Soualiga Newsday Focus

Soualiga Newsday Focus (1712)

Health insurance via work? The discounts are being cut next year

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Most people whose health insurance is organised via their job are unaware that the system is being shaken up from next year, according to research by Q&A.

The government plans to cut the maximum discount on collective health insurance schemes from 10% to 5% next year, but 90% of people polled by the research group said they were not aware of the changes.

A spokesman for health minister Bruno Bruins told the AD that insurers should be informing their clients about the cuts. ‘We will approach health insurers to pressure them to communicate this carefully,’ the spokesman said.

Research has shown that some 50% of people will sign up for a collective health insurance policy because of the discounts, but that many end up being over-insured or paying too much.

Research by comparison website last year showed that here are numerous cases where an individual insurance plan is cheaper than one that is set up through a collective. In addition, many argue collective policies are unfair.

‘There is an unfair element in collective insurance,’ spokesman Koen Kuijper said. ‘If you are not part of any group, you cannot profit from the discount.

Everyone should get equal access to healthcare and basic health insurance. Fiddling with discounts for specific groups disadvantages others.’



Dutch population will rise by one million by 2035, says CBS

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch population will grow by more than a million people by 2035, according to projections by the Dutch environmental assessment agency PBL and statistics office CBS.

The agencies say in a new report that the population will rise to 18.3 million inhabitants from the 17.1 million current total. Cities will see the strongest growth and the population of Amsterdam alone is projected to rise by 150,000.

Growth is also projected in municipalities near large cities, such as Almere and Haarlemmermeer (Amsterdam) Zuidplas (Rotterdam) and Rijswijk (The Hague.) However, the population in places like Groningen, Drenthe, Achterhoek, Limburg and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen is projected to shrink.

The report looks at other city demographics, including aging and residency. Currently, people over 65 make up 19% of the total population, and that is set to rise to 25% by 2035.

Though the population is ageing within cities, the rate is higher in rural areas, where some 30% of the population will be pensioners by that date. The agencies noted that projections are always uncertain and that things like home construction and immigration can be difficult to predict.



Off-duty Dordrecht policeman shoots daughters, 8 and 12, and wife

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The quiet residential estate of Sterrenburg in Dordrecht has been shocked by a family killing in which an off-duty policeman shot dead his two daughters, seriously injured his wife and then turned his gun on himself.

The woman died later in hospital, the Telegraaf said on Tuesday, quoting police sources. One neighbour told the Telegraaf she had spoken to the mother a couple of days ago and ‘she was very sad but did not want to say what was wrong,’ the neighbour said.

Mayor Wouter Kolff described the neighbourhood as close-knit. The mayor and public prosecution department are due to make a statement later on Tuesday.



Unmarried mother forced to give up her baby is suing the Dutch state

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – An unmarried mother who claims the government policy played a part in forcing her to give up her newborn baby in the 60s is suing the state for emotional damage, claiming it flouted Dutch and international law, Trouw reported on Tuesday.

Trudy Scheele-Gertsen (73) is one of over 10,000 women in the 1950s, 60s and 70s who gave up their child at birth. She is also the first woman to go to court over accusations of unlawful behaviour by the state between 1956, when the adoption law was passed, and 1984, when abortion became legal.

Scheele-Gertsen claims that care for unmarried mothers at the time was focused on separating mothers and children. According to her lawyer Lisa-Marie Komp this contravened Dutch and international law which said the tie between mother and child should be preserved on principle, Trouw said.

Child protection agency Raad voor de Kinderbescherming also ignored Scheele-Gertsen’s repeatedly expressed wish to keep and raise he child, she said, and her case was never heard in court, which should have been part of the procedure.

She also claims never to have been told of her right to welfare and financial support from the father of the child. The boy ended up in care for the first three years of his life before he was adopted.

Organised system

‘What was done to me and my son is disgraceful,’ she told the paper, ‘that is the main reason I am going to court.’ Scheele-Gertsen claims the state was instrumental in forcing women to give up their babies by putting in place an ‘organised system’.

Scheele-Gertsen also said she wants to know why care disappeared from homes for unmarried mothers in the 1950s and why state institutions promoted the idea that keeping unmarried mothers and their children together was undesirable.

These and other questions will form part of the inquiry announced by junior justice minister Sander Dekker into the circumstances under which unmarried women parted with their babies.


The association De Nederlandse Afstandsmoeders, an organisation which champions the cause of unmarried women who gave up their children at the time, said she ‘had never come across a case in which the woman hadn’t been put under enormous pressure to part with her child and whose files didn’t contain mistakes’.

‘From experience and from conversations with other mothers, we know what a devastating effect it had and how riddled with mistakes the whole process was. Unconsciously or consciously, this was often as a result of a deliberate policy which prejudiced unmarried women and girls,’ chairwoman Will van Sebille told the paper.



Government spending on royal furniture adds up to €10m over 40 years

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch royal family has received around €10 million from the government in the last 40 years for the upkeep and replacement of furniture in four palaces, according to a study of official documents by NRC.

