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More dough for your loaf: bread prices likely to keep rising

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – High energy bills and more expensive raw materials and packaging are pushing up the price of bread at bakeries and supermarkets by around 10%, market research bureau GfK has found.

The average price for a loaf at a supermarket went up by 10.8% per kilo while bakeries increased their prices by an average 9.1%. Bakeries in particular need support, researcher Servé Muijres told the AD.

‘Energy costs make up a large chunk of the cost price for bakers, more so than for supermarkets. The impact on them is greater,’ he said. Energy costs used to be a small part of the cost of bread, but it has gone up to between 40% and 50%, Marie-Hélène Zengerink, director of the Dutch bread and pastry baker’s organisation NBOV said.

‘Where customers were charged eight cents a loaf for energy that is now 80 cents becuase of the rising gas prices. That is disproportionate.’

Pastry bakers Maurits van Geenen, who owns Strik Patisserie in Malden said he uses fewer ovens than regular bakeries. ‘But we have more cooling installations which use energy.

Our contract is fixed until January, but I also now pastry bakeries on flexible contracts, which is a nightmare.’ Van Geenen said risks are part of entrepreneurship but that the price hikes are so excessive many businesses could go under.

The government should lend financial support, he said, but bakers too have a responsibility to work more sustainably. ‘Bakers must economise where they can. I have 200 solar panels on the roof of my bakery but that is not enough by far to compensate the current rise in energy costs,’ he told the paper.

A government support package for businesses which has been announced for November may come too late for many bakers, Zengerink said. ‘Something has to be done now.

Last week alone we talked to seven bakers who will have to file for bankruptcy if they don’t get help very soon.’ Another way of helping bakers would be for energy firms to freeze the energy prices for bakers. Zengerink said.

If government aid does not materialise in the short-term bread prices will go up further, Muijres expects. ‘There are no concrete plans for energy compensation as yet and the grain and wheat market remain instable, so bread will not become cheaper any time soon.’

(DutchNews)

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Parliament votes for €100 million for free school meals

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – School dinners are coming to the Netherlands – not as the stuff of fond British school memories, but as an emergency measure to help households in desperate need.

Concerned at the effects on poverty on the health of the younger generation, the Dutch parliament has voted to allocate €100 million for free school meals in vulnerable neighbourhoods.

The proposal from Jan Paternotte, fraction leader of D66 liberal democrats and Laurens Dassen, leader of Volt, aims to ‘enrich the school day’, while boosting children’s health and equal opportunities.

Increase in need

Some schools already offer breakfast to combat child poverty, according to NRC – sometimes used by as much as half of the school’s population in areas such as Delfshaven in Rotterdam.

Paternotte said that it was important to equalise opportunities for children in vulnerable neighbourhoods. ‘There are children in the Netherlands who are brought to school in the morning without having eaten,’ he said in a D66 news release.

‘It’s not okay to be sitting in class with an empty belly. Nothing should stand in the way of children’s development and a good meal at school will give them the energy they need.’

Hans Spekman, director of the Jeugdeducatiefonds charity for educational equal opportunities, which offers financial support to schools, told Dutch News need has increased this year.

‘Before the peak of inflation, at the start of January, a quarter of children had no breakfast, or not enough,’ he said. ‘We see that this has only increased with rising inflation.

There are more requests from schools, because more families are having problems. ‘It’s difficult to quantify, but schools are telling us that more often children have empty lunchboxes or didn’t even have a slice of bread in the morning.

We want every child to have every opportunity to develop and of course eating is essential: if you are hungry, it is difficult to learn.’

(DutchNews)

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Kaag brands Baudet ‘extremist’ after ‘spy college’ tirade derails budget debate

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Finance minister Sigrid Kaag branded Forum voor Democratie leader Thierry Baudet a threat to Dutch democracy after his claims that she attended a ‘college for spies’ disrupted the opening day of the budget debate.

Kaag led a walkout by the entire cabinet after Baudet began his contribution with a tirade about St Antony’s College in Oxford, where Kaag obtained a master’s degree in international relations in the 1980s.

As Baudet began describing the college as ‘a training college for the western secret services’ and ‘globalist elites’, Kaag rose from her seat and left, quickly followed by the rest of the ministerial team, including prime minister Mark Rutte.

‘It’s not just about tonight and it’s not just about me,’ Kaag said after the first day of the debate concluded in the early hours. ‘The wider story is about radicalisation. These are the voices of the extreme right.’

