Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

China's President Xi Jinping, left, watches as Dutch King Willem Alexander, center, greets members of the Chinese delegation upon Xi's arrival at Schiphol Amsterdam airport, Netherlands, Saturday March 22, 2014. Xi is on a two-day state visit ahead of the March 24 and 25 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)</p><p>
The Associated Press. China’s President Xi Jinping, left, watches as Dutch King Willem Alexander, center, greets members of the Chinese delegation upon Xi’s arrival at Schiphol Amsterdam airport, Netherlands, Saturday March 22, 2014. Xi is on a two-day state visit ahead of the March 24 and 25 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)
AP / March 22, 2014
AMSTERDAM (AP) — China’s President Xi Jinping has arrived in the Netherlands ahead of next week’s nuclear security summit in The Hague.

It is the first state visit by a Chinese president to the Netherlands. Xi and his wife Peng were met at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport by the Dutch King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima and welcomed with a 21-gun salute. Afterward they were headed to the royal palace on Amsterdam’s central Dam square for dinner with the monarchs.

Amnesty International has organised a protest on the square, calling for attention to human rights abuses in China.

On Sunday, Xi is to address a meeting of 200 Chinese and 200 Dutch industrial leaders at a conference on economic ties.

After the summit ends Tuesday, Xi travels on to Paris, Berlin and Brussels.

© Copyright 2014 Globe Newspaper Company.

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on October 04 2013 12:35 PM

Frozen Amsterdam Canal
Source: Twitter

Austerity measures in debt-ridden European countries have led to much hardship across the continent. Now, under proposals forwarded by the government in the Netherlands, elderly, chronically ill and even disabled Dutch may be required to perform some kind of work in return for health care and social services.

Holland, drastically overhauling its social welfare system under a crushing weight of debt, may compel such vulnerable people to do “voluntary work” in their communities in exchange for benefits, as proposed by Health Minister Martin van Rijn.

“Loneliness could perhaps be overcome if the elderly helped preschool children with language impairments, improve their reading,” read part of the draft legislation, according to the Volkskrant newspaper.

“Or a retired accountant in a wheelchair could help out at the local council’s debt advice service.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron has already lauded the dramatic changes the Dutch have proposed for upending their welfare state and suggesting it as a model for the U.K.

The Daily Telegraph reported that up until now only unemployed people in the Netherlands had been pressured to do community service work in exchange for benefits. Now, the government could empower local councils to ask the elderly and others in an “intrusive manner” to do such work. Each municipality would be free to determine what kind of work they need to be done by the aforementioned groups.

Liane de Haan, the director of Algemene Nederlandse Bond voor Ouderen (ANBO), an organization that represents Dutch senior citizens, generally welcomes the proposal, suggesting the elderly want to work and feel useful.

“Elderly people, who receive care, are not necessarily sick and pathetic. The way some talk about needy seniors places them outside society,” she said. “I think everyone wants to be useful, infirm or not.”

Under the Dutch austerity budget, the amount of money that the government has earmarked to local councils for home care services for 750,000 people was slashed by about €2 billion ($2.7 billion ) to €11.2 billion ($15.2 billion).

A columnist named Carla Wijnmaalen wrote in Dagelijkse Standaard newspaper: “A test for a civilized country is how it treats the weakest among its population. And who is weaker than frail older people? … Martin van Rijn and his Labour Party should be ashamed of this broken and vulgar austerity program.”

But Holland’s King Willem-Alexander announced last month that sweeping changes would be imposed on the government’s budget, hailing the end of the welfare state.

“The classic welfare state of the second half of the 20th century … brought forth arrangements that are unsustainable in their current form,” he said in a televised speech.

The king proposed that the country’s new social contract would involve greater personal responsibility for citizens and less dependency on the state.

“The shift to a ‘participation society’ is especially visible in social security and long-term care,” the king said.

Spending cuts by the government have already been condemned by labor unions and economists, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government is losing popularity. Even with all the cuts in place (including thousands of layoffs in the military), Holland’s budget deficit is expected to climb to 3.3 percent of GDP in 2014, above the EU-mandated 3 percent.

Moreover, Holland’s GDP is expected to contract by 1 percent this year and grow by only 0.5 percent in 2014, Associated Press reported.

“The necessary reforms take time and demand perseverance,” the king said. “[But they will] lay the basis for creating jobs and restoring confidence.”

