Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and cabinet resign over child welfare payment scandal


The move was seen as largely symbolic; Rutte’s government will remain in office in a caretaker mode until a new coalition is formed after a March 17 election in the Netherlands.

The resignation brings to an end a decade in office for Rutte, although his party is expected to win the election, putting him first in line to begin talks to form the next government. If he succeeds in forming a new coalition, Rutte would most likely again become prime minister.

Geert Wilders, leader of the largest opposition party in the Dutch parliament said it was the right decision for the government to quit.

“Innocent people have been criminalised, their lives destroyed and parliament was informed about it inaccurately and incompletely,” he tweeted.

The Netherlands is the third European country thrown into political uncertainty this week in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. In Estonia, the government resigned over a corruption scandal, while Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte’s governing coalition is at risk of collapse after one party withdrew its support.

Rutte said earlier this week that his government would be able to keep taking tough policy decisions in the battle against the coronavirus even if it were in caretaker mode. The Netherlands is in a tough lockdown until at least February 9, and the government is considering imposing an overnight curfew amid fears about new, more contagious variants of the virus.

“To the Netherlands I say: Our struggle against the coronavirus will continue,” Rutte said.

Jesse Klaver, the leader of one opposition party, told national broadcaster NOS he would continue to support the government in its coronavirus campaign.

On Thursday, localtime, the leader of the opposition Labor Party stepped down because he was minister of social affairs in a coalition led by Rutte when the country’s tax office implemented a tough policy of tracking down fraudulent child welfare claims.

A sitting minister, Eric Wiebes, who also was linked to the scandal, said Friday he was resigning with immediate effect and would not be part of the caretaker administration.

At Friday’s Cabinet meeting, ministers decided their reaction to a scathing parliamentary report issued last month, titled Unprecedented Injustice, that said the tax office policies violated “fundamental principles of the rule of law.” The report also criticised the government for the way it provided information to parliament about the scandal.

Many wrongfully accused parents were plunged into debt when tax officials demanded repayment of payments. The government has in the past apologised for the tax office’s methods and in March earmarked 500 million euros ($784 million) to compensate more than 20,000 parents.

In a written reaction, the government pledged to reform the welfare system as a result of the scandal and to quickly pay affected parents 30,000 euros ($47,000) and expand existing compensation schemes.

“Everything is aimed at offering the parents and their children a new start in life,” the government said.

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One of the parents waited near parliament as the Cabinet met and said she wanted it to resign.

“It’s important for me because it is the government acknowledging, ‘We have made a mistake and we are taking responsibility,’ because it’s quite something what happened to us,” Janet Ramesar told The Associated Press.

Rutte plans to lead his conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy into the March election, and polls suggest it will win the most seats. That would put Rutte, who has been in office for a decade at the head of three different coalitions, first in line to attempt to form the next ruling coalition.

But he said that it was up to voters at the election to decide on his future, noting that he took ultimate responsibility for failings within his government.

“The buck stops here,” he said.

AP

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Dutch border officials confiscate ham sandwiches from UK lorry drivers: ‘Welcome to the Brexit’


B

order guards in the Netherlands have confiscated ham sandwiches and other foods from UK lorry drivers.

Dutch TV network NPO 1 filmed officials explaining to drivers that travellers from outside the EU are banned from bringing in meat and dairy.

Drivers were told that the move was due to Brexit, the BBC reported.

“Since Brexit, you are no longer allowed to bring certain foods to Europe, like meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, that kind of stuff,” one border guard told drivers.

In one instance, a bemused driver who arrived by ferry at the Hook of Holland sea port asked an official if he could at least keep the bread.

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Drivers were told that the move was due to Brexit

/ REUTERS )

But the border guard replied: “No, everything will be confiscated – welcome to the Brexit, sir. I’m sorry.”

The UK Government’s own guidance warns lorry drivers of “additional restrictions” around imports.

“You cannot bring POAO (products of an animal origin) such as those containing meat or dairy (e.g. a ham and cheese sandwich) into the EU”, the guidance says.

