Soualiga Newsday Focus

Soualiga Newsday Focus (1566)

‘Road pricing would make electric car owners pay their fair share’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The ruling right-wing VVD is looking into the option of introducing some form of road pricing in the Netherlands and could include the option in its manifesto for the 2021 general election, parliamentary party leader Klaas Dijkhof has said.

Road pricing would be a new way of taxing motoring, given so many people are switching to electric-powered cars, Dijkhof told podcast Betrouwbare Bronnen. At the moment, ‘the more you drive the more you pay,’ Dijkhof said.

‘If you can’t raise taxes via the petrol pump, we need to think how we can do it,’ he told the programme. ‘You need to find a way to make sure electric car owners pay their fair share.’

Earlier this week, road pricing was part of a package of measures to cut pollution and car usage proposed by an alliance of motoring and public transport organisations. ‘We are aiming for 2024 as the start of a road pricing scheme which will cover everyone, not just in rush hour,’ Steven van Eijck, chairman of the Rai motoring organisation, told the Telegraaf.

In January, the Volkskrant published a survey showing there is growing support in the Netherlands for some form of road pricing, through which motorists pay a tax on every kilometre they drive.

In 2009 the then transport minister Camiel Eurlings dropped plans to introduce road pricing from 2011 because it would be too complex and would cost too much to run.



Asparagus farmer faces fines for paying pickers 55 cents a kilo

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An asparagus farmer from the south east of Brabant has been exploiting 23 ‘labour migrants’ by paying them per kilo of asparagus they cut and putting them up in caravans without electricity, social affairs ministry inspectors said on Friday.

The inspectors were alerted to the situation by local council officials but did not say where the farm was located, or which company was involved. The 23 people found at the site said they were required to work seven days a week and often 12-hour days.

They were working without a contract and did not have health insurance. The workers were paid 55 cents for every kilo they picked, even though piece work is illegal in the Netherlands.

This meant they earned around €230 a week, picking up to 70 kilos of asparagus a day. Farmers earn up around €7 per kilo of asparagus. The group lived in caravans without electricity and with two showers between them.

There was no fridge and little in the way of cooking facilities. The farmer can expect fines for breaking minimum wage and working hour rules, the inspectors said.

In 2011, an asparagus farmer in Brabant was sentenced to three years in jail for 33 infringements of minimum wage and employment legislation and for employing illegal immigrants.



Dutch police union concerned about forensic staff shortages

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The ‘chronic shortage’ of police forensic staff is hampering investigations and the problem is only likely to worse in the future, according to police union NPB.

The union has now written to justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus expressing its concerns about the severe shortage of forensic staff and calling on the government to take action.

The national police’s forensics department has a current workforce of 1,500 but needs about three times that number, the union said. Budget cuts and the ageing police population are among the reasons for the shortfall which is only likely to get worse in the future.

Some 40% of staff are currently over the age of 55. The ‘chronic shortage of manpower in forensics’, is putting excessive strain on the staff, union chief Jan Struijs said in the letter.

The average waiting time for DNA tests is currently 60 days, and crime scenes are not being examined completely. ‘The number of requests for forensic investigations has increased enormously, and the government’s response to this has been inadequate,’ Struijs said.

The workload and the stress of having to deal with human suffering on a day-to-day basis are taking its toll on the staff, with absenteeism averaging 9% in the last five years.

The union is urging the minister to ‘recognise the severity of the situation’, and to ‘come up with an integral plan to improve working conditions.’



10 arrested after cocaine found in flowers at two Dutch airports

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Ten people who work or worked for a logistics company which does business via Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport have been arrested on drugs smuggling charges.

The arrests follow the discovery of 27 kilos of cocaine hidden in cut flowers in January. The investigation also led to the seizure of 160 kilos of cocaine hidden in flowers at Maastricht airport several weeks later.

The suspects are aged between 30 and 40 and were arrested at the airport, in Amsterdam and Almere. Eight of the 10, who include Dutch, Polish, Azerbaijani and Latvian nationals, remain in custody.

The logistics company is located close to Schiphol but the military police who are investing the smuggling efforts have declined to give further details.



Floating solar farm group targets 2,000 hectares of water

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A consortium of local and national government, and private sector companies is working on plans to develop massive floating solar farms in the Netherlands which they say could contribute ‘substantially’ to Dutch renewable energy targets by 2023.

The Floating Solar consortium has a target of establishing 2,000 hectares of floating solar farms by 2023 – involving a hundred thousand solar power panels. This would make the Netherlands the leading European country for floating solar power, the consortium says.

The Netherlands aims to derive 16% of energy usage from sustainable sources by 2023. Nature organisations, however, are concerned about the plans, which they say will have a serious impact on fish and bird life.

‘If you cover the surface water so that no sunlight gets through, you will destroy the ecosystem,’ Kees de Pater of the bird protection group Vogelbescherming told Trouw.

However, Wiep Folkerts of research group TNO, which is also involved in the project, says the impact on nature will be looked at carefully. ‘Furthermore, the countryside is not high on the list of possible locations,’ he said.

The Netherlands already has a couple of floating solar farms, in Drenthe and on Texel. The advantage of a floating farm is that it can be turned to face the sun, boosting energy production by 30%.

Green groups say more should be done to utilise other options, such as the tops of buildings. In 2017, environmental organisation Natuur & Milieu calculated that is enough room on the roofs of Dutch homes for 145 million solar panels.



Digitisation leaves the Netherlands vulnerable to cyber attacks: NCTV

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to IT failures and attacks because almost all vital processes and systems have been completely digitised with no analogue back-ups, the Dutch counter terrorism unit NCTV said on Wednesday.