She said Baudet’s comments were consistent with a pattern of ‘half-truths, framing and in this case, obviously, peddling a half-baked story on behalf of a dictator,’ alluding to Baudet’s support for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Baudet was expelled from the chamber on Monday evening by parliamentary chair Vera Bergkamp after he pressed ahead with his speech, ignoring Bergkamp’s demands to return to the subject of the debate.

Rutte: ‘There are limits’

Rutte backed his colleagues’ decision to leave the debating chamber, an unprecedented move which forced Bergkamp to suspend the debate, as at least one minister has to be present.

‘Getting up and leaving the room was our way of showing what we thought,’ Rutte said. There are limits to what you can accept.’

Baudet had been silent for the first six hours of Monday’s debate while other leaders grilled Sophie Hermans, parliamentary leader of Rutte’s VVD party, on the details of the coalition’s 2023 budget.

Baudet had been due to speak later in the evening but asked for his slot to be brought forward because his partner was due to give birth. His intervention dominated the late news bulletins.

Forum voor Democratie won eight seats at last year’s general election but was reduced to a rump of five within weeks after Wybren van Haga, the party’s number two candidate on the electoral list, walked out, taking two colleagues with him.

On the second day of the debate on Tuesday, ministers will respond to the issues raised by MPs on the first day.

(DutchNews)

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There are limits to what we can do about energy bills, Rutte tells MPs

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Prime minister Mark Rutte has defended the government’s 2023 spending plans during a second day of debate on the budget and has made it clear there are limits to what the government can do to help families hit by soaring energy bills.

The debate on the government’s spending plans has been dominated by energy prices and opposition MPs again called on the government to improve its €15 billion package of measures aimed at helping families meet fuel bills this winter.

The government is introducing a ceiling on gas and electricity prices and has upped spending on grants and extra benefits to help poorer families in particular. But opposition MPs say people who live in ‘drafty rental properties’ still face savage cuts in spending power because their homes are not energy efficient.

MPs also highlighted the situation facing households which have switched to heat pumps to provide warmth. They are set to be hard hit by the rise in electricity prices and won’t benefit from the cap on gas use.

Rutte pledged to look at all the anomalies as the details of the plan are finalised. ‘We will do our best but that does not mean things will work out,’ he said. ‘No guarantees.’

Other policies

Suggestions that the government call a halt to efforts to reduce nitrogren-related pollution in an effort to cut costs would only have a knock-on effect on other important policies, such as plans to build new homes, the prime minister said.

He also confirmed the cabinet is working on specific package of measures to help small firms who have been hit hard by rising gas and electricity prices, describing the situation as ‘complex.

‘I get that it is complicated but if that is why nothing happens or is delayed, it would not be acceptable,’ VVD parliamentary party leader Sophie Hermans said.

Baudet

Rutte turned his attention to Wednesday’s debate, when ministers walked out after far right MP Thierry Baudet insinuated finance minister Sigrid Kaag was a spy. The cabinet can deal with criticism of policies and some criticism of individuals, he said. ‘But this was over the top.

My colleague felt extremely uncomfortable, and we said, “we are leaving as a team”.’

(DutchNews)

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1.5 tonnes of cocaine hidden among asparagus and guitars

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Customs officers have uncovered 1.5 tonnes of cocaine hidden in asparagus and a consignment of guitars at Rotterdam port. The first haul involved 450 kilos of the drug, hidden in asparagus which was on its way to Spain.

Officials say they expect the cocaine would have been removed from the container in Rotterdam. The second shipment had been hidden in a consignment of guitars from America and were destined for a Dutch company.

Customs officers say they think the drug was added to the container during a stop in South America. The two hauls had a combined street value of €114 million. Customs officials based at Rotterdam port seized cocaine with a street value of over €5bn last year, or a total of over 70 tonnes of the class A drug.

Police also arrested 198 people who were waiting or were involved in removing the drugs from sea containers – some of whom were picked up multiple times. One was arrested on nine separate occasions.

Last September, European policing organisation Europol published a report saying the increased use of shipping containers to conceal drugs has made the high volume ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg the new epicentre of the European cocaine market.

While Antwerp is the biggest arrival port for cocaine, most of the drug is ‘is likely intended for organisations operating out of the Netherlands, from where the cocaine is further distributed to other European destinations, Europol said.

(DutchNews)

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Income tax down, asset tax up: What the 2023 budget means for you

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch government presented its 2023 spending plans to parliament on Tuesday.

