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‘Freedom and equality are the basis of our society’, says CDA leader

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – CDA leader Sybrand Buma has spoken about the importance of the ‘angry citizen’ in this year’s annual H.J. Schoo lecture organised by current affairs magazine Elsevier.

‘There are divisions throughout our society,’ Buma said. ‘Between young and old, between native and immigrant, between the well-educated and low skilled…’ But the concept of the ‘angry citizen’ is a strange one used by sociologists who clearly do not belong to the category, he said, ‘Angry citizens,’ he said, are just ordinary Dutch people who come up against a wall.

People who dismiss the rise of Geert Wilders, Donald Trump’s election, Brexit and the results of the Ukraine referendum as ‘irrational’ are burying their heads in the sand,’ Buma told his audience.


The CDA is one of four parties taking part in negotiations to form a new government. The party has 19 seats in the 150 seat parliament following the March general election.

Buma did not comment on the formation talks in the lecture but he did address ‘the restoration of the common historical and cultural consciousness’.

‘The Dutch culture is built on unity in diversity and not on the cultural relativism of the multicultural progressive outlook,’ he said. Dutch culture, traditions and values ‘must not be diluted’, he continued.

National anthem

During the election campaign Buma said Dutch school children should sing the national anthem in class every day and the four parties have apparently agreed that the Wilhelmus should become part of the national curriculum.

‘Anyone who comes to the Netherlands as an immigrant or refugee becomes part of this common history,’ he said. ‘We do not have to twist ourselves in knots to answer the question of whether the norms and values in our society have to change. They do not.’ (DutchNews)


Dutch universities have more students but government funding fails to keep pace

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch universities are producing more graduates but this is not reflected in the amount of money the government is spending on the institutions, and universities of technology in particular are suffering, the Rathenau Institute says in a report out on Monday.

Between 2009 and 2016 there was a 33% increase in the number of bachelor graduates and a 29% rise in people passing a master’s degree. However, government spending only went up 13%, while inflation over the seven years was about 10%.

The biggest discrepancy was found at the four universities of technology (Delft, Eindhoven, Twente and Wageningen) which have all warned that they will have turn away students for some of its courses because of a lack of staff and facilities, the FD said.

They have produced 65% more bachelor graduates over the 10 year period, but government funding has gone up just 8.5%. The Rathenau Institute, which conducts research and organises debate relating to science, innovation and new technologies, says the government must look again at how universities are financed.

At present universities receive a lump sum from the government based partly on the number of students and divided between their educational and research activities. They also receive fees from students and money from third parties for research.

‘Instead of talking about turning students away the debate should be about the quality of our university education and the system which would promote it best,’ Melanie Peters, director of the Rathenau Institute, said. (DutchNews)


Amsterdam bans metro ads featuring unhealthy food for kids

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Advertising which targets children and promotes unhealthy food such as chips and ice cream will be banned throughout the Amsterdam metro system from January 1 next year.

The ban follows the city council’s alliance with the Stop Kindermarketing campaign, which aims to bring an end to the promotion of unhealthy food aimed at children.

The city has decided to start its campaign with a ban on advertising unhealthy food at its own and subsidized events, and at council-owned locations.

This includes the city’s 58 metro stations, including those of the yet-to-be opened North/South service, officials said in a statement. Figures from the city’s health board in 2015 show one in five Amsterdam children is overweight. (DutchNews)


Dutch consumers spend €11bn online in first six months

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch consumers bought goods and services online totalling nearly €11bn in the first six months of this year, market research group GfK said on Friday.

Spending was up 13% on the year earlier period and online shopping now accounts for 23% of total household expenditure on goods and services, the latest Home Shopping Market Monitor said.

The biggest growth areas are toys and beauty products, up 43% and 41% respectively. The figures show that ‘nearly all retail growth is down to online shopping, both from web shops and high-street retailers with an online arm,’ Wijand Jongen of online retail lobby group said. (DutchNews)


Parents protest as Tilburg school bans fizzy and sugary drinks

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Some parents at a primary school in Tilburg are up in arms after the head teacher banned all soft and fizzy drinks and said children must drink water, the AD said on Friday.

School lunch boxes are also now restricted to sandwiches and fruit. Other drinks and foodstuffs are being confiscated and returned to the child with a note at the end of the day, the paper said.

The aim, the school head Ludy Meister told the paper, is to encourage children to eat healthily and the policy has been drawn up together with the local health board. In addition, the school’s parents committee voted in favour of the plan.

But father Kevin Rovers told the AD his son came home crying because he does not like drinking water. ‘And I don’t make him,’ Rovers said. ‘Water is for dogs… you can’t force a child to drink water if they don’t like it.

What if the temperature goes up to 30 degrees? Is he supposed to dehydrate?’ The government-backed food advisory centre Voedingscentrum in 2016 welcomed the decision by dozens of primary schools to ban sugary drinks on their premises, saying the measure will help cut obesity among children.

The organisation says pupils in primary schools should be restricted to water and milk with their packed lunches in an effort to boost healthy eating. (DutchNews)


New government may scrap advisory referendums, back elected mayors

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The four parties currently trying to form a new government in the Netherlands may be planning to scrap advisory referendums from the statute books, the Telegraaf said on Thursday.

