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New Amsterdam metro security system to be phased in

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Amsterdam public transport company GVB has said its new train security system will be launched next July on the long-awaited new north/south metro line.

The system will later be expanded so that it covers all Amsterdam metro lines, Amsterdam alderman for public transport Pieter Litjens said in a letter to the city council.

Originally the GVB planned to install the new system in the existing metro system first, then in the new Noord/Zuidlijn. But a letter from the security system’s producer Alstom outlining serious delays in getting the system on stream forced the GVB to decide the north/south link will be served first.

The GVB still plans on opening the new metro line on 22 July 2018. But Noord/Zuidlijn director Hoite Detmar was quoted in the NRC as saying it carried a ‘big risk’. Litjen’s letter said the problems with the security system will ‘almost certainly’ be resolved before the planned opening.

‘Together with Alstom we are examining whether the present version of the train security system is adequate for the operation of the new line’ But Litjens warns ‘given this development, there is a chance that not everything will be ready on time.’

Although the original budget for the new metro line was €1.4bn, the final cost is likely to be well over €3bn. Work started in 2002, and was due to end in 2011 but ran into massive buildings subsidence problems and technical issues along the way. (DutchNews)

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Forget Italy, Europe’s best ice cream comes from a small Dutch town

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An ice cream maker from the Overijssel town of Denekamp has won the European leg of this year’s Gelato World Tour, an international competition to find the world’s best artisan ice cream.

Erik Kuiper, who only began making ice cream five years ago, was awarded a 10 by the jury in Bologna for his honey yoghurt and raspberry ice with walnuts. ‘We try to be as pure and organic as we can,’ Kuiper told RTL news.

‘The walnuts come from our own garden, the raspberries from our neighbour, the honey from our local beekeeper and the milk from our own Jersey cows.’ Kuiper will now take his prize-winning product to the finals, which will take place in Rimini in Italy in September alongside the best ice cream makers from four continents.

Italian ice cream makers have their own competition and were not part of the European title fight. Meanwhile, the organisers of the competition say gelato and ice cream are not the same thing.

‘Italian gelato contains less fat than industrial ice cream, has less incorporated air, and is served at a higher temperature,’ they say. This means the product is not only more tasty, but has fewer calories to burn. (DutchNews)

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Shell to cut hundreds of jobs at its Dutch operations

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Royal Dutch/Shell group said on Thursday it will cut ‘hundreds’ of jobs at Shell Nederland in response to falling oil prices. Shell Nederland has a payroll of 8,000, while the group employs 92,000 worldwide, the Financieele Dagblad said on Thursday.

Shell said trade unions and the works council have already been told about the plans. The jobs will disappear largely in the projects and technology department, which was formerly based in Rijswijk.

A spokesman for trade union FNV told the FD that the union is ‘holding talks with Shell’ about the redundancies. The union would not give any further reaction because it had agreed with Shell to say nothing at the moment.

Shell has scrapped more than 10,000 jobs worldwide in the last two years. The acquisition of the British BG Group last year led to the loss of 2,800 jobs and the company had earlier announced 7,500 redundancies.

Earnings

Separately, Shell reported higher-than-expected second-quarter earnings on Thursday morning. The oil and gas group reported net earnings of $3.6bn in the period, substantially higher than the $3.36bn projected by Bloomberg’s poll of analysts.

Shell said slightly higher oil prices combined with cost-cutting measures contributed to the gain.

Operational cash-flow, a key indicator for investors, soared to $11.29bn in the second quarter from $2.29bn in the year earlier period and well above the $9.5bn booked in the first quarter of 2017.

The company is proposing to maintain its $0.47 per share dividend. (DutchNews)

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Education minister loses fight against Amsterdam Islamic high school

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands’ highest administrative court on Wednesday ordered the education ministry to fund a second Islamic high school in the Netherlands.

The Council of State ruled that junior education minister Sander Dekker must provide funding for the school, which the Amsterdam Islamic education foundation SIO wants to set up.

State-funded faith schools are sanctioned in the Netherlands under freedom of education rules, if they have sufficient pupils and meet the proper standards. Dekker refused to allocate funding for the school last year, because a board member who has since left, is alleged to have shown support for IS on Facebook.

‘We cannot use taxpayers’ money to support a school where children learn to reject the Netherlands rather than become part of it,’ the minister said at the time. The court ruled on Wednesday that the minister’s fear children may be exposed to pro-IS ideas were not properly grounded and that there is no reason to assume the school would not meet the conditions for state funding.

The SIO has distanced itself from the comments as well as extremism and terrorism, the court said in its ruling. Amsterdam city council initially refused to allocate a suitable location to the school after Dekker withdrew funding but has since set aside a piece of land in Sloterdijk after being ordered to do so by judges in 2015.

The SIO was given permission by the government to set up the school in 2011 and has to complete the process within six years, meaning the school should open for pupils this September.

