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Nigel Cassidy in Rotterdam, BBC News

The once-model Dutch economy is “now underwater economically”

Maureen Wachtels is trying to relax by making a Victoria sponge in her small but pristine central Rotterdam flat.

For a few moments, the whole process of sifting, mixing and baking helps take her mind off her personal plight.

Not only has she lost a well-paid and enjoyable job because of a life-threatening illness, she is also one of about a million Dutch people who suddenly find themselves in negative equity.

Maureen needs to move to sheltered accommodation as soon as possible. Yet she has only had one offer for her flat, way short of the 200,000 euros that she paid just two years ago.

But this is not just a story of over-optimistic lenders who tempted the Dutch to pile into property in the mistaken assumption that it would continue to rise in value.

The housing dam has broken. Holland is sitting on some 650bn euros in mortgage loans, with many properties worth 25% less than they were before the financial crisis.

No other EU consumers are as deeply in debt. The bursting of the Netherlands real estate bubble is now on a scale only previously seen in the United States and Spain.

‘We can’t sell’

Worst of all, it is endangering banks and jobs – stalling the longed-for recovery that is starting to emerge in neighbouring north European countries.

And all this in a country that until recently was seen as an exemplary economy – one that was quick to criticise others in Europe for not living within their means. The irony is not lost on Dutch citizens.

Maureen Wachtels in her kitchen in her Rotterdam apartment
Maureen says her flat is now worth much less than she paid for it

What remains one of the most open and competitive countries in the eurozone finds itself busting EU deficit limits and having to rapidly impose painful state austerity measures on its people against the clock.

For Maureen Wachtels, it is a surprising turn of events because she thought she was being frugal.

When she was in the market to buy, she borrowed some 200,000 euros, but was told she could borrow almost 500,000 euros – and many did just that.

“We were all forced to buy because at the time there didn’t seem to be any property to rent. Now we are stuck with houses we can’t sell,” she says.

“I never expected that in just two years my asking price would come down from over 200,000 euros to 179,000.

“All I have is an offer for 153,000 euros which I have sent to the bank – but they have not responded.”

She has advised her children to decline their inheritance on her death – because otherwise they could be stuck with her unexpected debts which will total some 35,000 euros.

Tax breaks

The estate agent handling the sale, Dennis Stellio, principal of Match Makelaars in Rotterdam, says the price falls are a good thing – not least because a return to affordability has revived the previously moribund rental market.

Despite this, he feels desperately sorry for clients like Maureen Wachtels who have been caught up in financial events. Mr Stellio believes the origins of the crisis lie in botched economic policy of the previous government.

For instance, until recently tax breaks for mortgage borrowers in the Netherlands were so generous that they inflated the market to the point where most people could no longer afford to buy.

He suggests the fault lies with politicians looking for votes who failed to act on warnings and correct the state’s unsustainable generosity; the mortgage tax breaks were costing taxpayers an estimated 14bn euros a year.

Finally, the system was changed but by then the market was falling.

“The price drop began in 2008 and it won’t stop. In my opinion prices will keep coming down 2 or 3% a year until they end up around half of what they were,” says Mr Stellio.

“They could fall even more as and when the European Central Bank raises interest rates.”

‘You can’t move’

For some, the Dutch experience provides an economic lesson of the risks for a prosperous economy caught up in a post-bubble crunch when it has ceded control of its monetary policy, interest rates and currency.

One man who has closely followed the Dutch housing market is Maarten van Wijk, an economic specialist for the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper.

“If you have a house worth 150,000 euros, but it has a mortgage of 200,000 this has a large psychological effect. You can’t move, you just have to struggle to pay down the mortgage as fast as possible.

“That is money you can’t spend in the economy. It has also come as a surprise to most people.

“If you went to a dinner party before the crisis and told people you were renting a house, people would probably consider you financially backward.

“It was received wisdom that house prices would always go up.”

Escape route

So far forced sales are relatively low – estimated at only 3,000 or so since the crisis began.

Dutch estate agent Dennis Stellio
Over-generous tax breaks distorted the market, says estate agent Dennis Stellio

Banks are offering various relief measures to try and keep people in their homes – not least because the lenders themselves want to avoid writing down their home loans.

One possible future escape route for some stressed homebuyers might be tapping into their accrued personal pension funds – if they have any.

It is an idea under active consideration in a country now exploring any possible avenue to escape a debt crisis of its own making.

Original article found here.


Third time in three years that a synagogue has opened in or near the Dutch capital

December 15, 2012

THE HAGUE (JTA) — Several hundred Dutch Jews attended the dedication of a new synagogue at what used to be a Protestant church south of Amsterdam.

The Dec. 9 opening of the New Synagogue of Amstelveen in the southern suburb of the Dutch capital followed several years of renovation work on the building, which once housed the Bankras church.

The Jewish Community of Amsterdam, or NIHS, bought the building in 2008 for $3.25 million, according to the Nieuw Israelitisch Weekblad, a Jewish weekly. It accommodates 400 congregants and “is open to all denominations” despite its “moderate Orthodox signature,” according to a statement by the NIHS.

