News below sea level

This week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in the Netherlands begins with the news of the coming Dutch general election. The former ruling Christian Democrats (CDA) party is sinking fast in the polls, as CDA Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s popularity hit an all-time low (31 percent).

Balkenende implied he’d quit politics if not re-elected as Prime Minister, a position he held for the past eight years. Both the centre-right VVD and centre-left PvDA (Labour) are polling strongly. With former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen now leading the party, the PvdA is favoured to win. Meanwhile, the far-right Freedom Party’s leader, Geert Wilders, demanded and received government statistics relating to the costs of immigration. A subsequent study of some 20,000 non-Western immigrants found that these immigrants cost the Netherlands between 6 to 10 billion euros per year, because such immigrants are more likely to claim welfare benefits and commit crimes. Elsewhere, former Dutch deputy justice minister, Nebahat Albayrak, a Muslim of Turkish descent and leading Labour Party politician, said Dutch civil servants shouldn’t be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies if they object to marrying gays on religious grounds. 

Dutch NS intercity trains now offer free WiFi connections onboard. The Dutch government funded this NS project to the tune of 15 million euros, but so far the WiFi connections are reported as being too slow to access video-content via site like YouTube. Meanwhile, NS said it wants to charge passengers higher ticket prices for travelling during peak hours. The government isn’t happy about the plan, though, as it could convince more people to travel by car instead, further congesting the country’s over-congested roads. Dutch politicians are also asking NS to explain where the 1.3 billion euros the government gave it in 2000 went to. The cash was meant to be spent on upgrading station security, the country’s stations and rail network, and on a new electronic e-ticket system. NS apparently only spent 280 million on an e-ticket system and deposited the rest in the bank to collect interest.

The Dutch population is rapidly ageing, so local governments, concerned about road safety, have created special driving licences for the elderly that permit them to only drive around their homes (a 25 km radius, and not on busy motorways. Meanwhile, recent crime statistics show that robbers are increasingly targeting old Dutch folk, especially in their own homes. Last year 159 elderly people were robbed, a 70 percent increase over the previous year. With banks and shops tightly secured nowadays, criminals view the elderly as soft targets. Recently three Romanians robbed and killed an elderly Dutchman in his home.

A road-side bomb killed two Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan. Cleaners in Holland went on strike, demanding better pay and working conditions. As many cleaners are immigrants, part of the deal struck to end the strike not only included a 3.5 percent pay raise but also free Dutch language courses.
The Netherlands and Belgium want to jointly host the 2018 World Cup, just as they co-hosted the European Football Championships in 2000. Only problem: Belgium might not exist by then. The Belgian government fell again, with some saying the deep divisions between Belgian’s French-speaking (Walloon) and Dutch-speaking (Flemish) regions could ultimately lead to Flemish-speaking Belgium becoming part of the Netherlands. Meanwhile, thanks to the threat of soccer fan brawls, Dutch soccer hit a new low: the League Cup match between Ajax Amsterdam and Feyenoord Rotterdam will be played at two venues: the first leg was won by Ajax (2-0) in Amsterdam, with Feyenoord fans barred from attending; the second leg in Rotterdam, with Ajax fans barred.

A study found that Dutch girls are in fact just as good as Dutch boys in mathematics, but that Dutch girls believe boys are better. A Dutch nurse, Lucia de Berk, convicted of murdering seven patients under her care between 1997 and 2001, has been acquitted and released from prison. Controversy following a TV news programme’s revelations that prisoners in Dutch prisons are permitted to watch porn, including those imprisoned for sex crimes, like one paedophile who raped and killed three young girls and was overheard on video saying he liked watching teen-porn best. And finally, the Salvation Army in Zutphen have been told to pipe down. Apparently, while praising Jesus, these Christian soldiers make an ungodly racket with their drums and electric guitars, in violation of local noise pollution laws. The Christians say making noise is how they honour their god; the authorities say quiet down or pay up in fines.

Editor Redactie

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