', saying that people who do not cooperate should face benefit cuts. Discrimination The VVD MP also backs a wide-ranging debate about discrimination in the jobs market. 'A Turkish worker standing at the coffee machine should not have to take responsibility for demonstrators who happen to look like him,' he said. 'And we all listen to those bad taste jokes which are made but really shouldn't be. We have to be able to discuss these things,' the ex-minister said. The cabinet's current plans, he said, do not go far enough. 'The government already gets involved with families but by then it is too late,' he said. If the shift involves a focus on assimilation rather than integration then so be it, Dijkhoff told the paper. If there is not enough support for his ideas within the cabinet, Dijkhoff told the AD he will introduce his own draft legislation for debate in parliament.  More >

'Budget will make NL stronger, safer'

Finance minister Wopke Hoekstra told MPs on Tuesday afternoon that government policy in the coming years is aimed at making the country 'stronger, safer and more prosperous' The minister was outlining the government's strategy, following the official opening of the parliamentary year by king Willem-Alexander. 'Our current wealth is no guarantee for prosperity in the future,' Hoekstra told MPs. This is why the government is investing in society, and boosting spending power for citizens, the finance minister said. Macro-economic The economic substance of the government's plans leaked out earlier. Hoekstra forecasts an average rise in spending power of 1.5%, that the economy will grow 2.6% and that the structural budget deficit will reach 0.4% of GDP, just above the 0.5% limit set down in eurozone regulations. Despite the rosy picture, the minister warned his audience about stormy waters ahead in the shape of trade wars and Brexit which, he said, 'threatens our exports, our jobs and our wallets'. Prime minister Speaking after Hoekstra's presentation, prime minister Mark Rutte confirmed that the government will press ahead with the controversial plans to scrap the dividend tax, despite the fact only 11% of the population support it. 'The worry is that a couple of the biggest Dutch companies may leave and we have to prevent that,' Rutte said. If those companies do leave, the prime minister said, 'jobs, innovation and the stock exchange' would all be affected.' Vandaag presenteer ik een begroting die Nederland sterker, veiliger en welvarender maakt. Die ons voorbereidt op de toekomst. Die ons voorbereidt op het verwachte - en op het onverwachte. Door te investeren in onderwijs, infrastructuur, veiligheid en defensie. #Prinsjesdag2018 — Wopke Hoekstra (@WBHoekstra) September 18, 2018 Parliament will debate the government's plans on Wednesday and Friday. will publish a full list of the main points of the budget on Wednesday morning.  More >

Good news budget? Most don't believe it

The third Mark Rutte-led Dutch government will publish its first budget on Tuesday, after the outgoing coalition brought out a holding budget last year. Much of the economic forecast has already been leaked and most of the substance will have been included in last year's coalition agreement. Nevertheless, the budget presentation is an opportunity for the government to put its own stamp clearly on policy for 2019 and beyond. Despite leaked assurances that nearly everyone will have more to spend next year, over three-quarters of the population simply don't believe it, according to a new poll by current affairs programme EenVandaag. The drive to boost spending power is one of the government's key themes but, the survey shows, just 17% of those polled believe that their own spending power will go up in 2019. 'The increase in value added tax (btw), rising rents, rising energy bills... no pay rise can keep pace with that,' one respondent told EenVandaag. In particular people on low incomes are concerned - just 6% believe the government's assurances of having more disposable cash. King The Prinsjesdag rituals – including the king’s speech to open the new parliamentary year – are enshrined in the Dutch constitution and will take place as they always do. That means king Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima will travel to the parliamentary complex in the heart of the The Hague in a horse-drawn coach. There the king will address the members of the upper and lower houses of parliament, plus the diplomatic corps, and outline the government’s plans for the coming year in the grand setting of the Knights Hall. Later, finance minister Wopke Hoekstra will brief parliament on the country's economic prospects. MPs will start their debate on the government's plans on Wednesday and continue on Friday, rather than Thursday because the prime minister has to attend an EU summit. In the weeks thereafter, each individual ministry budget will be scrutinised and debated. What has been leaked: 95% of the population will have an average of 1.5% more to spend People on social security benefits will see a 0.9% increase, the average rise is 1.5% The economy will grow by 2.5% in 2019 Unemployment will continue to fall The state debt will dip under 50% of GDP Brexit could cost the Netherlands 1% to 2% of GDP The budget surplus will hit €10bn, but the structural deficit will drop to 0.4% More money will be spend on education, defence, security and the infrastructure The government forecasts a monthly rise of 10% in health insurance premiums The 15% tax on dividends will be scrapped, costing an estimated €1.9bn Corporation tax will be lowered from 25% to 22.24%, rather than 21% to pay for the dividend tax cut Announced earlier and implemented in 2019 The number of tax bands will be reduced to two - almost 37% up to €68,507 and 49.5% for all income above that. Home owners who have almost or entirely paid off their mortgage will again have to pay tax on the value of their property - more details are expected today The 30% ruling for international workers will be cut from eight to five years. We will find out today if there will be a transition period after all. The low rate of value-added tax (btw) which applies to food and entertainment will go up from 6% to 9% The rules for having a company bike will be simplified. Users will have to add 7% of the value of their bike to their income for tax purposes What we won't hear: Broadcaster NOS states that nothing will be said about efforts to reform the pension system, which the government is keen to carry out but which are bogged down in talks between unions and employers. Nor will there be any comment on the cost of the recent climate agreement because many of the measures needed to phase out the use of natural gas in the Netherlands are still being worked out in talks involving various interest groups. 'Both the climate and pension are very complicated issues,' NOS correspondent Xander van der Wulp said. 'The cabinet does not want to impose its will but hopes the talks will result in something.'  More >