The New Synagogue of Amstelveen, also known as the Bankras Shul, replaces an older synagogue. “The old synagogue at the Kostverlorenhof was too small,” NIHS said in explaining the move. The suburb’s Jewish community numbers several thousand.

Next month, the synagogue is scheduled to hold an “open day,” during which non-Jews will be invited to tour the building and learn about Judaism.

The ceremony marked the third opening in three years of a synagogue in and around Amsterdam. In March 2011, the neighborhood of Buitenveldert saw the opening of the Amos Shul, an Orthodox institution. The previous year, the Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam opened a large Reform synagogue in the city’s south.

The Netherlands has a Jewish population of approximately 40,000 people.

Original Times of Israel article found here

Original DutchNews link found by clicking here.

Monday 07 November 2011

If 20% of the Dutch population spent one day a week working from home it would generate some €2bn a year, according to research by consultancy group PWC into the economic affects of what has become known in the Netherlands as the ‘new way of working’.

If people spend two days a week working from home, the benefits would go up to almost €3bn, PWC says in the report, which was published on Monday at the start of a week-long campaign to boost home working.

The benefits would come from the reduction in cars on the roads – which in turn would cut traffic jams, improve air quality and cut accidents.

Office costs

Home working also benefits companies because they can reduce their office costs and home workers are more efficient, PWC says.

However, despite the positive aspects, home workers also tend to overwork, and they need to ensure a clear divide between work and private life, Karlien Haak, from a union initiative to boost home working, told news agency ANP.

Trouw reports that as part of the campaign to encourage more people to work from home, environmental group Natuur en Milieu is leafleting commuters all week – dressed in pink dressing gowns to emphasis the benefits.

Find original DutchNews Article here.

Saturday 09 April 2011

The organisers of the Utrecht marathon are offering prize money of just €100 to Kenyan nationals if they win the event, but a Dutch winner will get €10,000, the Volkskrant reports on Saturday.

The aim is to discourage Kenyans from taking part in the 42 km race, nicknamed the Dutch Battle, on April 25, the organisers say.

Last year Kenyan runners won the Rotterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Enschede and Leiden marathons. The Utrecht race has been won by a Kenyan for the past four years and the organisers hope to give top Dutch athletes a chance to win this year.

Event director Louran van Keulen told the paper the prize money trick had been worked out with the help of a lawyer. Banning Kenyans outright would break discrimination laws but discouraging them from taking part is legal, Van Keulen said.

The race website does not mention the prize differences but says ‘only athletes who have been invited to take part are eligible for big money prizes’.

According to television programme EenVandaag, only people with a Dutch passport have been invited to take part in the race.

Click here for the original article.

Friday 11 March 2011

Utrecht city council wants to set up its own marijuana growing service to supply the city’s cannabis cafes, the NRC reports.

While selling small amounts of marijuana is tolerated, large-scale cultivation is illegal, creating a grey area between demand and supply.

In addition, there is no quality control with the current system and a risk of contamination, council officials say.

Grow your own

So the city wants to experiment with a new sort of coffee shop – the name for cannabis cafes – which would be members only and grow its own plants.

By law, the police turn a blind eye if people have up to five plants for personal use. So if each member of the coffee shop grows those five plants in the same greenhouse, the problem would be solved, the council argues.

The fine details still have to be worked out, but the city has said it will not operate the coffee shop or be in charge of weed production.

Minister opposed

However, the likelihood of winning government approval for the plan would appear to be small.

The cabinet is currently cracking down hard on coffee shops and says it wants to make them all members only clubs in order to stop drugs tourism. The big cities say this will only encourage street dealing.

Justice minister Ivo Opstelten told the NRC the Utrecht plan ‘is not going to happen’.

‘I take it Utrecht council will get in touch with me about this,’ he said. ‘Under no circumstances will there be legalise cultivation and there will be no deviation from that position. There will be no experiments.’


Three courses, 25 euros. Twice a year, The Netherlands, in all its frugal glory, shows off its culinary talent with inexpensive meals at otherwise spendy restaurants. The creme de la horeca like The Grand Restaurant or Christophe become fully-booked in the blink of an eye. After that it’s a gamble.

We were lucky and found one gem called Bond, in Oud Zuid. The braised veal with carmelized onions, potatoes, and spinach was as elegant as the lampshades and gilded mirrors. Their cod fish was also delectable. While we’d go back to Bond again, La Scarpetta near the Jordaan is another story entirely.

For the cost of simple pasta, the portions at the Italian restaurant were insultingly small. During a great event like restaurant week, they are completely missing out on the opportunity to gain new customers by obviously cutting corners in terms of quality and ingredients. However, the staff was kind and accommodating. At the very least, that delicious and well-presented chocolate mousse/souffle dessert far outshone the plain vegetable and prosciutto starter with the tiny (albeit tasty) meat and mushroom penne dish that I could have made in my own kitchen for a fraction of 25 euros.

The Restaurant Week crap shoot continues tomorrow, when I join my flat mate Anna for a Supperclub dinner cruise. Will we be pleasantly surprised or get seasick instead?

Hello world!

Posted: January 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

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