Here are the main measures:

Government finances

The budget deficit will rise to 3% of GDP, just within the EU’s official limit. The national debt will remain at 49.5% of GDP, well within the EU norm.

Taxes and income

Income tax for incomes up to €73,071 will go down by 0.14 percentage point to 36.93%. The income tax cut, combined with an increase in other tax discounts for people in work, will boost average incomes by €500 a year although the self-employed earning more than €70,000 a year will be slightly worse off.

Savings of up to €57,000 are exempt from asset taxes. This is up from €50,000 in 2021. The tax on assets will increase from 31% to 34% over the next three years – based on the estimated increase in their value – currently 0.01% for savings and 5.53% for investments and property.

The tax discount for freelancers (zelfstandigenaftrek) will be reduced to €5,030 in 2023 and cut in stages to €900 by 2027.

Other taxes

The tax on flying will rise by €8 per passenger to €26 per departure flight. Transfer tax on buying property as an investment will rise to 10.4%.

The price of a packet of cigarettes will rise by over €1 to around €9, and will top €10 in 2024. Rolling tobacco will go up to around €17 next year.

The tax on soft drinks will rise by 11 cents. Value-added tax on solar panels will be cut to zero.

Social security

The minimum wage, state pension and other benefits will rise 10% from January Housing benefit will rise by €16.94 a month while over 500,000 low-income tenants living in housing corporation property will be eligible for a rent cut of up to € 57 per month.

Healthcare benefits will rise by up to €43 a month to €134. Childcare benefits will also rise to reach 96% of the cost by 2025.

Energy

A price cap is being introduced on energy bills which will run until the end of next year, limiting most households to a monthly payment of no more than €290. The government is setting aside €50 million for a fund to help people who cannot pay their energy bills.

Low-income families (up to 120% of the minimum wage), will be entitled to up to €1,300 in extra help to pay energy bills, payable by their local authority. The reduction in taxes on petrol and diesel (17 cents less per litre of petrol and 11 cents less for diesel) will be extended to July 2023.

An extra €300 million has been allocated to help households make their homes more energy efficient, on top of the €4 billion which was set aside earlier.

Industry

The tax on profits will go up from 15% to 19% while the threshold for profit tax will go down from €395,000 to €200,000. The ‘mining’ tax paid by gas and oil companies will go up to help pay for the energy bill measures. €145 million has been set aside to stimulate the development of a hydrogen industry in the Netherlands, €180 million for offshore wind power and €200 million for district heating schemes. Cars eligible for company car schemes must be fully electric from 2025.

Education

€1 billion has been allocated to combat ‘inequality of opportunity’ and €1 billion will go on improving the quality of education. Students who live away from home will be entitled to an extra €165 next year, in addition to the basic student grant. €1 billion has been reserved as compensation for students who were not entitled to student grants during the seven years in which they were scrapped.

Healthcare

The cost of health insurance will rise around €11 a month, taking the average premium to €137 a month – however, the exact increase is up to health insurers themselves. Overall spending on healthcare will rise by €6 billion to €105.9 billion, largely due to pay rises.

Other

Members of the royal family will receive an extra €450,000 as income and personnel costs, taking official payments to the king, queen and others to €50.1 million. €3.9 billion will go on support for Ukraine, of which €2.6 billion is for help to refugees.

An additional €1 billion has been allocated to pay for refugee accommodation up to 2027 €100 million will go on preventing ‘vulnerable’ youngsters turning to crime and the same amount will go towards counteracting drugs crime, with a specific focus on ports and airports.

The defence ministry budget will increase by €5 billion a year to reach the Nato norm of 2% of GDP. €5.2 billion has been allocated to stop the spread of coronavirus.

(DutchNews)

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The Dutch government’s 2023 budget: the details so far

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government is presenting its 2023 spending plans on Tuesday.

Here’s what we know so far.

Spending power is the dominant theme in Tuesday’s budget, with €18 billion allocated to alleviating the problems facing both poor households and the middle classes. A price cap on energy bills will be introduced this autumn which will cover up to 12,000 cubic metres of gas and 2,400 kilowatts of electricity a year.

Some 60% of households currently use less than this. The minimum wage and related benefits, such as the state pension, will rise 10% in January, as announced earlier. Housing, healthcare and child benefits will also rise.

The average family is set to have 3.9% more to spend next year, although this will not offset the average drop of 6.8% this year. Low income households will have some 7.5% more to spend.