“There are exceptions to this rule for certain quantities of powdered infant milk, infant food, special foods, or special processed pet feed.”

The European Commission’s website says that the ban is needed in order to protect European animal health from “dangerous pathogens” such as Foot and Mouth Disease and classical swine fever.

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Bruised Oranges – The Dutch royals are botching covid-19 etiquette | Europe


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Dutch intelligence says it’s uncovered 2 Russian spies


THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A Dutch intelligence agency said Thursday that it has uncovered two Russian spies who were targeting the Netherlands’ science and technology sector.

The General Intelligence and Security Service said the agents worked at the Russian embassy and had diplomatic accreditation.

“Both intelligence officers have been declared persona non grata by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” the Dutch agency said. “Consequently they are no longer allowed to work as diplomats in the Netherlands, and they will have to leave the country forthwith.”

The Dutch agency known as the AIVD said that the officers both worked for Russia’s civil intelligence agency known as SVR. One of them built a network of sources who work or used to work in the high-tech sector in the Netherlands, the AIVD said, the second agent “played a supporting role.”

“Some of these individuals received payment from the intelligence officer in exchange for information,” the agency said.

The revelation is likely to further cool already frosty Dutch-Russian relations. The two countries have long been at odds over the investigation into the downing in 2014 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over conflict-ravaged eastern Ukraine.

The Netherlands has said it holds Russia legally responsible for the downing, which killed all 298 passengers and crew on the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight. Prosecutors say the passenger jet was shot down with a Buk missile that was transported into Ukraine from a Russian military base. Moscow has always denied involvement.

The Russian embassy in The Hague did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment on Thursday’s announcement.





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Baudet faces task of rebuilding Dutch far-right party after reelection – POLITICO


Thierry Baudet is again the face of the Dutch far-right party Forum for Democracy (FvD) — at least what’s left of it.

On Friday, Baudet was reelected as the leader of the anti-EU party following a power struggle that saw many prominent members jumping ship, including its three lawmakers in the European Parliament.

With his party in tatters, the former populist prodigy is now facing the immense task of recruiting new people, starting with candidates for the Dutch general election in March.

“We will leave this period behind as soon as possible,” Baudet vowed after his reelection, adding that he would continue to fight to “save the country” and “protect our civilization.”

The party’s implosion came as its standing in the polls took a sharp dive, with many voters turned off by Baudet’s support for anti-lockdown activists and groups spreading coronavirus conspiracy theories.

A recent poll projected that the FvD — which currently holds two seats in parliament — would win around four seats if an election were to be held now, compared to 15 in February and 24 at the height of its popularity 18 months ago, when it took the largest vote share in provincial elections.

That victory stunned the Dutch political establishment. The upstart party, founded in 2016, also secured 12 of 75 seats in the country’s upper parliamentary house last year, putting it in joint first place — but after the recent wave of resignations, only four of them are left.

A number of controversies in recent years have fractured the FvD, including accusations of racism against its members and allegations of close ties with Russia, both denied by Baudet. The party also split in two after a disagreement over the misuse of funding between Baudet and one of the co-founders last year.

Baudet’s fortune seemed to finally run dry last month when Dutch newspaper Het Parool published evidence of the FvD’s youth branch, run by his close ally Freek Jansen, posting anti-Semitic and racist chat messages.

Instead of firing Jansen, as senior party members had demanded, Baudet announced on November 23 he was stepping down as leader but later said he would still stand in the leadership contest.

That sparked a mass exodus and public snipping between the different factions. Baudet was no longer able to enter the party’s headquarters after the board changed the locks, and an ex-girlfriend and candidate for the general election told Baudet live on television that she was no longer backing him.

It also kindled new allegations of racism within the party. One senator claimed that Baudet told a dinner party of prospective MPs that the Hungarian-born philanthropist and billionaire George Soros — often a target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories — was responsible for COVID-19 and wanted to “take away our freedoms.”