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The Party of Freedom benefits from Dutch austerity fatigue

The price of recession

GEERT WILDERS, a far-right populist politician, has been stirring up Dutch politics for nearly a decade, but he has never lured many people onto the streets. Unlike more mainstream Dutch parties, Mr Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) has no dues-paying members and propagates its anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic message largely through the media. But on September 21st, the PVV adopted a new tactic, staging a rally in The Hague to demand a halt to the Dutch government’s latest austerity measures.

According to the police, only a thousand demonstrators turned up. But the low turnout belies Mr Wilders’s popularity. With the Dutch public turning against EU-imposed austerity, the coalition government is paralysed. Polls suggest that if elections were held today the PVV, which calls for the Netherlands to block immigration and to withdraw from the euro and the EU, would come first.

This ideological vision has received mixed reviews. But the more pressing problem for Mr Rutte is that it is not clear he can get his budget approved. The increasingly queasy Liberal-Labour coalition has a narrow majority in the Dutch lower house, but not in the Senate. That leaves the government scrambling for the votes of opposition parties, none of which are eager to help. The leaders of two centrist parties have criticised the government’s budget fiercely for raising taxes and failing to invest in education. If it fails in the Senate, that may mean a cabinet reshuffle. Equally, budget defeat could lead to an early election for the third time in four years.

That option should terrify both the Liberals and Labour. After over a year of recession and austerity, polls show confidence in Mr Rutte’s government at a miserable 12%. On the right, small-business owners feel betrayed by a Liberal-led cabinet that has raised value-added tax and imposed a surtax on high incomes. On the left, union members are abandoning a Labour Party that has accepted lay-offs and pay freezes in the public sector.

The big winners of a tough year have been the parties that have consistently opposed austerity, above all the PVV. As the recession drags on, Mr Wilders, a master of political rhetoric, has capitalised on the crisis and austerity fatigue by savaging the EU, which demanded the extra €6 billion effort. Opinion polls now show the PVV getting over 20% of the vote.

The Dutch are a famously thrifty people and their government has been among Europe’s strongest advocates of austerity. But two years of cuts and recession have made a dent in these Calvinist attitudes: fully 80% of the public now thinks austerity is doing more harm than good. Mr Rutte’s unpopularity stems from his attempt to bring the government’s budget into line with the European Commission’s rules. But in order to get the budget passed, he will need to offer big concessions to centrist opposition parties. Should they flinch, the prospect of Mr Wilders winning the next elections ought to focus minds.

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By TOBY STERLING — Associated Press

AMSTERDAM — The animal rights activist whose 2002 assassination of a populist anti-immigration politician plunged the Netherlands into turbulence is eligible for early parole and should be reintegrated into society, a criminal justice agency ruled Wednesday.

An official immediately announced the Justice Department might not enforce the agency’s ruling. Volkert van der Graaf was sentenced to 18 years for shooting Pim Fortuyn dead in what was arguably the first assassination in the country since 1672. As his potential release date approaches, the department has resisted letting him out of prison early, saying it could cause civil unrest and that it may be impossible to keep him safe from vigilantes.

The killing of Fortuyn, a professor and author whose party skyrocketed to popularity on an anti-immigration platform deeply shocked the Dutch. It ushered in a period of unstable governments as Fortuyn’s former supporters swung support to a variety of would-be successors, and a groundswell of sentiment against Muslim immigrants intensified.

Pim Fortuyn

At the time of his conviction, 20 years was the harshest practical sentence for a criminal who was not ruled criminally insane. In line with public sentiment, sentencing possibilities have increased and life sentences are now more common.

Under Dutch rules, prisoners are generally granted parole after serving two-thirds of their sentences. The Council for the Admission of Criminal Justice ruled that Van der Graaf’s rights had priority “over societal unrest and the risks that allowing furloughs may bring.”

Deputy Justice Minister Fred Teeven said that he might ignore the ruling.

“I have to consider it again and go look at the immediate circumstances,” he said.

Fortuyn’s brother Marten said in a statement on behalf of the family that “we presume Teeven will keep his word and see whether any provisional release can be prevented.”

Geert Wilders, the politician who eventually won over the bulk of Fortuyn’s former supporters — and who currently tops national popularity polls, well ahead of Prime Minister Mark Rutte — said that the criminal justice organization is “out of touch with reality.”

“The interest of the Netherlands is that (Van der Graaf) remain behind bars as long as possible,” he said.

At trial, Van der Graaf claimed he saw Fortuyn as a threat to the vulnerable, and compared Fortuyn’s rise in popularity to the rise of Hitler. Closely questioned by judges, Van der Graaf said he wasn’t sure whether what he did was wrong, but he said he would never do it again.