The lower income tax bracket will be cut. The extra spending will be paid for by an extra ‘contribution’ from oil and gas companies as well as higher corporate and asset taxes.

Other measures

The defence ministry budget will be increased to 2% of GDP, as announced earlier. An extra €3.9 billion to support Ukraine, involving both military and humanitarian measures.

A further €1 billion will be spent on providing crisis accommodation for refugees and regular housing for those who have been given residency status. €5.2 billion has been allocated to pay for measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus next year.

(DutchNews)

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King’s speech strikes sombre tone: ‘these are painful and uncertain times’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is going through a time of ‘paradox and uncertainty’ that has shaken people’s trust in the government’s ability to solve society’s problems, king Willem-Alexander acknowledged in his annual speech from the throne.

The sombre tone of his speech, the centrepiece of the state opening of parliament, reflected the multiple challenges the cabinet faces: soaring energy bills, rising inflation, the war in Ukraine and farmers’ protests against plans to reduce nitrogen compound emissions.

The royal carriage carrying the king, queen Maxima and princess Amalia, attending for the first time since turning 18 in December, was greeted with a mix of cheers and boos on its way from Noordeinde palace to the Koninklijke Schouwburg Theatre.

Some protesters held up inverted flags, which has become the symbol of the farmers’ protests. ‘It is a paradox that in a period of economic growth and low unemployment, households face a cost-of-living crisis and poverty is on the rise,’ the king said in his speech, which was delivered in the theatre while the parliament complex is being renovated.

‘It is a paradox that people in a free country like ours feel unable to express their opinions for fear of hostile reactions or even threats. ‘And it is concerning that, in a mature democracy such as ours, people are losing faith in the problem-solving power of government and politics.’

Groningen and benefits scandal

The king also said the cabinet felt an ‘absolute duty’ to do justice to people living in Groningen whose homes had been damaged by gas extraction and the families whose lives had been damaged by the childcare benefits scandal that brought down the last government.

‘It remains a painful and shameful fact that so many individuals and families face serious problems as a result of mistakes and negligence on the part of the authorities,’ he said.

The speech was revised in the hours before it was delivered to include a passage about plans to cap energy prices, after an agreement with utility companies was finalised on Monday night.

The king said the government would present an ‘unprecedentedly strong package of measures’ worth over €18 billion to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, which is expected to include a limited cap on energy bills based on an average household’s consumption.

‘It is a painful reality that more and more people in the Netherlands are struggling to pay their rent, grocery bills, health insurance and energy bills,’ the king said.

Threat to peace

He said ‘Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine’ threatened the peaceful society Netherlands had built since the Second World War and had reinforced the need for unity with the European Union, Nato and the United Nations.

The king also outlined long-term plans to tackle inequality by raising the minimum wage and benefits while raising taxes on profits and wealth, while higher taxes on gas and oil companies will go towards paying low earners’ energy bills.

But he said the cabinet was still committed to its plans to switch from fossil fuels to ‘clean energy’ and reduce CO2 emissions, as well as creating a ‘new role for nuclear energy. ‘The future agenda cannot be postponed,’ he said.

The 50% reduction in nitrogen emissions, which has been the focus of the farmers’ protests, and a transition to sustainable farming is inevitable, the king emphasised, but he acknowledged this is ‘understandably an emotive subject for farmers, who fear for the future of the family businesses’.

They needed to be given viable options such as new working methods, technology, relocation, while in some cases ‘a buy- outarrangement will be the best option.’

More subsidies will be available for homeowners to make their houses more energy efficient, plans for wind and other renewable energy will be accelerated and the government is aiming to cut off Russian gas supplies completely by the end of the year.

Abolition of slavery

With the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery approaching, the king also gave the strongest hint yet that the government was ready to offer apologies for the wrongs of the colonial past.

‘If we want a society where there is no place for racism and discrimination, where everyone feels heard and appreciated, we must openly reflect on the less pleasant chapters in our history,’ he said.

‘The government has previously spoken out about the actions of the Dutch authorities during the persecution of the Jews, and about the extreme violence on the part of the Netherlands during the period of decolonisation in Indonesia.

As we approach next year’s 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, we need to acknowledge this part of our history, too.’

