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After the London inferno, the papers ask just how safe are Dutch tower blocks

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – It’s the question in the minds of everyone who lives in a high-rise residential building everywhere after the fire which devastated the Grenfell Tower in London on Wednesday: just how safe is my building?

The Dutch papers have been finding out. All buildings in the Netherlands must adhere to strict fire safety regulations to avoid a disaster like that which hit London. But that applies to residential flats in Britain as well, the Volkskrant said.

Regulations in the Netherlands are spelled out in the national building code, last updated in 2012. This states that residents must be able to leave their apartments quickly and that the fire be contained in its early stages: a minimum of one hour before it spreads into another apartment in the building.

As a result, walls and floors must be fire retardant and equipped with vents which can be closed off during a fire. This provides firefighters with sufficient time to extinguish the blaze.

Specifications

But it is difficult to meet these specifications, said Emiel van Rossum, founder of the fire prevention academy. ‘There is no building in the Netherlands which meets these criteria completely.

That would be utopia.’ The regulations, he said, are so complex that the building industry is not able to carry out everything. There is a further problem with older high-rise buildings built when regulations were less strict, said Peter van de Leur, former professor of fire safety at Belgium’s Ghent University.

And insulation material used in the outer cladding of a building can help spread a fire, he added. Fire safety expert Ruud van Herpen who is a civil engineer by trade said there are fewer high-rise apartment buildings in the Netherlands. He told Trouw that fire safety regulations are fairly strong.

Acceptable deaths

Nevertheless it remains extremely difficult to come up with good fire safety rules. And certainly not when it’s a major fire. There are about 70 deaths from house fires every year and 1,200 injuries.’

But we find this socially acceptable’, Ven Herpen said. Daan Jansen, fire safety expert at civil engineering group Haskoning, told the Telegraaf that he had been shocked by the London fire, particularly as more and more offices and tower blocks are stretching past 70 metres.

‘Fire prevention in Britain is the same as here, he said. But sometimes I advise on projects and am shocked at how people are working. At the same time, the government is placing more responsibility on the owners of buildings.’

In particular there can be problems with older buildings, he said. ‘Fire safety is not always understood and sometimes you miss the problems. And some buildings don’t need a permit so are not checked. And building overhauls are not always an improvement.’ (DutchNews)

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90 days on, a majority cabinet is still the aim, negotiator says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Cabinet negotiator Herman Tjeenk Willink said on Thursday he intended to press ahead with efforts to create a majority coalition in the Netherlands, despite setbacks earlier this week.

Talks between the VVD, CDA, D66 and GroenLinks broke down on Monday, putting the negotiations back to square one. ‘Just by looking at the numbers, you don’t get a stable cabinet,’ Tjeenk Willink told a news conference.

However, the insistence of all the big parties that they wanted a majority cabinet will require them to give way on some issues, Tjeenk Willink said. ‘What do they want?’ he said.

‘You can have one or the other, but you can’t have it both ways.’ The SP, for example, have refused to talk to the VVD, D66 won’t form an alliance with D66 because of divisions on ethical issues and the Labour party says its electoral losses rule it out of government.

All the main parties have ruled out talking to the anti-Islam PVV, which came second in the March vote. The former Labour politican asked both VVD leader Mark Rutte and CDA leader Sybrand Buma to right down their objections to working with the PVV. This, he said, would enable him to get a handle on the concrete differences between the parties. In his letter, Rutte said he had three main reasons for excluding the PVV from the talks.

Liberal principles

Firstly, Wilders had increasingly deviated from the liberal principles guiding the Netherlands by insulting and belittling minorities and wanted to place limits on freedom of religion by banning the Koran and closing mosques.

Secondly Wilders had made a number of statements undermining the constitutional democracy by calling both parliament and judges fake. ‘The VVD cannot rule with a party that undermines institutions,’ he said.

Thirdly, Wilders has shown in the past that he cannot be relied on to take responsibility, he said, referring to the way Wilders pulled the plug on the previous coalition government with the VVD and CDA.

Trust

CDA leader Sybrand Buma said in his letter that Wilders had done nothing since that incident to restore trust. In addition, his proposals have become more radical and his statements about Islam and Muslims have become ruder, Buma said.

In the three months since the election, Wilders has done nothing to restore faith in the party and the insults have continued to flow. Tjeenk Willink will talk to other party leaders, including D66’s Alexander Pechtold later on Thursday to assess what steps he should take next.

