Prime minister's credibility at stake as dividend memo debate heats up

Prime minister Mark Rutte and finance minister Eric Wiebes faced a stormy debate in parliament on Wednesday afternoon following the publication of memos about the new government's controversial decision to abolish dividend tax. In particular, Rutte's earlier insistence that there were no memos, only to publish them on Tuesday evening, have raised questions about the prime minister's credibility, commentators said. Socialist Party leader Lilian Marijnissen said Rutte is no longer able to hide behind his claim that he remembered nothing about the memos. He must have seen the memo written by finance minister Eric Wiebes, she told MPs. 'Of course he knew about the memos,' said Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher. 'The prime minister must come up with a statement to restore his credibility.' GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver said that more than the prime minister's reputation is at stake. 'The credibility of the political system is under fire and I blame the prime minister for that,' he said. 'This is politics at its most ugly.' Finance ministry The memos themselves make it clear that finance ministry officials felt abolishing the tax on foreign shareholders 'did not play a major role' in the Netherlands attractiveness as a place to do business, as argued strongly by the cabinet. In addition, it would be be 'bad for the Netherlands' image' because it increased the risk of companies moving money through the country as part of tax avoidance schemes, finance ministry officials state. The scrapping of the tax on foreign shareholders will cost the Dutch treasury €1.4 billion a year from 2020. Shell and Unilever Opposition parties have claimed that the decision to abolish the tax was the outcome of a co-ordinated campaign by multinational firms such as Unilever and Shell and the employers’ organisation VNO-NCW. The memos make it clear that Unilever, in particular, had been involved in high-level lobbying and that the potential of losing Unilever's headquarters to London had played a major role in the decision to scrap the tax. In particular, Unilever chief executive had had talks with Wiebes himself, who was then the VVD's finance spokesman. Rutte described Unilever’s decision last month to locate its headquarters in Rotterdam as ‘very good news’ but denied that it was the sole reason for scrapping the tax. The debate, which began at 3pm, is set to go on into the evening.    More >

Grindr attack man arrested for grooming

One of the two Dordrecht men who was threatened by a gang of youths after arranging to meet someone via gay dating app Grindr has himself been arrested on charges of grooming, the AD said on Wednesday. The two men had made dates for the Easter weekend but on turning up for their meetings, both men were confronted by a large gang of teenagers. A 28 year-old-man was beaten up by the gang, but the other, who was 33, managed to get away. He has now been picked up for trying to make a sex date with a minor, the paper said. The AD says the youths claimed on Facebook that they were 'paedophile hunters' and that the Grindr dates were part of their 'research'. The 14-year-old youth who was among the 13 teenagers arrested is said to have been used as bait. All 13 youths have since been released from custody and no charges have yet been brought. The second man involved in the attacks has issued a statement via his lawyer denying he had been aiming to have sex with a minor.  More >

'Schiphol expansion must focus on safety'

The safety of air passengers and air crew is not taken into account sufficiently in ongoing discussions about the expansion of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, the Dutch Safety Board said on Wednesday. Last year the board published a report which concluded Schiphol should only be allowed to expand when there had been a structural reduction in safety risks. The government’s response to that report prompted today’s statement. Both the airport authority and the minister have used the report to stress that Schiphol is safe, the board said. ‘In so doing, they are bypassing the conclusion which states that there are limits to safe operations and Schiphol is fast approaching those limits.’ ‘This one-sided emphasis on a “safe” Schiphol does not do justice to the board’s concerns about safety,’ the board said. The Schiphol debate, the board said, is focusing on the 500,000 aircraft movement limit. However, this does not take into account the 20,000 non-commercial flights at Schiphol which also have an impact on safety standards.  More >

Brussels urged to act on Airbnb rentals

Amsterdam is among 12 European cities which have written to the European Commission asking for a meeting to discuss ways to improve and update legislation covering holiday rentals. The letter was drawn up following a meeting in Amsterdam in January, at which cities discussed the problems they face in controlling the surge in online platforms such as Airbnb. Several European cities, including Amsterdam, have brought in rules to control the growth in tourist rentals and protect their own housing markets. However, EU privacy legislation is going to make it more difficult to take action against people who break the rules, the cities say. In particular, the new EU law on data protection (GDPR) will limit the cities' ability to force booking platforms to share rental information. But this data, the cities argue, is essential to successfully target and prosecute people who break local rental laws. In addition, booking websites argue they cannot be held responsible for the listings because advertising is free. However, in several US cities, including San Francisco and New Orleans, booking sites have agreed to remove unregistered apartments, the cities point out. The European cities, including Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Vienna, have asked for a meeting with the internal markets and consumer affairs commissioners in Brussels to discuss the issues.  More >

Primary school teachers get older

Teachers at Dutch primary schools are getting older and one in five now is over the age of 55, national statistics agency CBS said on Wednesday. That means the number of teachers some 10 years away from retirement has almost doubled in the past 14 years. Men dominate the ranks of older teachers - one in three male primary school teachers is over the age of 55. At the same time, the number of students at teacher training colleges has slumped, the CBS said. In the 2003/04 academic year, 10,000 people were attending pabo colleges to become a teacher. There are just 4,500 students in the current academic year. The CBS says the sharp drop is due to stronger selection procedures to become a teacher. Dutch primary schools have been hit by a series of strikes in recent months as teachers call for better pay and measures to ease the pressure of work, partly due to the shortage of staff. Although school pupil numbers will decline in the years to come, there is a mismatch with teacher numbers and the teacher shortage will increase, the CBS said.  More >

Amsterdam policeman among Prague arrests

One of the seven Dutch men arrested in Prague after a waiter was beaten up at the weekend is an Amsterdam policeman attached to the high impact crimes unit, the Telegraaf said on Wednesday. The police officer was one of two men who have been released from jail because he had tried to break up the fight, the paper said. He is now back at work in the Dutch capital. Five men remain in custody in Prague and could face several years in jail for attacking the waiter, who had reportedly told them they could not drink their own alcohol on the café terrace. According to the AD, the seven were in Prague for a stag weekend and will hear on Thursday whether or not they can be released.   More >

Ram raiders face longer jail terms

The public prosecution department said on Wednesday it is going to increase its sentencing demands for ram raiders and people who blow up ATMs. The current guidelines sentence is 15 months in jail for both offences, but the risk to both people and property is considerable, hence the need for tougher sentences, the public prosecutor said. In particular, thieves are using increasingly powerful explosives to blow up ATMs and this has increased the risk of buildings collapsing. The sentencing demand for blowing up an ATM will now range from 12 to 24 months, if there are no homes in the building. However, if people do live in the same block, the sentence should be four years in jail, the department said. Ram raiders will face jail terms of 21 months. The Dutch retail association welcomed the move. 'Now boost the odds of catching them,' a spokesman told news agency ANP.  More >