(DutchNews)

Full Speech from the Throne 2022

By His Royal Highness King Willem Alexander

Speech | 20-09-2022

Members of the States General,

We live in a time of paradox and uncertainty. It is a paradox that, in a period of economic growth and low unemployment, households face a cost-of-living crisis and poverty is on the rise. It is a paradox that, in a free country like ours, people feel unable to express their opinions for fear of hostile reactions or even threats. And it is concerning that, in a mature democracy like ours, people are losing faith in the problem-solving power of government and politics. What is more, people are feeling increasingly uncertain about both the immediate and the longer-term future. About purchasing power and housing shortages. About the reception of asylum seekers, and the war in Ukraine. But also about the major changes we’re facing in areas like the labour market, our climate, energy supplies and nitrogen policy. Each of these issues will determine the way we and our children live, work and do business, and the kind of society in which we will live in the future.

And yet, we may draw strength from the way in which our country, proceeding step by step, has undergone major changes in the past. The gradual nature of that process is essential. Not everything can or need be done at once. Nor must it all be done right now. Often we realise only in hindsight how dramatically things have changed. Take the Industrial Revolution or, more recently, the rise of the internet. Take the massive process of land consolidation and the construction of large new housing developments in the second half of the 20th century. Or the challenging period of post-war reconstruction.

At her investiture in 1948 my grandmother said the following words to the Dutch people:

‘At this moment in world history we find ourselves in a situation in which everything depends on how we conduct ourselves in the face of new dangers. The Netherlands must not merely remain afloat on the stormy seas of global events. It must determine its own course, and furthermore it must endeavour, together with the other peoples of the world, to set a course for the entire global fleet.’ 

In those years of uncertainty our parents and grandparents showed unity and resilience. Today, albeit in very different circumstances, the same is being asked of us. And the Netherlands is not alone in this task. Other countries face similar challenges. No one can say what the world will look like when today’s children have children of their own. But it will be different, because our current way of life is reaching its economic, social and ecological limits. We will need a different economy and labour market. A different approach to the natural world and our living environment. Different ways of living, working, travelling and doing business. And different ways of functioning as a society. But one thing will stay the same: cooperation makes the Netherlands stronger than polarisation. That will never change.

The government realises that people are critical when it comes to the workings of our system of government and politics. At the same time, a large majority remains satisfied with the functioning of our democracy. The government sees this as an encouragement to take the measures, however difficult or controversial, that are truly necessary, and to be open and transparent about them. At the start of this year the government launched an ambitious future agenda for 2030 and beyond, in the conviction that future generations, like us, should be able to lead good lives in a clean, safe country with opportunities for all. That prospect must be available to people of every religion or belief, orientation, age, origin, educational background and profession. To people in both town and country. To people here and in the Caribbean Netherlands, together with Aruba, Curaçao and St Maarten.

Previous generations laid the foundations for the prosperity and free way of life that are the hallmarks of our country. Today that way of life is threatened by Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine. Since 1945 we, in the Netherlands, have lived in peace. Now there is a war close by. The international legal order – and with it our own freedom – is under attack. Every 4th and 5th of May we are accustomed to saying that we must not take the values of freedom and democracy for granted, and that they should be actively upheld and passed down to future generations. Now we are confronted with the question: what are those values worth to us – in both moral and material terms? The outpouring of hospitality and support the Netherlands showed as the war broke out goes some way toward answering that question.

The government is committed to military and humanitarian support for Ukraine, to international sanctions against Russia, and to unity and collaboration in the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. Ukraine has every right to defend itself. Yet again, the EU, NATO and the UN have proven to be the anchors of the Netherlands’ foreign and security policy. With broad parliamentary support, the government has been able to accelerate and increase its planned extra investments in the Dutch armed forces. That is necessary, given that various countries are now striving for a world in which might makes right – a world view that seeks to erode democracy, sovereignty and freedom, and one against which the Netherlands and its international partners must work to erect a dam. This requires well-equipped armed forces to ensure Europe’s security and NATO’s strength. It requires a goal-oriented, democratic and self-assured European Union that takes a greater role on the world stage. And it requires the Netherlands to continue shouldering its broader international responsibilities. International cooperation through aid and trade contributes to peace, security and lives of human dignity around the world.

One direct consequence of the war and the international sanctions against Russia is the soaring price of gas, electricity and food. The impact on individuals, families and businesses is severe. Financial problems lead to rising debts, bankruptcies, health problems and child poverty. It is a painful reality that more and more people in the Netherlands are struggling to pay their rent, grocery bills, health insurance and energy bills. To address this, the government is introducing an unprecedented package of measures worth more than €18 billion and aimed primarily at low- and middle-income households. But even with a package of this magnitude, not everyone can be compensated fully for all the price rises.