(DutchNews)

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Parents of Dutch shopping centre killer not liable, court says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The parents of a man who killed five people in a shopping mall shooting six years ago have been found not to be liable for their son’s action by judges in The Hague.

Victims of the shooting in Alphen aan den Rijn claim Tristan van der Vlis’s parents were aware their son was having serious difficulties but failed to act. The 24-year-old opened fire in the Ridderhof shopping centre in April 2011.

In addition to the fatalities, 17 people were wounded before he turned the gun on himself. The victims wanted his parents to be held responsible so that they could claim compensation from their insurers.

They argue that Van der Vlis’s father should have reported that he had a son living at home with a serious disorder when he applied for a firearms licence in 2007. The court ruled that the parents could not be blamed because they did not know about their son’s plans. (DutchNews)

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Police officer arrested on corruption charges, was part of Wilders’ security

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A policeman from The Hague who was arrested on Tuesday for leaking confidential information in return for cash was also part of the special security detail guarding the royal family and right wing populist MP Geert Wilders.

The public prosecution department on Wednesday confirmed claims made by the Telegraaf newspaper that the man worked for the security service DBB, the paper said. ‘The police officer was being trained.

He had a two month internship at the unit up to February this year and was involved in Wilders’ security,’ a spokesman for the public prosecution department told the paper.

After a short period with the DBB the police officer returned to The Hague city force, the Telegraaf said. Officials are now investigating if he was also involved in leaking information during his time at the DBB.

Earlier this year, another police officer Faris K was arrested for talking about his work on Wilders’ security detail with friends. The police officer arrested this week hit the headlines in 2012 when he shot dead an unarmed teenager at The Hague’s HS railway station.

He was eventually cleared of any culpability. (DutchNews)

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Priest under fire over cash gifts from elderly widow

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The bishop of Den Bosch has reprimanded a young priest for accepting more than €100,000 from an elderly, deeply religious widow, the Volkskrant said on Tuesday.

If the priest, who is 37, continues to accept money, he will be suspended, the paper quotes the official warning, which was issued earlier this year, as saying. In total, the woman, who is 89 and has no children, paid more than €100,000 into the priest’s bank account between 2011 and 2015.

A further €50,000 in cash has also been withdrawn from her bank. Although the woman claims she acted in free well, her nephew told the paper: ‘My aunt is completely under his spell.

Then you have to ask how much free will you have.’ The nephew discovered how much money had been given to the priest after he was given power of attorney over his aunt’s financial affairs.

‘It is up to her what she does with her money,’ he said. ‘But this is the indoctrination of a deeply religious woman.’ Bishop Gerard de Korte said the gifts were a private issue between two mentally competent people.

However, he said, priests are banned from accepting large gifts from people who fall under their pastoral care. (DutchNews)

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Almost half the Dutch now pay to watch film and tv shows online

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Almost half of Dutch adults have a subscription to a channel like Netflix or RTL XL or pay for to watch a single programme, market research group Gfk said on Tuesday.

Last year 44% of the over-18s paid to watch special channels but this has now gone up to 49%. The increase is ‘significant’ and payment for online video has become normalised, spokeswoman Barbara Schouten said.

However, there is a sharp difference between the age groups. The 18 to 34-year-olds watch some three hours 40 minutes of online video a day, compared with just 40 minutes among the over 55s.

‘Youngsters are incredibly spoiled with internet and their smartphones,’ she said. ‘They consume in a completely different way.’ (DutchNews)

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Church warns parents about impact of rap song ‘Child of the Devil’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Church elders in a Bible Belt town have called on parents to warn their children about a rap song with the title Kind van de Duivel (‘Child of the Devil’).

A letter signed by 13 Protestant church ministers and community youth group leaders in Vriezenveen, Overijssel, said they wanted to ‘create a bit of consciousness’ about the song by the Leiden-based rapper Jebroer.

The lyrics include the lines: ‘I’m a child of the devil. Mum, you don’t have to cry. Party like every day is my last, I hope you play this at my funeral.’ Church leaders attributed the song’s popularity to its catchy tune, but told parents they were concerned about the contents of the lyrics.

Youth leader Niels Koerssen said: This is – in the negative sense – far more than just a song.’ In the letter, the church stressed it was not trying to ban the song or ‘ask children to keep out of the world we live in,’ but said it contained ‘many wrong ideas and encouraged the wrong sort of behaviour.’