Van der Graaf was married and had a young daughter at the time of Fortuyn’s killing.

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By Matt Steinglass in Amsterdam

Dutch Prime Minister and Liberal party VVD-leader Mark Rutte speaks to members of his party

The Dutch government has postponed the introduction of austerity measures needed to meet EU deficit limits as part of a deal with trade unions and business interests over its 2014 budget.

The so-called social accord, announced on Thursday night, is the latest in a series of retreats from tough austerity policies by a Dutch government that has spent the last several years arguing for budget discipline in Brussels, but now faces a worsening recession at home.

The accord postpones government plans to cut the length of unemployment cover from three years to less than two and to reduce workers’ legal employment protection. It strikes compromises on issues such as reducing tax preferences for pensions and requiring businesses to hire more people with disabilities.

Most significantly, the plan delays until September a decision on whether to implement €4.3bn in tax rises and spending cuts that the government’s own forecasts say are needed to hold the Netherlands’ budget deficit below the EU limit of 3 per cent in 2014.

Mark Rutte, prime minister, said he believed that the accord itself could inspire renewed consumer confidence and improve the economy sufficiently to make deficit cuts unnecessary.

“We hope and expect that if everyone pitches in, and everyone feels that confidence is being created which can lead to a strong economy, we won’t need [the austerity measures],” he said.

This appeared to mark a departure from the government’s previous insistence that the key to restoring consumer confidence was to implement austerity measures and cut the budget deficit.

The new accord is the latest in a series of measures to water down or delay reforms the government announced when it took office in November.

Analysts were unconvinced that it would have a near-term positive effect on the economy.

“It’s wishful thinking,” said Carsten Brzeski an economist at ING, the Dutch banking group. “If it is intended to restore confidence, it is questionable whether changing your programme every two to three months has a positive impact.”

Mr Brzeski questioned whether the European Commission, which must review member states’ budgets in May and June to ensure they comply with deficit limits, would accept the new accord. Olli Rehn, EU budget commissioner, has refrained from imposing sanctions on the Netherlands, despite the country’s violation of the 3 per cent limit this year, but based that decision on his conviction that the government’s reforms were reducing the structural budget deficit in the medium term.

Mr Rutte told Dutch television on Thursday the new accord would raise the annual structural budget deficit by €600m.

The accord stems from negotiations between the government and leaders of the country’s national labour federation, FNV, and of its largest business federation, the VNO-NCW. Such negotiations are a traditional part of the Dutch “polder model” of economic policy making including all stakeholders.

The government was in particular need of a business-labour accord because it lacks a majority in the Dutch Senate. Without national support, it feared it would be unable to pass a budget.

But opposition parties, whose support the government needs in the Senate, criticised the agreement on Friday.

“This is the third time the governing programme has been revised [since the cabinet took office],” said Arie Slob, leader of the Christian Union party. “I don’t know what this cabinet stands for any more.”

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Original Calgary Herald article found here

BY LIBARDO CARDONA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS NOVEMBER 16, 2012
BOGOTA – Tanja Nijmeijer, 34, is a middle-class child of the Netherlands who for the past decade has been mixed up in a Latin American revolution as a jungle fighter, at least once narrowly escaping death in a military bombardment.

And though her current role in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is not exactly clear, Nijmeijer is drawing plenty of attention within the rebel delegation for peace talks that are set to begin Monday in Havana.

Colombian government officials privately grumble that Nijmeijer, the only known rebel fighter from outside Latin America, will be an unwelcome distraction at the talks on ending a half-century-old conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Nijmeijer is expected to play some sort of a public relations role, putting an international face on a peasant-based movement with no fluent English speakers in its top ranks.

“They say I’m here because I’ve been in the FARC for 10 years, am a guerrilla and speak English. I can translate our documents. That’s useful,” the Dutch newspaper Trouw quoted her as saying in an interview published last weekend.

Her PR value to the insurgents was evident in a YouTube music video the FARC released early this month to mark her arrival in Cuba. In it, she raps with other rebels, then sings and strums guitar in a ballad honouring slain former FARC field marshal Jorge Briceno.

“She is going to be a very useful woman,” said Jorge Enrique Botero, an independent Colombian journalist who first met her in 2003, a year after she joined the Western Hemisphere’s oldest active insurgency. “She is physically very strong and is full of political conviction, which is reflected in each and every one of her words.”