The paper says its sources say that the VVD, CDA and ChristenUnie are prepared to work towards the introduction of elected mayors, if D66 agrees to sacrifice the referendum issue.

There has only been one advisory referendum since the legislation was introduced several years ago – the vote on the EU’s treaty with Ukraine. D66 too was unhappy at how the referendum process worked out in practice, the paper says.

D66 has for years campaigned to have mayors elected in the Netherlands by popular vote. Mayors, who are also head of the local police force, are currently crown appointees. (DutchNews)


Test to detect birth defects should not be free for all women, says institute

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Health minister Edith Schippers has been advised not to include a test to screen embryos for birth defects such as Down’s syndrome in the basic healthcare package for all women, the Volkskrant reports.

The NIPT test is a DNA test on maternal blood to screen pregnancies for the most common fetal chromosome anomalies and is said to be 99% accurate for Down’s. The minister had asked the National Healthcare Institute, the body that looks into what should be covered by health insurance, about the feasibility of including the non-invasive test.

According to the institute, the test should remain free for women who are at risk but not for women who do not present a proven risk. It does not give an opinion about the future financing of the test for women who fall into the latter category.

At present women who want the test but are not at proven risk pay €175 towards the true cost of €500. The rest of the money comes from a special subsidy which will run until 2020 and costs an estimated €26m a year.

Parliament decides on which procedures are covered by the basic health package every year and the decision to include the test or extend the subsidy will have to be made in two years’ time.

The national Healthcare Institute’s evaluation carries much political weight, and comes at a time of numerous formation snags, the Volkskrant writes. Christian parties ChristenUnie, CDA and SGP are strongly opposed to a test for all women.

The parties think its ready availability will lead to a ‘Downs free’ society in which parents feel they must justify the birth of a child with a birth defect, the paper said. VVD and D66 support the availability of a test for all women. (DutchNews)


Dutch dairy cows to be sent to Siberia, in a bid to up milk production

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – French dairy company Danone, owner of Dutch company Numico, is going to export five thousand Dutch and German dairy cows to Russia, the Volkskrant reported on Tuesday.

The animals will be transported over a distance of 4,500 kilometres to a farm in Tyumen in Western Siberia. The reason for the move by Danone, which does not normally trade in cattle, are the rising milk prices in Russia.

The country closed its borders to Western European cheese in a reaction to the European boycott over Ukraine. That, in turn, means local milk is now used to make Russian cheese causing milk prices to spike.

This year alone milk prices have gone up by 14% in Russia. ‘This is endangering the production of dairy products, such as yoghurt,’ head of Danone’s Russian unit told Bloomberg. By having the cattle graze in Russia the company is hoping to bring down the price of milk. (DutchNews)


The Netherlands must do more to win the information war, says general

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands needs a new organisation to counteract foreign threats such as the manipulation of the media and the spreading of fake news, according to a senior army official.

Brigadier general Wilfred Rietdijk, the defence ministry’s strategic advisor on national security, told the Volkskrant in an interview that the Netherlands needs a permanent body to monitor foreign efforts to undermine democracy.

‘We need improved monitoring and detection,’ Rietdijk told the paper. He also suggested closer ties between officials and the media to deal with potentially fake news.

The west, said Rietdijk, is losing its advantage over the likes of Russia, China and Iran in terms of the information war, quoting as an example Russian attempts to manipulate public opinion around the MH17 air disaster.

The information war is extremely threatening to democracy and is a continual test of the faith of ordinary citizens in that democracy, he said. Polarisation, he continued, is being encouraged by the spreading of fake news.

‘People have thought about the weaknesses in our system,’ he told the paper.

Security Council

In May, the government’s advisory council on government policy suggested the Netherlands should establish a national security council, in which the defence, foreign affairs and justice ministries would work together.

Rietdijk’s suggestions dovetail with this, the Volkskrant said. Clingendael defence expert Ko Colijn told the paper that there is a need to centralise security issues.

‘The government should be active in many areas: climate, cyber, mass immigration, terrorism, inequality, economic vulnerability,’ he said. Nevertheless, to focus on Russian propaganda is a bit of a hype, he said.

‘There is nothing new in outside interference in elections, just the methods are different. And the Americans do it more than anyone else.’ (DutchNews)


Schoolgirl fails in bid to have exam results overturned in court

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A schoolgirl who narrowly failed her final exams has lost her court battle to have her results overturned. The pupil from Brabant blamed an ambiguous question in the VWO French paper for missing out on an overall pass by 0.05 points.

The exam body CvTE awarded all candidates an extra 0.1 points in compensation but the girl’s lawyer argued that this was inadequate. However, a judge decided on Monday that the board had acted correctly and dismissed the case.

Earlier in the summer teachers had voiced concerns in the media about the standard of the French paper and some said they had deviated from the official marking guidelines.

The education inspectorate took the unusual step of asking to see correspondence between teachers and the CvTE about the exam. (DutchNews)

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