The senator also recounted how Baudet responded to concerns about anti-Semitism in the party by saying that “almost everyone I know is anti-Semitic.” Baudet didn’t deny making these statements but refused to explain what he had meant.

Baudet’s reelection on Friday — by two-thirds of party members — prompted a slew of new resignations, including those of the three FvD MEPs. All three declined to respond to questions from POLITICO.

MEP Derk Jan Eppink said in a statement that he and his colleagues “will continue to stand up for the Dutch interest in Brussels,” adding that under center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte, “the Netherlands has become an ATM for the European Union.” The three MEPs will stay in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, the FvD’s political family, in the European Parliament.

The trouble within the FvD comes as a welcome relief for Rutte and Geert Wilders, the head of the Netherlands’ other far-right populist party. As the FvD struggles, its voters are flocking to their parties.

That means that the upcoming election will likely turn into a contest between the two political veterans.

According to the latest polls, Rutte’s liberal party is set to remain the largest party with 36 seats — three more seats than it won in the 2017 election. Wilders’ Freedom Party is projected to win 27 seats, up from 20 in 2017.





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Brexit Depicted as Blue Furry Monster in Dutch Government Campaign



Brexit was depicted as a blue furry monster in an awareness-raising campaign launched by the government of the Netherlands on November 19. “Make sure that Brexit doesn’t get in your way,” was the accompanying message for the campaign, which featured a website and a Brexit impact scan. In footage published for the campaign, the furry monster is seen getting out of bed and clumsily getting ready for the day ahead, eating a full English breakfast and unwittingly knocking items over in its own house. It then dons a T-shirt with Brexit written on it. Credit: Stef Blok/Netherlands Government via Storyful



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New Zealand man acquitted of Terri King murder now reportedly suspect in Dutch torture chamber case


A suspect in a multinational European organised crime investigation that uncovered a makeshift prison and torture chamber was previously acquitted of a high-profile Wellington murder in 1999, according to Dutch media reports.

Nine arrests were made after Dutch police discovered seven shipping containers converted into a makeshift prison and a sound-proofed “torture chamber”, complete with a dentist’s chair and tools including pliers, scalpels and handcuffs.

The June discovery in Wouwse Plantage, a small southwestern village in the Netherlands, further exposed the increasingly violent underworld of Dutch gangs and their large-scale production and trafficking of drugs.

Terri King, known most of his life as Trevor Heath, was killed, execution style, in the Tararua Ranges in Wellington in 1999. No-one was ever found guilty of his murder. (Stuff NZ)
William Jan H Haanstra, 43, has been named as one of nine arrested and identified by Dutch magazine Panorama as the main suspect in the unsolved murder of Terri King, whose body was found in the Tararua Ranges in April 1999.

He was charged over the murder of Mr King but was acquitted by a jury after a two-month trial in the High Court at Wellington. At the time, the trial cast a spotlight on the capital city’s drug scene.

Mr King, 31, known most of his life by his adopted name, Trevor Raymond Heath, was shot, execution style, in the back of the head while on Mount Holdsworth in the Tararua Ranges.

Police alleged Mr King, who was well known in the Wellington drug and party scene, had been seen going into the mountains with Mr Haanstra in search of a buried stash of MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

Two months later a hunter stumbled upon his decaying body, which showed a severe head wound.

No murder weapon was found and it was six months before Mr Haanstra, an unemployed model, was arrested and charged over the death.

In 2002, coroner Jock Kershaw ruled that Mr King’s killer was “unknown”.

Dutch police say they have arrested six men after discovering sea containers that had been converted into a makeshift prison and sound-proofed torture chamber complete with a dentists chair, tools including pliers and scalpels and handcuffs. (Netherlands Police via AP)

In 2010, a police officer involved in the trial, Detective Sergeant Ross Levy, told The Dominion Post after he retired that Mr Haanstra “wasn’t found innocent, he was found not guilty”, and police were not looking for anyone else in relation to Mr King’s murder.

In Panorama, Dutch journalist Eric Slot alleged Mr Haanstra was one of nine arrested in June, after a joint operation by Dutch and French police to infiltrate an encrypted phone system, EncroChat.

