The Netherlands is strong, but more people should feel benefits, says king

The Netherlands is a strong country but more people should feel that things are going well, king Willem-Alexander said on on Tuesday, as he outlined the government’s agenda for the next year to MPs and senators. It is, the king said, 75 years ago that the Netherlands was liberated and the country which has been built up since then is a strong one, thanks to its democratic values, its healthcare, its education and the fact that people have roof over their heads. 'The government wants to further improve this strong land,' the king said. 'The economic values are right and in 2019 the economy will grow for the sixth year in a row.' 'This is therefore the time to decide what direction we should take,' the king said. 'To make choices that afford us room to manoeuvre and give us security, both in the here-and-now and for future generations. More people should have a tangible sense that things are going well: at home, at work and in their neighbourhood.' 'Building a close-knit society is a matter for everyone in our country. Let us be clear: many things are going well. The Netherlands is a country of volunteers, churches and associations which joins together to celebrate special sporting achievements and national holidays,' he said. 'But where things are going less well, the government intends to take action. That can’t be done with a single programme or Act of Parliament, since a close-knit society involves all policy areas and all tiers of government.   I love my city. #prinsjesdag @thehague. — Carrie Ballard (@AtelierEnglish) September 18, 2018 The king went on to outline some of the measures the government is planning to make, all of which were already included the coalition agreement or which have been published since then. The integration system will be overhauled and refugees will be encouraged to learn Dutch and work as soon as they arrive. The paternity and maternity leave systems will be expanded, the tax system reformed and the dividend tax will be scrapped 'to make the Netherlands more attractive for both large and small firms.' 'We aim to reward genuine business activity and to only welcome those companies that contribute to our economy. Action will therefore be taken to combat tax avoidance mechanisms such as shell companies,' the king continued. In terms of Europe, the king said 2019 will be an 'intense year' with the appointment of a new European Commission and 'an unpredictable Brexit'. 'The Dutch government will continue promoting a positive agenda for a better EU which concentrates on the essentials and sticks to its agreements,' he said. 'Together we need to deepen the single market and strengthen the single currency. Together we must stand up for the rule of law.' Believe Dutch King just dissed @POTUS @realDonaldTrump: we believe in free trade, against tariffs and other trade barriers. Go @MinPres! Go @willemalex #Prinsjesdag #Troonrede — Lousewies v d Laan (@LousewiesvdLaan) September 18, 2018 'Membership of the EU makes our country stronger in a world where power relationships are shifting and old alliances can no longer be taken for granted,' the king said. 'It is in the Netherlands’ interest that Europe continue standing up collectively for global free trade and against the threat of import tariffs and other trade barriers.' The cabinet also recognises that with just 76 seats, that it cannot rely on broad majority support. 'But in the Netherlands we have a long tradition of working together, step by step, to make our strong country even stronger,' the king said. 'The government wants to continue that tradition, together with you and with everyone in our country. Read the full official translation of the speech in English  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 >

Mark Rutte is best and worst minister

A majority of Dutch voters have no confidence in the current coalition government and prime minister Mark Rutte tops the list of both best and worst ministers, according to the traditional budget day poll carried out by IPSOS for broadcaster NOS. Some 54% say they have no faith in the government in general, but that figure rises to 70% in the north, where unemployment and subsidence caused by gas extraction remain major issues. When asked why they have no confidence in the government, 31% cited its income policy, 22% the scandals which have surrounded ministers and 19% the controversial decision to scrap the tax on dividends. Healthcare remains the most important issue on the agenda, followed by care of the elderly and immigration. Last year 25% said they considered immigration to be a key issue, but that has now risen to 31%. The poll also looked at the government's plans to stop the use of natural gas in private homes by 2030 and ban the sale of petrol and diesel-driven cars that same year. Around one third were in favour, one third opposed and one third neutral on the plans, Ipsos found. However, 'as soon as people have pick up the bill, their enthusiasm fades,' researcher Sjoerd van Heck said. Ministers The performance of politicans also came on board. Prime minister Mark Rutte tops the list of best minister with 10% support, followed by his two deputies - farm minister Carola Schouten and health minister Hugo de Jonge. Over half of those polled said they did not have an opinion about the best performer. But Rutte also tops the list of worst minister with 34% of the vote. He is joined by foreign affairs minister Stef Blok (27%) and economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes at the bottom of that ranking. The poll also showed that just 21% support the concept of a Nexit, or the Netherlands following Britain and leaving the European Union.  More >

Dutch firm to recycle babies' nappies

Waste processing plant ARN is building a separate facility for recycling babies’ nappies in an initiative supported by 8 local councils in the Nijmegen region. Babies use around 5,000 nappies until they are potty trained, with half a million nappy wearing children each year, sustainability advisor Milieu Centraal has calculated. More elderly are people are using incontinence pads as well. The process involves placing the nappies in a reactor which reaches temperature of up to 250 degrees at high pressure. ‘The nappies, including their contents of urine and faecal matter, become liquid and separate into different materials,' process developer and patent holder Willem Elsinga told broadcaster NOS. 'The high temperature gets rid of the bacteria, traces of medication and viruses so all the products we make from the diapers will be safe. Otherwise we couldn’t sell them,’ the broadcaster quotes him as saying. The plant will turn the diapers into four products: green gas, plastics, fertiliser and biomass, which Elsinga says, can be used as an alternative for coal to fire coal plants. An earlier initiative to recycle diapers in Arnhem ten years ago failed. According to Elsinga that experiment came too early. ‘Everything has to be right: enough diapers, affordable technology and a market that is ready for the products at the end of the line.’ But now local councils are trying to reduce the amount of left-over waste after traditional glass, paper and plastics recycling. ‘We are producing between 150 and 200 kilos of residual waste per head of the population and local councils are keen on separate waste collection. This sort of thing fits in perfectly,’ Elsinga told NOS. If all goes according to plan, the new plant will come into operation in December.  More >