‘The Netherlands is dependent on a limited number of providers and countries. This makes us vulnerable to changed intentions,’ the report said. ‘For example, a large part of the hard and software is designed and produced in China and the US.’

In addition, little expertise is needed to launch a cyber-attack which could, for example, knock out gas, electricity and water supplies. The best way to reduce the risks is to improve security systems.

And while companies and government are taking action, they sometimes think the cost of the improvements are not worth it ‘until things go wrong,’ the NCTV said. The biggest threats come from China, Russia and Iran, the NCTV said, in a restatement of earlier reports.

China presents the greatest threat in terms of economic espionage while Russia considers the Netherlands ‘interesting’ because of MH17, the report said.



Big Dutch cities, coffee shops say no to regulated marijuana trials

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A handful of the Netherlands’ medium sized cities have come forward to take part in the government’s controversial regulated marijuana experiment, but the five biggest cities have all said no, the Volkskrant said on Monday.

Tilburg, Almere, Breda and Nijmegen had signed up for the trials by the June 11 deadline and Groningen is also considering the idea, even though the city’s 12 cannabis cafes are opposed, the paper said.

The experiment with regulated growing is supposed to remove the grey area between the sale of marijuana in council-licenced coffee shops and the illegal cultivation and supply.

However, there are so many problems with the proposals that the big cities, where most of the coffee shops are located, see no point in taking part. One issue is with the four-year trial period, which will not be extended, even if the experiment is successful.

This means that coffee shop owners will be forced back into the illegal circuit after four years of selling ‘legal’ marijuana. Another objection is the requirement that all coffee shops within a council area take part in the scheme.

In Amsterdam, with 175 coffee shops, this would be impossible to control, mayor Femke Halsema said. In addition, the coffee shops would not be allowed to sell any ‘foreign’ hashish, which currently accounts for up to 25% of sales.

This would drive users into the illegal circuit, experts say. The conditions for the experiment still have to be approved in the lower house of parliament.



Trade disputes lead Dutch central bank to revise down growth forecasts

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The pace of economic growth in the Netherlands is set to slow down slightly and is now projected to reach 1.6% in 2019 and 1.5% next year, the Dutch central bank said on Tuesday in its new half-yearly forecast.

Last December the bank put growth at 1.7% this year and in 2020, down from earlier forecasts of 2.2% and 1.9%. The lower growth rates are largely attributable to international economic developments, which will act as a drag on Dutch export growth, the bank said.

‘These forecasts have to be seen against a background of international trade issues,’ central bank economist Tjerk Kroes told the Financieele Dagblad, referring to the trade conflicts between the US and China and Europe, the risks attached to Brexit and differences between Rome and Brussels about Italian budgetary policy.

Falling consumer confidence is also having an impact, as is the cooling of the Dutch housing market. Unemployment is set to remain at a historic low of 3.3% throughout 2019, 2020 and 2021, the central bank said.

At the same time, businesses are expected to scale back investment in 2020 and 2021. The central bank also sees further increases in household income, on the back of low unemployment and inflation.

Inflation itself will reach 2.5% this year but fall to 1.6% in 2020 after the impact of higher energy bills has worked through.



Dutch orphans, 2 and 4, brought back from northern Syria

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Two Dutch children, orphaned in Syria after their IS-supporting parents were killed, have been handed over to the Dutch authorities, the foreign ministry confirmed on Monday.

The children, aged two and four, were part of a group of children removed from a camp in Syria by the French authorities and transferred to Dutch care. Their mother, who was Dutch, died earlier this year at a camp and their father, who was Belgian, was killed some time ago, broadcaster NOS said.

It is unclear from the reports exactly how the transfer was arranged. According to senior Kurdish representative Abdulkarim Omar, a Dutch foreign ministry delegation had been in Kurdish controlled territory last week.

A further 12 French orphans were involved in the transfer, Abudlkarim said.


However, Dutch justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus said last week that the area where the children were was too dangerous to send Dutch representatives.

The ministry said on Monday that the rescue was a French operation and that contacts between the French and the Dutch had made it possible to transfer the two orphans to the Netherlands.

There are at least 170 children with Dutch parentage in Syria, and 55 adults and 85 children are said to live in the camps. MPs gave a mixed reaction to the news.

The CDA said the fact that the children are orphans is key, while D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma said children should not be the victims of ‘their parents’ terrible choices.’



YouTube removes Alkmaar film archive for ‘hate-mongering’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Video sharing site YouTube removed all archive material belonging to the regional archive in Alkmaar for ‘hate-mongering’ for a time this weekend, NH Nieuws reports.

The material YouTube objected to included images from World War II which featured swastikas and other Nazi symbols, which may have been the reason for its removal. Other historic images of the town of Alkmaar were also removed, however.

‘This is censorship of official material,’ archivist Mark Alphenaar told NH Nieuws. ‘They are accusing of us op inciting hate, but we are an official institution.’

The archive, which was removed on national archive day, was 10 years in the making and includes ‘often unique’ images of wartime Alkmaar. The archive’s YouTube channel is used by schools for educational purposes.

All the material is backed up on the archive’s own server. It is not the first time the archive has fallen foul of the YouTube policy on hatemongering. An archive photograph of NSB leader Anton Mussert was removed for the same reason a year ago.

‘We wrote to YouTube and complained but we never received a reply,’ Alphenaar said. YouTube announced earlier this week it was beefing up its policy against hatemongering.

The archive was back online shortly before 12am on Monday after thousands of people had protested to YouTube owner Google. ‘If videos are wrongly removed, we will take action quickly,’ spokesman Mark Jansen told the broadcaster.

‘One of the things we look at is whether the footage has educational or news value – and this context is of great importance in determining if a video has a place on YouTube.’


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