The BBC reported that British and Dutch police had already arrested hundreds of suspects based on the encrypted messages, seizing more than 8000 kilograms of cocaine, 1200 kilograms of crystal meth and dozens of firearms, and dismantling 19 synthetic drugs labs.

After intercepting millions of messages, police found the containers in April in Wouwse Plantage, near the Belgian border, and put them under observation. Police discovered multiple men were working on them almost every day.

William Jan Haanstra arrives at court in 2000. He was the main suspect in the murder of Terri King, but was acquitted of the crime. (Craig Simcox/ Evening Post via Stuff NZ)

Data from the encrypted phone network included photographs of the container and the dentist chair, with belts attached to the arm and foot supports.

The messages called the warehouse the “treatment room” and the “ebi”, a reference to a top-security Dutch prison.

The messages also revealed identities of potential victims, who were warned and went into hiding, Dutch police said.

Mr Slot reported that Mr Haanstra was also a suspect in the disappearance and suspected murder of a Dutch man, Remco van der Torre, in 2008.

Police believe Mr van der Torre wanted to sell 20 kilograms of weed and had invited people to his home before he disappeared.

“Traces of blood were found in his home and someone had tried to set it on fire,” Mr Slot said.

Mr Haanstra was arrested, along with another man, but both were released because of a lack of evidence.

This article originally appeared on Stuff and has been republished with permission.



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Dutch whale tail sculpture catches crashed metro train


Even so, some 50 people were at the scene late on Monday morning as engineers tried to work out how to stabilise and then remove the train amid strengthening winds.

“A team of experts is investigating how we can make it safe and get it down,” Carly Gorter, a spokeswoman for the local security authority, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s tricky,” she added.

Sightseers were urged to stay away from the scene due to the pandemic.Credit:AP

The architect who designed the sculpture, Maarten Struijs, told Dutch broadcaster RTL he was pleased that it likely saved the life of the driver.

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“I’m surprised it’s so strong,” he said. “If plastic has been standing for 20 years, you don’t expect it to hold a metro carriage.”

The company that operates the metro line said the driver was not injured and there were no passengers on the train when it crashed through stop barriers at the end of the station in the town of Spijkenisse, on the southern edge of Rotterdam, early on Monday morning. The station is the final stop on the metro line.

Authorities launched an investigation into how the train could plough through the barrier at the end of the rail tracks. The driver was being interviewed as part of the probe, the Rijnmondveilig security authority said.

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Dutch government puts KLM bailout plan on hold after pilots reject wage freeze


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THE HAGUE — The Dutch government said on Saturday it will put on hold its bailout plan to KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, after the airline’s pilots rejected a demand that their wages be frozen until 2025, Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra said.

KLM had been slated to receive a 3.4 billion euro ($3.96 billion) package, including 1 billion euros in direct loans from the Dutch government to help it through the coronavirus pandemic.

“I find it very disappointing but this way we cannot move forward with the loan now,” Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoestra told journalists.

He spoke shortly after the pilots’ union refused to accept a wage freeze until 2025, arguing it had already agreed to a freeze lasting until March 2022, and that changing the agreement at short notice was not feasible.

Ahead of the government announcement, KLM CEO Pieter Elbers stressed how much the company needed the money.

“Without this loan KLM will not make it through these challenging times,” Elbers said in a statement.

Hoekstra said KLM would not immediately go bankrupt but did not have much in the way of reserves.

“They cannot last more than a few months,” he said.

Other unions representing ground and cabin crews have agreed to the extended wage freeze, which is set to last as long as the airline receives government support.

The Dutch government warned on Friday it would withhold the bailout package unless the company adjusted its restructuring plan to include the wage freezes.