Some measures are intended for the short term. The government is working on a price cap for energy, so that people can continue to pay their energy bills. The tax reduction on fuel and the energy allowance will continue in 2023, and healthcare benefit and the basic student grant will increase in the coming year. These measures will be financed in part by a temporary extra contribution from oil and gas companies. In addition, people on low and middle incomes will see their incomes rise on a structural basis. From the 1st of January, the minimum wage and associated benefits will rise by 10%. Housing benefit and the child budget will also rise. For working people, income tax will be cut and the employed person’s tax credit increased, so that it pays more to work. These measures will be paid for in part by higher taxes on profits and wealth, with small and medium-sized enterprises being spared as much as possible. And naturally the government will support the residents of the Caribbean Netherlands – the islands of Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba – who are also dealing with the impact of rising prices.

In pursuing these measures the government will continually seek to maintain the right financial balance. While enhanced purchasing power is sorely needed, it would be irresponsible to simply pass on the bill to the younger generation, or delay necessary policy. The future agenda cannot be postponed.

The government will do everything possible to build broad support for its approach to the nitrogen emissions issue. Industry, the mobility sector and agriculture will have to reduce their emissions. The goal is nature recovery, healthy rural areas and a bright future for Dutch farmers. We have no choice but to halve our country’s nitrogen emissions, not least in order to comply with the legal judgments handed down by the courts and prevent the granting of permits for new projects from coming to a standstill. At the same time, this is understandably an emotive subject for farmers, who fear for the future of the family businesses they are so proud of. Businesses that, in many cases, go back generations. The transition to circular agriculture will be demanding, but will also offer farmers the prospect of a bright future and a decent income. It is important in the year ahead to take the time to explore what precisely is needed in each area. In some cases, running a business along different lines will be a solution. In others, new technology, relocation or a buy-out arrangement will be the best option. Banks, feed producers, supermarkets and consumers also have their own responsibilities in this regard. In the year ahead, the government will be working with all parties towards joint solutions.

The urgency of climate action and the energy transition has only grown recently, as questions have arisen about our gas supplies for the coming winter, and about our dependence on Russian gas. This problem requires various actions. Together with the other EU member states, the Netherlands is working on both energy-saving measures and a quicker transition to clean energy. The Netherlands’ gas storage facilities are well stocked and are being filled further. The goal is for the Netherlands to no longer be dependent on Russian fossil fuels by the end of 2022. In the meantime, we must stay focused on the longer term, because the future will not wait. Reducing CO2 emissions by 60% by 2030 requires action now. The government is focusing on the rapid greening of Dutch industry, more wind power and green hydrogen, and a new role for nuclear energy. People who wish to make their homes more energy-efficient can obtain a grant for that purpose. This summer’s drought has again underlined the vital importance of being prepared for extreme weather and adapting to climate change.

One important, enduring question for the future is how to ensure that high-quality, personalised healthcare remains available and affordable. New solutions are needed. The concept of ‘appropriate care’ is pivotal in this regard. This means everyone receiving the right care at the right location at the right time. Strengthening the primary care provided by GPs and home-based nursing care services will enable more people to be treated close to home. Under the National Prevention Pact, the government will continue promoting sport and healthy lifestyles – after all, prevention is better than cure. Furthermore, COVID-19 is still circulating and the government is of course preparing for the possibility of a new pandemic in the future.

The Netherlands is facing an acute housing shortage. Buying or renting a decent, affordable home is out of reach for more and more people. Especially for first-time buyers and renters, and young people. This is not a situation we can just accept. Everyone has the right to a home in a safe, accessible and attractive neighbourhood, and this is a core task for the government. The government will take back control of housing and spatial planning policy. The National Housing and Construction Agenda sets out the ambition to create 900,000 new homes between now and the end of 2030. The practical challenges may be great, but so is the urgency, and thus the construction of new homes must be accelerated without delay. Working with provinces, municipalities, housing associations and the construction industry, the government aims to achieve that acceleration, including the accompanying infrastructure and transport links.

Another core task of the government is providing security, and ensuring that the rule of law is strong and functions properly. Combating organised crime has the highest priority. It is vital to disrupt the business model of organised crime, both at home and abroad. It should be far easier to confiscate criminal assets and stop offenders managing criminal enterprises from inside prison. The government is investing heavily in protecting the guardians of democracy and the rule of law, such as lawyers, judges, politicians, public administrators and journalists. There is scope across the board for more personnel and new technology, from the Public Prosecution Service to the courts, from the police to the financial investigation authorities, and from the prison system to the probation service. In the field of prevention, partnerships are working to ensure – through education, jobs and mentoring – that young people do not embrace lives of crime. In addition, the government is working to provide better access to the justice system. For members of the public and small and medium-sized enterprises, court fees will be reduced, while payments received by legal-aid lawyers will be increased.

