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Dutch banks and insurers fined €2.15bn since 2008 crisis

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Large Dutch banks and insurance companies have been fined a combined €2.15bn since the global credit crisis broke out 10 years ago this summer, the Financieele Dagblad revealed on Tuesday.

But the lion’s share of the fines was awarded to foreign financial watchdogs, the FD said. Only about €100m found its way to Dutch authorities. The credit crisis began when US banks began packaging low-grade mortgages and selling them as blue chip products.

Huge fines were placed on offenders: US Authorities alone were awarded $150bn. Dutch banks and insurers were involved in the malpractice as well, but of the fines levied on them, €1.9bn was awarded to American authorities and €141m to their British counterparts. (DutchNews)

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Utrecht is again best Dutch university in latest Shanghai rankings

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Utrecht University has been hailed the best university in the Netherlands for 15 years in a row, in the latest annual Academic Ranking of World Universities, a list of the 500 best universities in the world compiled by the Jia Tong University in Shanghai.

The survey put Utrecht top of the Dutch list in 47th place, up 18 places on last year’s ranking. It was followed by Groningen in 59th place, Rotterdam (73) and Leiden (88). Radboud, Amsterdam, Wageningen, the VU in Amsterdam in Delft all made the top 200.

The world’s two best universities are American universities Harvard and Stanford while British jewel in the crown Cambridge comes in third. The criteria used by Shanghai University include the number of articles published in scientific magazines, citations by professors and research students and the number of awards.

Other rankings used to compare universities all have different ideas about how good Dutch educational institutions are. For example, the QS World University Rankings said last year Amsterdam was the top-rated Dutch university, followed by Delft. The Times Higher Education ranking, however, puts Delft in the lead of the Dutch pack. (DutchNews)

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‘Billions needed every year for big city public transport’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Maurice Unck, newly appointed director of the Rotterdam public transport operator RET, says the Netherlands needs to spend at least €1bn a year through 2035 in upgrading and expanding public transport services in the heavily populated western urban agglomeration known as the Randstad.

Otherwise, Unck said, the Netherlands will lose its competitive position to metropolitan areas like London, Paris and Germany’s Ruhr area. In an interview with public broadcaster NOS, he said metro and rail stations would have to be upgraded and train frequencies increased.

Unck said RET had already noted the huge increase in passenger numbers on the metro to 42,000 from 8,000 a day. The track between Rotterdam and The Hague is already operating under Japanese conditions of crowding, he said.

Unck said the Randstad, which consists of Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht, must begin to invest like a ‘world city’ when it comes to public transport. Part of the present rail network between Rotterdam and Dordrecht could be converted to light rail use.

Other parts would continue to carry intercity trains between the cities and some would be used by the metro. All this requires an investment of several hundred million euros, he said.

‘Increasingly, the Randstad is becoming a global metropolis, a world city,’ Unck stressed. He said London is currently investing €20bn in public transport, while Paris is spending at least €35bn.

Unck said it was vital that the Randstad continues to expand its public transport resources to remain competitive in Europe. (DutchNews)

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Dutch households pick up 65% of the environmental tax bill

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch households are paying an increasingly large share of the total environmental tax bill, the national statistics office CBS said on Monday.

Since 2000, the total environmental tax bill for industry has risen by €2.6bn, but the bill for households has risen €5.8bn, the CBS says. This means families are paying 65% of the total bill.

The CBS includes taxes on motoring, fuel, energy, waste disposal and water, the CBS said. In 2016, environmental taxes generated €25.3bn for the treasury, a rise of 3% on 2015. (DutchNews)

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Amsterdam housing agency says ‘western cooking only’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A housing agency in Amsterdam has said it will only rent out two of its apartments if the tenant cooks ‘western’ food, NOS reports.

When Maysaa Munaf, who has been in the Netherlands for a week, inquired about the apartments at Executive Home Rentals she was told tenants who ‘cook for hours using lots of herbs’ need not apply.

‘If you cook the ‘western way’ we can offer you a viewing on Friday,’ the email said. Munaf shared screenshot of the offending letter on Facebook post titled ‘In today’s episode of ‘Racism is alive and well’.

‘I did not get what I was reading,’ she told RTL. ‘What is western cooking? Am I only allowed to eat sprouts?’ After sending a critical email back to the company, Munaf was told that the company did not mean to be racist, but just wanted to inform her about the situation.

It is not clear whether non-Western cooking is a requirement of the agency or the owners of the apartments. Executive Home Rentals director Michel Rootring later told NOS that the apartments are sensitive to smell transfer.

The flats are ‘not suitable for long sessions of cooking but the word ‘western’ was an extremely misfortunate choice of worlds,’ he said. Earlier this month another Amsterdam housing agency came under fire for trying to rent out a 35 square metre apartment where cooking was banned altogether.  (DutchNews)

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Tomatoes dominate Dutch greenhouse horticulture

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Over 20% of the Netherlands’ greenhouses are devoted to growing vine tomatoes, the national statistics office CBS said on Friday.

Some16% are used to grow red bell peppers and 13% cucumbers, the CBS says. Much of the remainder is devoted to fruit and flowers.