A former Romance language major, she speaks German, French and Italian in addition to English, Spanish and her native Dutch, he says. She also has apparently plunged fully into some of the FARC’s more controversial activities: shaking down businesses, setting bombs and helping hold hostages.

Nijmeijer is wanted for arrest in Colombia on rebellion charges but that warrant was suspended during the peace talks at the government’s request, said Colombia’s chief prosecutor, Eduardo Montealegre.

The United States has not, however, lifted an arrest warrant that names her as a co-conspirator in the hostage-holding of three U.S. military contractors who were captive for five years until their 2008 rescue along with former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Five months after the Americans’ single-engine surveillance plane crashed in rebel territory after a mechanical failure, Nijmeijer served as their translator when they were interviewed by Botero for a proof-of-life video.

Nijmeijer first visited Colombia in 2000 on a work-exchange program after writing her thesis on the FARC at the University of Groningen in her homeland. She taught English to well-heeled children at a private school in the western city of Pereira.

Nijmeijer’s politics also were shaped by her experience volunteering almost daily in a shantytown near Pereira.

“Colombia was the turning point,” a college friend who worked with Nijmeijer in Colombia told The Associated Press in 2007.

“She was so shocked by the gap between the rich and poor and was determined to do something about it,” added the friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to violate Nijmeijer’s family’s desire for privacy.

Nijmeijer joined the FARC, which the United States and European Union classify as a terrorist organization, in October 2002 and was assigned to an urban cell in Bogota. Soon after, according to Botero, who wrote a biography of Nijmeijer, she was soliciting “war taxes” from merchants in the capital.

When the owners of a sportswear company refused to pay, Nijmeijer and another rebel set off a bomb in their warehouse at night, he said.

Court documents obtained by the AP describe various crimes allegedly committed by Nijmeijer in Bogota: “the bombing of the Kennedy police station, arson attacks on the Transmilenio (public bus system)” and on two major supermarkets, Makro and Exito.

None of the documents speak of casualties — a fact she noted in the interview with Trouw, the Dutch newspaper.

“Nobody was killed or injured in the attack on a bus. Other attacks, on companies that refused to pay revolutionary taxes, always happened in the middle of the night. I am 100 per cent sure that no civilians ever died.”

She also defended FARC kidnapping and extortion.

“People who don’t pay their taxes to the state go to jail. People who don’t pay our revolutionary tax go to our jail. That’s what they call kidnapping, though we’ve decided not to do it any longer.”

“As far as attacks are concerned: We’re an army,” she added. “We use weapons and those weapons kill.”

Nijmeijer first met celebrity in 2007 when Colombian soldiers found a diary, written in Dutch, in a rebel camp the military had bombed. The author was disillusioned, sarcastic.

“I am tired, tired of the FARC, tired of these people, tired of the communal life. Tired of never having anything for myself,” Nijmeijer wrote in the diary, which Colombia’s then-Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, who is now its president, disseminated with delight.

Santos said the diary should discourage any thoughts abroad that the FARC’s struggle is heroic.

“In certain circles in Europe the romantic image persists that the rebels are like Robin Hood, or ‘Che’ Guervara, fighting against evil for the good of the poor,” Santos said. “Nijmeijer fell into that trap.”

She described the FARC’s commanders, all men, as materialistic and corrupt and complained about their strict discipline — no smoking, no phone calls, no romantic relationships without their consent.

People speculated that she’d be punished, perhaps even executed for insubordination.

Terrified, members of her immediate family travelled to Colombia to seek her out and try to talk her into leaving.

She refused.

The next time she was heard from publicly was in 2010, when Botero released a video interview of her in a rebel camp in which she defiantly professes allegiance to the FARC.

“Just come and try to ‘free’ me and we’ll receive you here with AK (Kalashnikov rifles), with .50 (calibremachine-guns), she says, dressed in olive green fatigues and cradling an assault rifle.

She was by then under the command of the top FARC commander Briceno, who would be killed in a September 2010 military bombardment that Nijmeijer survived.

Nijmeijer told Botero last year that she could hear Briceno yelling to his aide after the first few bombing runs to get his fighters out of the camp.

And then both were silenced.

___

Associated Press Writers Michael Corder in the Hague and Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

Original DutchNews article found here.

Friday 09 November 2012

The new Dutch coalition is set to drop its controversial plan to make health insurance premiums income-related after an unprecedented backlash from supporters and party elders.

Prime minister Mark Rutte, ministers and senior coalition party officials held crisis talks on Thursday night as the row over the plan showed no sign of abating.