Everyone in the Netherlands should have access to justice, and the government feels an absolute duty to do right by the residents of the earthquake-affected part of Groningen and by the victims of the serious failings in the childcare benefit system. It remains a painful and shameful fact that so many individuals and families face serious problems as a result of mistakes and negligence on the part of the authorities. All efforts are focused on arranging compensation and redress as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this takes time, despite the efforts of many people and the use of considerable resources to that end. In order to prevent such acute problems in the future, the government is working in the meantime to improve the provision of public services and, by extension, to rebuild trust if possible. The rules can and should be made simpler and less rigid, so that, for example, a social assistance benefit recipient does not immediately run into problems if they receive a little extra.

This summer saw a sudden shortage of reception places for asylum seekers, resulting in distressing and unpleasant situations affecting not only those seeking refuge in our country but also reception centre staff and local residents. The government accepts full responsibility for this situation, and is working with municipalities and other relevant organisations to find solutions. Our asylum system is and will continue to be based on the principle that there is always a place in the Netherlands for people forced to flee war, violence and oppression. Anyone who is entitled to remain will have all the rights and obligations associated with participating fully and integrating in our society.

Investing in our country’s future starts with good, accessible education. Equal opportunities mean that every child is able to make the most of their talents, and that begins with reading, writing and arithmetic. This is a top priority for the government. Money is available to ensure, in collaboration with municipalities and social institutions, that services like homework tutoring, sport and other opportunities are made available to children and young people who may not otherwise have access to them. In addition, the government is investing in more opportunities for transferring between educational levels. This will enable pupils to take the step to the most suitable level for them, at a time of their choosing. Major investments in secondary vocational education, higher education and research will create breathing space for staff and students alike. For young people, the reintroduction of the basic student grant in the 2023-2024 academic year should remove as much as possible the financial barriers to entering higher education.

The only way to build an innovative and enterprising future is with a highly skilled labour force. Dutch businesses and their employees showed resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that so many companies are again facing major problems due to soaring costs is an especially hard blow. Small and medium-sized enterprises, which are so important to our country, are finding the situation particularly difficult. The business climate for such companies needs to be enhanced, for example by ensuring they have better access to financing and support when taking measures to improve sustainability. The government will also continue investing in our country’s future earning capacity. Important tasks in this regard include fostering an attractive business climate, creating space for the top sectors and innovative startups, and seizing the many opportunities presented by the digital transformation. Equally important is a well-functioning labour market – particularly now, with many companies facing personnel shortages. The government believes that having a permanent job should be the norm, and is therefore working to strike a new balance between open-ended and flexible employment contracts. Good employment practice pays dividends, and labour migrants deserve decent treatment too. In order to encourage people to work more hours, over the course of the government’s term in office the cost of childcare will be almost fully reimbursed for all working parents. The government is developing a new pension system that is fit for the future and more in keeping with a labour market in which most people will have multiple jobs over the course of their lives. The new system will offer greater scope for indexation and give people a better idea of the pension sum they have accumulated.

It is unavoidable that policy plans are often expressed in terms of money, figures and timeframes. But the underlying aim is always to enhance the quality of our society. With that aim in mind, a vibrant, universally accessible cultural and creative sector is essential, and cultural life was hit hard during the coronavirus crisis. The government is therefore investing in the sector’s recovery, renewal and growth, because culture confronts thorny issues, makes it possible to discuss difficult topics, and helps people find common bonds. 

If we want a society where there is no place for racism and discrimination, where everyone feels heard and appreciated, we must openly reflect on the less pleasant chapters in our history. Not to judge our forebears through the prism of modern values, but to understand what our history means to various groups and cultures that form part of our society. That goes for the entire Kingdom, and for all the countries with which we share special historical ties. By engaging in a dialogue about the past, the government hopes to foster necessary recognition, and help people connect with each other. However difficult and emotional such a dialogue may be, our view of the past cannot remain static. The government has previously spoken out about the actions of the Dutch authorities during the persecution of the Jews, and about the extreme violence on the part of the Netherlands during the period of decolonisation in Indonesia. As we approach next year’s 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, we need to acknowledge this part of our history, too.