In 1978 the government agreed to buy the entire contents of the two ‘working palaces’ of Noordeinde and Huis ten Bosch, both in The Hague, in a deal which was later extended to Soestdijk palace and Het Loo in Apeldoorn.

The agreement includes an annual maintenance budget, linked to wage and price inflation, which had risen to €320,000 in 2019. Prime minister Dries van Agt drew up the plan to acquire the royal family’s furniture in 1978 in connection with an act passed five years earlier designed to secure the monarch’s income.

Until 1973 the queen’s income was specified in the constitution, meaning any pay rise required a two-thirds majority in parliament. In the 1960s Queen Juliana asked for her allowance to be more than doubled from 2.5 million to 5.2 million guilders, but the plan was opposed by Labour (PvdA) members.

The cabinet decided to devise a new method for paying royal wages and expenses that would modernise and formalise the system while avoiding a repeat of the controversy surrounding Juliana’s pay demand.

The result was the 1973 Wet financieel statuut van het Koninklijk Huis. Previously confidential documents outlining how the agreement came about were made public last year and are held in the national archives.

Since one of Juliana’s main financial gripes was the high cost of maintaining the palaces, the government agreed to take ownership of the furniture and let the royal household keep it on loan, on condition that it did not leave the palaces without permission.

The new rules led to clashes between the royal household and government departments on who foots the bill for new furniture, according to NRC. In 1978 the then princess Beatrix requested a set of cabinets for her study at Paleis ten Bosch for 300,000 guilders.

Ministers argued that the items should be paid out of the royal family’s own resources, but Beatrix’s adviser, Carel van Schelle, argued firmly that they were ‘functional’ and should be acquired by the government.



Justice officials pressed for Wilders to be prosecuted for ‘fewer Moroccans’ speech

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Senior civil servants put pressure on prosecutors to take Geert Wilders to court for his ‘fewer Moroccans’ speech, according to documents seen by RTL Nieuws.

In a series of memos, justice ministry officials wrote that Wilders’s comments were ‘malicious’ and ‘racist’. One asked, after reading a confidential report prepared for justice minister Ivo Opstelten in September 2014: ‘Is the prosecution service now convinced of the desirability and viability of a prosecution?’

The leader of the anti-immigration PVV party is currently appealing against his conviction for inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans in the televised speech, delivered in the aftermath of the local elections in March 2014.

Wilders asked a roomful of supporters if they wanted to have ‘more or fewer’ Moroccans in the country. When the crowd shouted back: ‘Fewer, fewer,’ Wilders responded: ‘We’ll take care of that.’

In December 2016, a panel of three judges ruled that the comments were ‘demeaning and insulting to the Moroccan population’. Wilders’s lawyer, Geert-Jan Knoops, last week asked judges to dismiss the case after it emerged that Opstelten discussed it with justice department officials before the decision to prosecute was announced.

The appeal court rejected the request, but judges have said they will investigate claims of political interference during the course of the hearing.

Call for inquiry

The current justice minister, Ferd Grapperhaus, declined to respond to the contents of the memos, which have been released by RTL Nieuws. He said: ‘I need to be extremely reticent regarding the contents of the documents that have been handed over.

It is precisely because I don’t get involved in individual cases that I will not be commenting on them at this time.’ Wilders said the memos were evidence of a ‘witch-hunt’ by Opstelden, a minister from the right-wing liberal VVD party, said the appeal hearing should be stopped and called for a parliamentary inquiry.

‘It is unbelievable that the justice ministry interfered in my case in such detail,’ he said. ‘It looks like a witch-hunt, an act of retribution by the VVD minister and his department against me.’

Politicians from other parties also voiced concerns about government officials had meddled in the business of the courts. ‘The prosecution service is not an arm of the ministry, but part of our judiciary,’ said D66 MP Maarten Groothuizen.

‘It looks as if the department wants to have a lot of control. That fits with the impression that civil servants are doing whatever it takes to keep their ministers out of the firing line.’

Labour MP Attje Kuiken said the memos contradicted previous assurances that there had been no interference in Wilders’s trial. ‘I want Grapperhaus to explain what has been discussed with the prosecution service and I want to know as well why the minister did not disclose this earlier.’



Dutch did question MH17 witness before he was returned to Russia: minister

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A potential key witness in the MH17 investigation who was released by Ukraine at the weekend was questioned by Dutch officials before he left for Moscow, Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok has told MPs.

Vladimir Tsemakh, 58, was arrested in a separatist-held part of Ukraine earlier this year. He is said by investigators to have had a key role with Russian-backed Ukrainian rebel forces.

Flight MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board. Most of the people on board were Dutch and the investigation into what happened is being led by Dutch officials.

The international investigation team said in 2016 that the missile had been brought from Russia and fired from a field controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Tsemakh was arrested and charged with terrorism offences at the end of June.

The prisoner exchange, reported by both the Russian and Ukrainian state news agencies, involved 35 Russians and 35 Ukrainians.


Blok told MPs in a statement on Saturday that the prisoner exchange had been delayed to allow officials from the Dutch public prosecution service to question Tsemakh.