Air France-KLM on Friday reported a 67% drop in third-quarter revenue to 2.52 billion euros, underlining the airline’s difficult financial condition as a new COVID-19 surge poses further threats to an industry crippled by the epidemic and a collapse in long-haul travel. ($1 = 0.8586 euros) (Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg Editing by John Stonestreet and James Drummond)



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Return Looted Art to Former Colonies, Dutch Committee Tells Government


The Netherlands should return looted art to its former colonies: That’s the official recommendation of an advisory committee to the Dutch government.

After a year of research, including interviews with people in former Dutch colonies such as Indonesia, Suriname and several Caribbean islands, the committee released its report in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

The lawyer and human rights activist Lilian Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, who led the committee, said in an interview that the government should acknowledge the injustices of colonialism and be willing to return objects without conditions if it can be proven that they were acquired involuntarily, and if their countries of origin ask for them.

The report calls for the creation of a body of experts to investigate objects’ provenance when requests are made, and a publicly accessible national database of all the colonial collections in Dutch museums.

Credit…Gero Breloer/Deutsche Presse Agentur, via Associated Press

The decision on whether to return an object, however, would ultimately rest with the Dutch government.

Ingrid van Engelshoven, the Dutch minister of education, culture and science, who commissioned the report, said in an emailed statement that it offered “clear starting points for a new way to handle colonial collections.” She said she would present draft legislation based on the advice in early 2021.

The Netherlands owns hundreds of thousands of objects that were acquired during the country’s colonial history. But the exact number is unknown.

Creating a database and researching the background of all these objects would be a huge undertaking, said Jos van Beurden, an independent researcher who has specialized in restitution since the 1990s.

“The principle is fantastic,” he said. “But I’m worried about the execution.”

A similar report commissioned by the French government shows that the path from ideas to action can be a long and winding one. After a high-profile 2017 speech in which President Emmanuel Macron promised to return much of Africa’s heritage, the report he commissioned from two academics said that items brought to French museums without the permission of their countries of origin should be returned, if they were requested.

Since 2018, when the report was released, only 27 restitutions have been announced, and only one object, a traditional sword from Senegal, has been returned.

On Tuesday, France’s National Assembly passed a bill that would allow the official restitution of those 27 items, including 26 which would be returned to Benin, within the next year. The bill now has to be considered by the French Senate.

Bénédicte Savoy, one of the authors the French report, said in an interview that the bill, which was passed unanimously, proved that France now positively welcomed the restitution debate. Tuesday’s vote would set a useful precedent for future restitutions, she added.

“Perhaps the steps are small, but it seems to me that they are symbolically big,” she said.

Ms. Savoy said that the Dutch report was the “logical continuation” of the Netherlands’ longtime constructive dialogue with its former colonies regarding potential restitutions. “It seems to me that the debate is less tense in the Netherlands than in France,” she said, adding that she expected the Dutch government to adopt the report’s recommendations.

But attempts by Dutch museums to reckon with the country’s colonial past have not always gone down well with the public. Last year, the Hermitage Museum, in Amsterdam, said it would jettison the term “Golden Age” for the era in the 17th century when the Netherlands was a world leader in art, science and trade, because the phrase obscured a history of slavery and exploitation. That decision was met with widespread condemnation and derided by Prime Minister Mark Rutte as “nonsense.”

Stijn Schoonderwoerd, the director of the National Museum of World Cultures, a consortium of museums in the Netherlands, said that if the Dutch report were implemented, it would be important to engage the former colonies in discussions about the objects they might want back before any action was taken.

“It would almost be neocolonial to presume to know what’s good for Indonesia or Suriname, or any other country,” Mr. Schoonderwoerd said.

The report also addresses objects in Dutch museums that came from countries colonized by other European powers: The committee said a decision about returning those should be made on “the basis of reasonableness and fairness, and on the basis of a balance of interests.” Ms. Gonçalves, the committee chair, said that international relations could be a factor in these decisions, whereas the report recommended unconditional return to former colonies of the Netherlands.

But wherever the objects were from, Ms. Gonçalves said, the Dutch government should act to right the wrongs of colonialism. “The main principle remains the same: What was stolen should be returned.”

Alex Marshall and Constant Méheut contributed reporting.



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