Members of the States General,

‘Together we will work for the good of the Netherlands,’ my grandmother said in 1948. They are words that remain as fitting today as they were all those decades ago. In these uncertain times, let us find hope and renewed faith in the knowledge that change in our country has always been a gradual process, and one achieved through cooperation. So it was in the past, and so it is today. With that idea in mind, the government, together with you and all the positive forces in our country, will continue working to find solutions to today’s challenges, and to ensure a bright future for everyone in our Kingdom. In discharging your duties, you may feel supported in the knowledge that many are wishing you wisdom and join me in praying for strength and God’s blessing upon you.

 

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Commissioner Zagers welcomes establishing of Task Force

SABA/THE HAGUE--The Task Force that was established in The Hague last week is a very welcome move to address some of the long-time, urgent matters for Saba, said Commissioner Bruce Zagers.

“Finally, a step in the right direction with a high-level task force that will focus on addressing the bottlenecks that impact our people, our business community and our cost of living. We have been making these problems known for years and with this signing, we now have a commitment that these issues will be addressed,” said Zagers.

Zagers signed the Task Force kick-off document at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK on September 14, together with State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen and St. Eustatius Deputy Government Commissioner Claudia Toet.

The Task Force will work on solving a number of bottlenecks that were identified by the Public Entities Saba and St. Eustatius and in the inter-governmental agreements with the Dutch Government. These bottlenecks include: postal code and citizen service number (BSN), banking services, notarial services, diversification of the economy, undivided estates (housing and real estate), digitization, telecom and internet services, residence and work permits, movement of people and goods.

During the meeting with the State Secretary, Zagers specifically addressed some of these pressing matters. He explained how the lacking of proper banking services has been hampering Saba’s residents and businesses. He mentioned that the Saba Business Association (SBA) has been advocating for a solution for very long.

“When asked by the State Secretary which area I felt was the most important topic to focus on first, I suggested banking without hesitation. Our people and business community deserve better banking services in the widest sense. The current services that are available now are either limited or very expensive. We also need to create opportunities where people can have proper access to mortgages with affordable interest rates. Proper banking is essential for growth,” he said.

Zagers also spoke about the healthcare referrals system and the transport of patients, even though this is a matter that will be part of a separate evaluation and is not in the Task Force list of subjects. “This is an area that I see as a quick win to secure a means of better transportation for patients. WINAIR, which is partly owned by the Dutch Government, should be the primary means of transport while still making use of the charter flights when needed. This is especially important for elderly people and people with mobility issues. Using WINAIR would add more flight capacity for Saba as well,” said Zagers.

The Task Force will be getting to work right away. There will be monthly meetings with the State Secretary to monitor the progress. “I am optimistic that this Task Force will be able to come with practical solutions to these issues that have hindered our progress for years. We have high expectations and we hope for breakthroughs,” said Zagers.

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Renewable energy plans discussed with Minister Jetten

SABA/THE HAGUE--The Saba delegation while in the Netherlands last week, met with Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Rob Jetten to discuss the renewable energy plans for Saba.

“We talked about the importance of more renewable energy with the objective of eventually reaching 100% on an average day, which will greatly reduce our dependency on fossil fuel,” said Commissioner Bruce Zagers, who met with Jetten, together with Island Secretary Tim Muller and Senior Policy Advisor Nicole Johnson. Saba is looking for investment support from the Dutch Government for the renewable energy plans.

The most feasible scenario to eventually accomplish 100% is a combination of wind and solar energy. This scenario has the highest fuel savings to reduce the variable tariff for the consumer. At an average day with sun and wind, sufficient energy would be generated to fully supply Saba, and no diesel would be used to run the generators in the power plant. On such average days, there would be a 100% independency from fossil fuel.

Overall, the combination of solar and wind energy would result in a projected reduction of 76% compared to the current usage of fossil fuel. Currently, Saba has two solar parks, one is located next to the Juancho Yrausquin Airport and the other above the Medical School. As part of the new project, a wind turbine would be constructed, possibly at Fort Bay. Without the solar parks and the subsidies, provided by the Public Entity Saba and the Dutch Government, consumer’s electricity bills would be considerably higher.

Having solar and wind energy, together with additional battery storage, will provide Saba with the highest renewable energy fraction of more than 80%. This will help Saba get closer to its target of 100% sustainable energy in the future. The best scenario was determined with the assistance of an external consultancy, The Green World Company (TGWC), hired by the Saba Electric Company (SEC).

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