‘The Netherlands applied pressure at the highest diplomatic and political levels’ to keep Tsemakh in Ukraine, Blok said. Although officials were able to question him, the Netherlands regrets that he has been included in the prisoner exchange, under pressure from the Russian authorities, Blok said.

Earlier this year, the Netherlands issued arrest warrants for four men – three Russians and a Ukrainian – on murder charges. Tsemakh is not among the suspects but is considered a ‘person of interest’.



Intertoys back in the hands of its Dutch owner, as Green Swan sells

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – High street staple Intertoys is back in Dutch hands, after Portuguese investment house Green Swan, which bought the ailing company in March, agreed to sell it to the Mirage Toys Group.

Mirage Toys Group is owned by Mirage Holding, the new name for Blokker Holding which owned the toy stores until 2017. Intertoys now has 127 own stores and 80 franchises in the Netherlands, a sharp reduction on its size before it was sold to investment company Alteri by the Blokker family in December 2017.

Intertoys went bust at the beginning of this year. The deal also includes Maxi Toys, which has 200 shops in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Together, the two chains have annual turnover of some €400m.

Mirage Toys Group chief executive Michiel Witteveen told the Financieele Dagblad that Intertoys was not running at full steam. ‘Nothing has been brought in for the festive season,’ he said.

‘We are going to start work on that on Monday.’ Green Swan said at the time of the takeover six months ago that it had big plans for Intertoys and it is unclear why the company has now agreed to sell the chain back to its previous owner.

Green Swan general manager Rodrigo Saraiva told that the deal is a ‘great opportunity’ for everyone. ‘Mirage’s proposal to maintain the strategy and synergies between companies and brands was seen very positive by Green Swan,’ he said.

‘We’ll remain collaborative, maintaining the cooperation between these brands and Toys R Us Spain and Portugal.’ This April, the Blokker family also agreed to sell the Blokker household goods retailer and discounter Big Bazar to Witteveen, who was formerly was chief executive of the Blokker Holding company.



Government must invest money in coping with tourism, think-tank says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch government must invest in ensuring the Netherlands remains a pleasant place to live as tourism continues to grow, an influential advisory body said on Friday.

The Council for the Environment and Infrastructure said ministers must immediately pump money into dealing with the negative impact of tourism because the country is now at a ‘crossroads’.

While tourism generates twice as much money as agriculture for the treasury, just a handful of civil servants are busy with policy, the council points out. Amsterdam’s medieval inner city, the village of Giethoorn and the windmill village of Kinderdijk are among the most notorious tourist black spots.

Earlier this year, roads were closed when tens of thousands of tourists tried to visit the Keukenhof flower gardens. Coastal villages too, such as Ouddorp, Cadzand and the Wadden Islands, are also feeling the impact of the growth in visitors.

Unorthodox measures, such as renaming Muiderslot Amsterdam Castle, are having limited impact, council member Marjolein Demmers told the Volkskrant. And the idea of removing prostitution from the red-light district, now under serious consideration in the capital, shows local officials are running after the facts, she said.

Tourism is often included under local authority economic affairs departments, but it impacts so much more, she told the paper. ‘Strategy is limited to promoting a city and then, when it gets too busy, coming up with ideas to limit the nuisance,’ she is quoted as saying in the NRC. ‘This has to be done differently.’


Earlier this week it emerged that Haarlem is planning to take steps to boost the quality of its tourists by acting now, before the problem becomes too great. ‘Haarlem has to learn from Amsterdam and other tourist destinations,’ the policy document said.

‘We don’t want to repair the damage after the fact, but act in advance.’ According to figures from the national statistics agency CBS, tourism generated €87.5bn for the Dutch economy last year, but well over the half the total derived from locals holidaying at home or on day trips.

Domestic tourism

Some €50bn of the total was due to domestic tourism, largely due to the long, hot summer in 2018, the CBS said. Belgians and Germans were the two biggest groups of foreign tourists.

In total, tourism-generated income rose 6.4%. Options available to local councils to control tourism include limiting hotel and holiday rental capacity, raising prices and tourist taxes, and attempting to influence tourist behaviour, the agency said.

In addition, all parts of the Netherlands which are tourist destinations should start work now on drawing up a strategy for the future as should national government, and ensure they build up proper expertise.



Schoolgirl murder was caught on surveillance camera, court is told

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The murder of a 16-year-old schoolgirl last December was caught on the school’s security cameras and the footage may be shown at the trial, the AD said on Friday.

Humeyra was was shot dead in the college bicycle shed just 45 minutes before she was due to meet police to talk about being stalked. Bekir E, who had been given a suspended jail term and banned from contacting the girl in August last year, has been charged with the killing, along with another man.

Humeyra had a short relationship with him, but broke if off after discovering he was 30. News of the footage, said to be extremely clear, was made public at a procedural hearing, ahead of the November trial.

The girl’s family are opposed to the film being shown, as are lawyers for the two defendants, the AD said. Nevertheless, the judge wants to keep the option open, depending on how the case progresses, the AD said.


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