DutchNews has contacted SIO for comment. There has not been an Islamic secondary school in Amsterdam since 2010, when the one school was closed for poor standards. There is one Islamic secondary school in Rotterdam and several dozen primary schools nationwide.

Turkish school

Meanwhile, Turkish organisation Millî Görüş has said it is working on plans to open the first Iman Hatip School in the Netherlands.

‘Our education arm was asked to open a Iman Hatip school and we have decided to work on this,’ the statement said. ‘Sign-ups and all other procedures will proceed via the website of the Turkish ministry of education.’

Iman Hatip schools are religious vocational schools and one of four types of secondary education offered in Turkey. Turkish media first reported in 2012 that there were plans to set up Iman Hatip schools in the Netherlands.

Turkish media have also reported on the new plan. It is not clear if there is a connection between the Millî Görüş plans and the SIO School. DutchNews.nl has approached Millî Görüş for comment. (DutchNews)

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On your bike: Amsterdam to take action on shared cycle schemes

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam city council is planning to stem the surge in bike sharing schemes operating across the Dutch capital, the Parool said on Wednesday.

Over the past few months several app-driven schemes allowing people to share bikes for a small fee have sprung up and hundreds of two-wheelers have been left at strategic locations all over the city.

Companies such as Flickbike, Donkey Republic, Erbee and Hello Bike have started up operations in Amsterdam and say their bikes are meant for locals not tourists. But the city council is not happy with the arrival of so many shared bikes, particularly as it is fighting a losing battle to make sure there are enough bike racks and to keep them free of wrecks.

‘These shared bikes, particularly those which use a free-floating concept, threaten to take back the space we have made and we do not think this a desirable development,’ a council spokesman told the paper.

Traditional rental bike companies are also angry and say the shared bikes are unfair competition. It is not yet known what action the city is to take but the council has warned the companies that they are planning to bring in rules.

In Dublin, local bye-laws have been changed to force the shared bikes off the streets. D66 city councillor Jan-Bert Vroege told the Parool that he favoured a public tender process to award a single contract for shared bikes.

‘Public space belongs to everyone,’ he said. ‘People who want to earn money from it should keep to the rules and pay for it.’

1960s

In the 1960s, Amsterdam activist and ‘provo‘ Luud Schimmelpennink devised the first bike sharing scheme, known as the‘white bike’ plan, to counter the rise of pollution and cars.

The project was not picked up by the city council and the 50 bikes painted white by the provos soon disappeared. Schimmelpennink revised the plan in 1999 but that ran into technical problems.

In 2002, Schimmelpennink was involved in plans to set up a free bike scheme in Vienna, followed by Lyon and Paris. Today dozens of cities all over the world have embraced the concept of the free bike. (DutchNews)

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ATM raid in Germany ends in crash in Utrecht, suspects escape

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An attempt by thieves to break open a cash dispenser using explosives in the German town of Wesel on Monday night resulted in a car chase to Utrecht, Dutch media said on Tuesday.

A police helicopter and dozens of cars took part in the chase along the A12 motorway, which ended when the car – a black Audi – crashed in the Kanaleneiland district of Utrecht.

No-one was arrested and police searched the neighbourhood for the suspects, leading to scores of complaints about the noise. No explosives were found in the car, broadcaster NOS said.

Last year, German banks close to the Dutch border began tightening up security following a surge in attacks on cash dispensers, thought to have been orchestrated by Dutch gangs.

Audis

In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia there were 80 attempts to blow up or crash into ATMs in the first seven months of 2016, compared with 67 in 2015 as a whole.

In Lower Saxony there were 67, compared with just 28 in 2015. Police said last year they suspect the raids are being carried out by a group of Dutch Moroccans who are based in Utrecht and Amsterdam and who have moved into Germany because of increased security at Dutch ATMs.

The gang is known as the ‘Audi mob’ because of their habit of stealing fast Audis to make their getaway over the border. In April, Dutch police have arrested a 28-year-old man on suspicion of blowing up seventeen ATMs in Germany between February and May last year.

In February two alleged members of the ‘Audi mob’ were killed when their car left the Autobahn at high speed. (DutchNews)

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Government inspectors to investigate failings in suicide of boy, 11

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Social work and justice ministry inspectors are preparing to launch an investigation into the suicide of an 11-year-old boy earlier this month, local newspaper the Limburger said on Tuesday.

The boy, named in the press as Vladimirs, killed himself in the Limburg town of Steyl just days after social workers decided to offer the family no further help. The boy, with Latvian roots, is one of the youngest people to have ever committed suicide in the Netherlands.

Neighbours and the boy’s school had alerted the authorities to his family situation. ‘The whole street knew he was being battered,’ one neighbour told reporters. In December 2015 the family was placed under ‘low level care’ after two reports about problems in the boy’s home, one anonymous and one from his school.