Some 1,250 companies are devoted to growing vegetables under glass.

In total, greenhouses cover some 4,400 hectares, of which most are Zuid Holland province. (DutchNews)

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Nitrogen from excess manure kills off butterflies and great tits: AD

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Too much nitrogen in the environment from excess manure has killed off 30% of butterflies in the Netherlands, the AD reports.

Researchers Michiel Wallis de Vries from Wageningen University and nitrogen expert Roland Bobbink have found that butterflies’ habitats have been steadily deteriorating over the last 20 years.

Of the Dutch red list of endangered butterfly species, 17 have disappeared altogether. The numbers of another 23 species, not on the list, have been falling as well. ‘Important species such as the tree grayling used to be widespread but now it can only be found in the Veluwe area. 

Alcon Blues, which used to live in grassland, are now only spotted in wetlands and there too their number is falling,’ they told the paper. Nitrogen is produced by industry and traffic but the main culprit is agriculture.

Wallis de Vries thinks that a 2015 agreement on limiting excess manure does not go far enough. ‘In the end agriculture will have to become sustainable in the interest of everyone.

The rapid decline in bio diversity shows it will have to happen sooner than later,’ he told the paper.

Great Tit

The findings come in the wake of a study into great tits in the Veluwe area. Nitrogen causes a lack of calcium in the woods which makes the birds’ bones so brittle that the chicks break their legs while still in the nest and die as a consequence, biologist Arnold van den Burg told the paper.

‘If we continue like this the woods will become very quiet,’ the paper quotes him as saying. (DutchNews)

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One million women in the Netherlands now work full time: Trouw

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of women in the Netherlands with a full time job has broken the one million barrier for the first time, Trouw said on Thursday.

The paper bases its claim on statistics supplied by the national statistics office CBS. ‘Ten years ago, the CBS first reported that 900,000 women had a full time job, but that was only 25% of all working women,’ the paper said.

Young women with a degree are most likely to work full time – almost half of them work at least 35 hours a week. Some 74% of all men aged 15 to 65 have a full-time job, down from 80% 10 years ago.

Nevertheless, the figure is over 82% for men aged 25 and upwards. ‘The choices men and women make are still based on what other men and other women do,’ Belle Derks, social psychology professor at Utrecht University told the paper.

‘The gender role dictates where we are in the labour market.’ The Netherlands has the greatest proportion of female part-time workers in Europe. Research by the government’s social policy unit SCP showed earlier this year that childcare was not the only reason women worked part-time.

Sectors which traditionally employ mainly women, like health care and child care, simply did not have fulltime jobs on offer, said SCP researcher Ans Merens. ‘Home carers, for instance, could often work no more than five hours a day.

And if they wanted more they were told it would damage their back.’ (DutchNews)

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Utrecht claims Benelux first with new type of heart valve

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Doctors at University Medical Center Utrecht have inserted a new type of tissue heart valve into a patient in what they say is the first operation of its kind in the Benelux.

Like other tissue valves the new valve is made of cow tissue but it has a special coating which will make it last longer. Conventional tissue valves need to be replaced after fifteen years.

‘The special coating prevents calcification and the valve can potentially last a lifetime. And in the unlikely event of another operation the valve is shaped in such a way as to make placing a second valve a much easier proposition,’ heart surgeon Willem Suyker told public broadcaster NOS.

According to Suyker the valve is ‘a breakthrough’ in the treatment of heart valve problems, especially for people with an active lifestyle. The new valve was developed by US Company Edwards Lifesciences.

The first person to benefit from the new valve in the Netherlands is professional show jumper Kiki Bleeker, who developed heart problems after she contracted a bacterial infection four years ago.

‘Mechanical valves weren’t an option because I want children. And I work with horses so in the case of a fall, the blood thinning medication I would be on would increase my chances of internal bleeding,’ Bleeker told NOS.

With the new valve Bleeker only needed blood thinning drugs for a couple of months. It is not completely certain the valve will last a lifetime, according to Chairman Jos Maessen of the Dutch association of thorax surgery NVT.

‘Animal testing has shown good results but the biggest question is how long the valve will last in humans,’ NOS quotes him as saying. Some 4,500 people a year need a new heart valve in the Netherlands. The hospital has a budget for another fifteen operations this year. (DutchNews)

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Rotterdam may get a new skyscraper – the tallest in the Benelux

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The highest Dutch administrative court on Wednesday threw out objections to plans to build a 215 metre high skyscraper in Rotterdam’s Zalmhaven.

Locals say the plan will increase traffic congestion, create too much wind and spoil the atmosphere in the area, which has undergone considerable regeneration in recent years. 

The Council of State, however, ruled that the city council had correctly applied zoning laws and the building can go ahead. The tower, which the developers AM and Amvest hope will open in 2020, will have 475 apartments, offices, commercial space and a panoramic roof terrace.

The tower, part of a complex with two smaller buildings, would be the tallest in the Benelux region if it goes ahead. The current tallest building is the Maastoren, also in Rotterdam, which opened in 2009 and is 165 metres tall.

The Zalmhaven tower will be 190 metres high with a 25 metre antenna on top. (DutchNews)

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