The majority of Vriezenveen’s 14,000-strong population are affiliated with the Protestant Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. (DutchNews)

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Making work pay or election stunt? Rotterdam’s €50 handout divides opinion

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Around 40,000 Rotterdammers on low wages will receive a one-off bonus of €50 from the city council in a move that has been criticised as an electoral gimmick by opposition parties.

Anyone earning up to 130% of the minimum wage will be eligible for the subsidy, which will cost the municipality €2.3 million in total. Leefbaar Rotterdam, the largest party on the city council, argued that the gap between the lowest earners and those on welfare support was too low.

‘Rotterdam wants to send out a message that work pays,’ said council group leader Ronald Buijt. ‘A person on welfare costs the government up to €1400 a month while people in work are paying taxes.’

‘This administration has been cutting back on the numerous advantages for people on welfare. This is the next step,’ added Buijt. Coalition partners CDA and D66 supported the move. But other parties across the spectrum were critical of the measure.

Labour (PvdA) leader Leo Bruijn said the bonus stigmatised people who were unable to find work, while VVD spokeswoman Antoinette Laan accused Leefbaar Rotterdam of trying to buy votes.

‘This is throwing money away on a handout when it could have been spent on people who are really badly off or on maintaining the city’s roads,’ she said. (DutchNews)

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Will hard Brexit go soggy? Dutch papers react to British hung parliament

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Britain went to the polls yesterday in a snap election that will apparently result in the Conservatives losing their majority, and no ultimate winner.

Days before Britain begins talks with Europe about Brexit, this result has thrown May’s ‘hard Brexit’ into the wind, say Dutch papers.

Punishment?

The Algemene Dagblad says: ‘British voter stubbornly punishes May’s arrogance – Labour calls for her resignation’.

The paper adds that Labour ‘surprised friend and foe’ in ‘one of the biggest electoral surprises since World War II’, attributed partly to the turnout of left-leading younger people.

The Netherlands’ most popular tabloid, the Telegraaf, calls it an ‘election fiasco for May’, saying that the Conservative ‘defeat’ will challenge May personally thanks to her ‘not very charismatic’ performance during the campaign and huge crowd of younger voters choosing Labour.

In an analysis piece, it adds that the ‘future of May and of Brexit are under pressure…With the loss of this majority in the House of Commons, her negotiating position is now completely undermined….This means that the British may need to remain part of the European single market.

A hard Brexit, which May thought was the “people’s will”, will probably not happen.’

‘Failed gamble’

The Financiele Dagblad says mildly that ‘May hoped to increase her small majority in parliament with early elections.

Nothing came of this.’ The Amsterdam stock market has opened higher, it adds, after May’s ‘failed election gamble’. ‘Can May stay for long?’ is the biggest question at the Volkskrant, which has been running a live blog on the results.

In an analysis piece, it adds: ‘The position of Theresa May appears to have become untenable after a bad election result’, calling it a ‘totally failed gamble’. The NRC Handelsblad, also running a live blog, calls May ‘nervous’ and adds that there will be much ‘sorrow’ in Brussels. ‘In 10 days, negotiations on Brexit must begin,’ goes its headline. ‘But will the UK have a new government?’

Mess in Brussels

It adds that May’s decision to try to strengthen her mandate for Brexit with new elections was considered ‘a great surprise’ in Brussels, but that politicians thought that if she had a stronger hand and this lead to smoother negotiations, ‘that was naturally fine’.

 ‘Now it’s a mess, because May overestimated her popularity. For Brussels, this is a case of déjà vu: May’s predecessor David Cameron thought he knew the British voter but then things went badly wrong with the Brexit referendum,’ the NRC said, adding that ‘delays seem inevitable’ with the Brexit process as a result.

NOS broadcaster, which has also been running a live blog, predicts a coalition government. It also notes that the running joke on Twitter is that the rat-catching Downing Street cat Larry has already left the building. (DutchNews)

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550 reports of pregnancy discrimination in fortnight

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A special hotline for reporting pregnancy-related discrimination has received 550 complaints in its first two weeks, reports the Dutch human rights organisation.

It says that it is ‘a big problem’ in the jobs market that pregnant women and new mothers are treated unlike others, saying that so many reports in a short space of time underlines the problem.

It manifests, reports NOS, in a contract not being renewed or holiday required to be taken in place of maternity leave, for example. The organisation – the College voor de Rechten van de Mens – believes 65,000 women are discriminated against each year in the Netherlands due to pregnancy.

It started a telephone hotline for women to report their claims on 22 May, which has had calls mostly from women with flexible and temporary contracts. (DutchNews)

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