Amsterdam alderman fed up with Airbnb

Amsterdam's housing alderman Laurence Ivens has accused online holiday rentals company Airbnb of not doing enough to combat illegal letting and has threatened not to renew an agreement the city has had with the platform since 2013. Some 20,000 homes were on offer on the rental site this year, a rise of 500 on 2017, despite council efforts to bring holiday rentals under control. The city's agreement with Airbnb on stamping out illegal rentals expires at the end of this year, and Ivens says the American company must do more. Research by local broadcaster AT5 showed that it is still easy for people living in rent-controlled properties to put their homes up for hire by tourists, even though this is illegal. Nor does Airbnb stop people from renting out their homes for three times the permitted 60 days a year by posting their ad multiple times, the documentary claims. The only way officials can check if the law is being broken is to send out inspectors, Ivens said. This is time-consuming and not effective because it needs to be repeated day in, day out, Ivens said. He is now going to increase the number of inspectors to 80. Amsterdam home owners can rent out their property through holiday rental platforms for no more than 60 days a year and to no more than four people at one time. Landlords also have to register each let with the city council. Next January the maximum period for rentals will be cut to 30 days and officials are also looking at bringing in total bans in the busiest parts of the city. Fines People caught breaking the rules can be fined €6,000 for a first offence, mounting to €20,000 for repeated illegal rentals. City officials handed out 148 fines in the first six months of this year and closed 61 apartments which were being rented out illegally to too many people. Laurens told AT5 that he is happy to sit with Airbnb to work out a new deal. 'I am happy to meet them and see if we can come up with a tighter deal, and it is up to them if they want to serve the city,' he said. 'But I am not going to continue like this,' Ivens told the broadcaster. Amsterdam signed its first pioneering agreement on limiting rentals with Airbnb in 2014. has approached Airbnb for comment.  More >

New 4 km motorway will cost €1.2bn

Building work on a controversial new four-kilometer motorway linking Vlaardingen with Rozenburg and providing a shortcut to the port of Rotterdam has been kicked off by infrastructure minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen. The new A24 includes a tunnel underneath the river Scheur which separates the two towns, shortening travel time to four minutes instead of half an hour, the minister said. The project will cost €1.2bn and users will pay a toll until the €316m of the investment has been earned back. It will open in 2024. Rotterdam port, the transport sector and businesses have welcomed the new motorway. ‘Accessibility is key,’ infrastructure director of the port Ronald Paul told the Volkskrant. ‘The port not only needs to be accessed via waterways and rail but also by road.’ Paul also said the new road will relieve congestion on the A15. ‘Predictions are that if the decision hadn’t been made by 2025 the morning rush hour will merge into the evening rush hour. Every half hour spent in a traffic jam costs money,’ VK quotes him as saying. However, ANWB traffic information manager Arnoud Broekhuis says an extra tunnel link is welcome but may not prove a long-term solution. ‘It makes the traffic network more robust. Now, if the A15 is blocked everybody is stuck. But whether it will prevent traffic jams remains to be seen.’ Bearded reedlings On the other side of the Scheur, people are less contented. The new road will skirt a recreational area and cut through the Rietputten nature reserve, home to populations of bitterns, bluethroats and bearded reedlings. Objections by environmental organisations were rejected by the Council of State in June.  More >

Bio-kerosene plant may open in NL

The Netherlands is on the verge of getting its first factory to produce bio-kerosene, an alternative fuel to tradition kerosene and made out of biomass, the AD said on Tuesday. A location for the plant has not yet been confirmed but Groningen is on the shortlist, the paper said. The plans have been confirmed by Maarten van Dijk, director of SkyNRG, which will build the factory. 'We are in the last phase of selecting the location and suppliers. I think that we will be able to reveal more at the end of this year or beginning of the next,' he told the paper. Rotterdam and Amsterdam are being considered as alternative locations. Airline KLM is a important shareholder in SkyNRG and has also confirmed that plans for the factory are being made. The airline currently imports bio-kerosine from Los Angeles and it uses the fuel mainly on its fights to the American east coast. The AD says there are no other bio-kerosines plants in north-west Europe and that the investment will create a large number of jobs. Pollution Passenger air traffic is currently responsible for between 2% and 3% of global carbon-dioxide emissions, but in the Netherlands, the figure is 7%, the AD said. Bio-kerosine is made from leftovers from the timber and agricultural industries, as well as the food processing industry. Wageningen University said earlier this year that bio-kerosene is a potentially important option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector. However, the price is two to three times that of ordinary kerosene and 'the direct and indirect effects... on the aviation sector and the Dutch economy as a whole depend to a large extent on how the additional costs of biokerosene will be funded,' University researchers said.  More >