News below sea level

This week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in the Netherlands begins with the continuing struggles to form a new government following the recent general election.

Current formation talks centring on a minority government between the conservative VVD and Christian Democrats (CDA), supported by the Freedom Party (PVV), have stalled because many leading CDA members do no want their party to form a political alliance with the Freedom Party and its controversial leader, Geert Wilders, who was in Australia last week, where he again labelled Islam a ‘backward religion’ and pledged to halt immigration from countries that are more than fifty percent Islamic. Meanwhile, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said forming a government with a far-right leader is ‘the wrong road for the world in the 21st century’.

Elsewhere, the Dutch Foreign Ministry is reviewing executive salaries at Dutch development aid organisations, following reports that SNV (Netherlands Development Organization) director, Dirk Elsen, earns 160,000 euros per year, despite a law capping Dutch aid organisation salaries at 120,000 euros. Social Affairs Minister Piet Hein Donner panicked pensioners by stating that fourteen of Holland’s six hundred pension funds must reduce payments to pensioners because these funds fall below the government’s 105% solvency ratio. The Dutch Central Bank supports the minister, despite fears this could lead to ‘social unrest’. Fewer babies will be born next year due to the economic crisis, as couples delay having children over concerns about jobs and housing.

According to Netherlands Statistics, only 180,000 babies are expected to be born in 2011, down from 207,000 in 2000. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service says the country’s police force must be overhauled, following the release of troubling crime statistics showing that of the 1.2 million crimes reported in Holland in 2009, only 350,000 were properly investigated.
With hands or hands-free, phoning while driving just isn’t safe. The Dutch Automobile Association is leading a campaign against hands-free calling while driving, as this is virtually as dangerous holding a phone, as both distract the driver’s attention from the road. A Dutch dad jumped into a bear pit at a German zoo to save his 3-year old child who had fallen in. The 170-kg black bear struck the toddler and mauled the Dad’s leg. A zookeeper said the Dad was ‘heroic like a Dutch Tarzan’. Recent high winds across the Netherlands caused a famous chestnut tree in Amsterdam to fall down. Anne Frank wrote about this tree in her war diaries. When the tree fell last week, an enterprising neighbour quickly collected its chestnuts, one of which he then sold to an American bidder on Ebay for €7,000.

The local authorities in the Dutch municipality of Edam-Volendam plan to give DIY drug test kits to parents of teenagers, so that they can then test their teenagers’ saliva for drugs like cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines. And finally, good news on the weather front: the Dutch meteorology office says it will be a sunnier than usual September, after a wet August in which the national precipitation average doubled from 60mm to 130mm.

For the next few months a team of five students will go to South Africa. Their mission? To contribute to The Ubuntu Company by designing the next generation Plakkies. For more information on the project visit

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