Although no-one would comment on leaving the talks, Nos television says its sources have indicated changes are on the way. There were ‘far-reaching’ talks about the ‘political reality,’ social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher said.

Income tax

The talks continued on Friday and most media outlets agree the insurance premium plan is set to be ditched or heavily amended. A number of options are doing the rounds but sources say nothing has yet been decided.

‘We are still in talks,’ health minister Edith Schippers told Nos television.

It became clear early on Thursday evening that the two ruling parties – the right-wing VVD and Labour party PvdA – wanted to find a solution to the dispute and that several options were on the table, Nos television says.

Disposable income

The plans to increase health insurance premiums in line with income would have led to around one in six households seeing their disposable income cut by over 5%. In particular the VVD was overwhelmed with protests and support for the party slumped in recent polls.

Opposition leaders also made it clear they would not vote in favour of the plan in the senate. The coalition does not have majority support in the upper house of parliament.
The lower house is due to debate the new government’s plans with ministers on Tuesday.

Original Reuters article found here.

Thu, Nov 1 2012

AMSTERDAM, Nov 1 (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, one of the few European Union leaders to survive an election during the euro zone crisis, has agreed to form a pro-EU, pro-austerity coalition with his close rival, Labour, following the general election on Sept. 12.

As one of the few AAA-rated euro zone countries, the Netherlands is expected to remain committed to a policy of fiscal discipline and remaining a close ally of Germany.

COALITION AGREEMENT

Rutte and Labour leader Diederik Samsom reached a coalition deal much faster than expected after the election, and agreed to budget cuts amounting to 16 billion euros ($20.76 billion) over the next four years, and structural reforms including a reduction in tax breaks on home loans.

What to watch:

– Whether both the lower and upper houses of parliament pass the budget cuts.

EURO ZONE CRISIS

The Netherlands is expected to remain committed to tight fiscal policies to tackle the euro zone’s debt crisis. Like other euro zone countries, it must approve an EU fiscal treaty which will enshrine balanced budget rules in national law.

Parliament, which has been critical of euro zone bailouts in the past, has supported all such measures so far. Rutte said in his election campaign he would not give more money to Greece, while Samsom said Greece should be given more time to reform.

What to watch:

– Political and public support for euro zone bailouts

BUDGET DEFICIT

The 2013 budget, agreed by an ad hoc coalition in April after Rutte’s government fell, aims to bring the deficit down to 2.7 percent of GDP with 12 billion euros in tax rises and spending cuts.

The additional 16 billion euros in budget cuts are expected to bring the deficit down to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2017, according to the CPB, the state agency charged with assessing government economic policy.

What to watch:

– Implementation of agreed budget cuts

– Support for other reforms and spending cuts

– Strikes or protests over budget cuts

SOCIAL POLICIES

The Dutch are divided over immigration and the country’s international profile. The new government is expected to backtrack on some anti-immigration policies which were promoted by populist politician Geert Wilders and try to improve the country’s image overseas.

But according to the new coalition agreement, clothing that covers the face such as Muslim veils will be banned in schools, hospitals, public transport and government buildings. Anyone who wears such clothing, or who does not speak Dutch, will not be entitled to receive social security.

 

Original DutchNews article here

Wednesday 13 July 2011

 

A new dress code for the police includes a ban on religious symbols such as crosses and headscarves, the Nederlands Dagblad reports on Wednesday.

 

The code emphasises that the police are there for all citizens and obvious religious affiliations are not desirable, the paper says. Instead, the aim is for ‘lifestyle neutrality’.

 

Large tattoos and unusual piercings are also no longer acceptable because they could frighten or intimidate people. Police officers with large tattoos will have to cover them up.

 

The new requirements have been around for some time but their implementation was delayed by the collapse of the previous government and objections from police unions, the paper says.

 

Originally, the new dress code was to have been enshrined in law but union objections led to the creation of a code of conduct instead. The unions were keen to ensure flexibility in the rules and ‘some room for officers’ own identities,’ a spokesman said.

 

 

find original DutchNews article here

Friday 17 June 2011

A majority of council members in Maastricht wants to keep coffee shops open, reports news service ANP.

Of the 39 council members, 21 are in favour of keeping coffee shops open and building more of them on the city outskirts. They say that spreading out the establishments is the most effective way of dealing with any nuisance caused, says ANP.

Labour MP Lea Bouwmeester is asking justice minister for permission for Maastricht to carry out its plans. Venlo moved its coffee shops to the edge of town five years ago and it has been a success, she told ANP.