Several days before his death, this involvement was stopped because ‘the parents had no more need for help’. They also said the boy’s main problem was his poor Dutch, the AD said.

The Limburger also reported that two weeks before he killed himself, the boy sent a photograph of a noose to his family in Latvia, urging them to get in touch with him, but no-one responded.

The boy’s father has dismissed claims that the child was being physically abused as ‘rumours spread by Muslims’ and denied ever hitting the child, the Limburger said.

Last week, social work inspectors concluded that social workers had been lax in their dealings with 15-year-old Tharukshan Selvam from Heerlen, also in Limburg, who killed himself in January. (DutchNews)

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Groningen strives to become first Dutch cigarette smoke free city

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Lobby groups, local government sports clubs, schools and health experts have launched a campaign to make Groningen the Netherlands first smoke-free city.

The project, partly developed by addiction specialist Robert van de Graaf, aims to end smoking in more places throughout the city, including hospitals, playgrounds and schools.

‘Second hand smoke is dangerous but so is seeing people smoke,’ Van der Graaf told broadcaster NOS. ‘We often don’t realise that children can become addicted by seeing others smoke because they think it is normal behaviour.’

Around 25% of the Dutch population currently smokes and 810,000 children grow up in a family with at least one smoking adult, Van der Graaf says.

From this summer smoking will be banned through Groningen’s university buildings and the teaching hospital will be completely smoke from from 2019.

The organisations supporting the move signed the covenant to ensure children grow up in a smoke free environment in April. (DutchNews)

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The Netherlands is world’s biggest conduit to offshore tax havens: research

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is the biggest conduit to offshore tax havens in the world, with almost a quarter of fiscal constructions having a Dutch link, according to researchers at a specialist unit at the University of Amsterdam.

‘Only five big countries act as conduit-OFCs,’ the researchers from Corpnet said in a new report. ‘Together these five conduits channel 47% of corporate offshore investment from tax havens, according to the data we analysed.’

The two biggest conduits by far are the Netherlands (23%) and the United Kingdom (14%), followed by Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%). The researchers set out to identify countries or jurisdictions that play a role in corporate ownership chains incommensurate with the size of their domestic economies.

‘Our results show that offshore finance is not the exclusive business of exotic small islands far away. Countries such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom play a crucial yet previously hidden role as conduits of offshore finance on its way to tax havens,’ the researchers said.

Networks

They analysed the global network of ownership relationships, with information about over 98 million firms, differentiating between 24 ‘sink-OFCs’ which attract and retain foreign capital such as the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands and five ‘conduit-OFCs’ like the Netherlands.

Although most of the tax havens were as to be expected, Taiwan was a surprise entrant on the list, the researchers said. ‘We find a clear geographical specialisation in the offshore financial network,’ the report said.

‘The Netherlands is the conduit between European companies and Luxembourg. The United Kingdom is the conduit between European countries and former members of the British Empire, such as Hong Kong, Jersey, Guernsey or Bermuda.’

The researchers hope their findings will enable regulators working to end tax evasion target the policy to the sectors and territories where the offshore activity concentrates. ‘While efforts usually focus on small exotic islands, we showed that the main sinks of corporate ownership chains are highly developed countries which have signed numerous tax treaty agreements,’ the report said. (DutchNews)

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Rotterdam port may miss the boat in new trade with China

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Rotterdam port authority, backed by the Dutch government, must invest much more in logistics to and from China and the rest of southest Asia.

Otherwise, Europe’s largest port may ‘miss the boat’ and become isolated, warns a report by leading German consultancy Roland Berger. ‘The new Silk Route is a long-term project in which the Chinese government is investing billions.

Wages are increasing in China, so jobs are moving to Vietnam and Bangladesh. As a result new logistics streams are developing,’ Shanghai-based port expert Dennis Dupoux was quoted as saying in the Telegraaf on Friday.

The position of the Netherlands as a global trading power is under increasing pressure. Therefore Rotterdam and The Hague should invest in support stations in Asia with customs facilities to ensure the goods keep moving through, said Arnoud van der Sloot of Roland Berger.

But Rotterdam port director Allard Castelein sees nothing in what he terms a reversed Silk Road to China. ‘We are going on with our position as the most accessible deep-water seaport in Europe for goods destined for the European hinterland.

China is building up its own European infrastructure, spending some $20bn in buying up ports including Piraeus in Greece. The Chinese are also considering having their own terminal in Hamburg.

Rold Berger said Rotterdam runs the risk of becoming isolated in this manner.

Strong first half

Rotterdam booked a record 238 million tonnes of international ocean-going goods transport in the first half of 2017, 4% more than in the year-earlier period.

Container numbers shot up by 10%. Castelein said multi-billion investments in the port have been announced. ‘That’s a sign that the business community continues to believe in Rotterdam,’ he said. (DutchNews)

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