Politics

Wilders calls for referendum to support ban on minarets

By Willem Plasterk

AMSTERDAM – Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders has called for a referendum to support a ban on minarets.

After a referendum in Switzerland in November 2009, a constitutional amendment banning the construction of new minarets was approved.

Wilders’ argument is that if the Swiss did it, the it can also be done here.

It is the second time Wilders has demanded a referendum having made another call in 2009 in a reaction to the Swiss plebiscite.

In a reaction to Wilders’ call, Labor party leader Job Cohen stated he does not support this proposal since he values freedom of religion.

Similar statements have been made by the Swiss Federal commission against Racism, which claims that the initiative violates religious freedom and defames Muslims.

But Wilders  says the ban on the construction minarets has no relation to the freedom of religion as minarets are considered a dominance symbol for Islam.

The PVV is not the only foreign party to agree with the Swiss ban.

The Freedom Party of Austria proposed a similar ban Austria.

Filip Dewinter of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang said “it is a signal that they have to adapt to our way of life and not the other way around.”

 

General practitioners go on strike

By Zahra Runderkamp

AMSTERDAM – Around a thousand general practitioners suspended work Thursday to protest government plans to cut spending on family doctor services.

They say the cuts will have serious repercussions for their patients including higher costs.

The government intends to cut 132 million Euros from the general practitioners budget, which will result in a net loss of 20.000 Euro per general head.

Despite their relatively smaller budget, general practitioners say they have been severely affected by the new legislation, which wants them to take over long-term patients including those from diabetes and lung disease, from hospitals.

That’s where the problem begins.

Their transfer from hospitals to the general practitioners means that hospitals will be saving a lot of money, as they will now have to treat fewer patients.

Yet the general practitioners will now be responsible for costs involving long-term patients.

With the new cuts proposed by the government, they claim that it will be impossible to take care of them.

General practitioners have invested a lot of money over the last few months to accommodate these long-term patients. Moreover, hospitals _considered general overcrowded_, also face serious cuts and are unable to bear the costs of all patients.

The general practitioners are hoping that their strike will turn some heads, and raise awareness among the Dutch population that these measures will affect them, too, and hopefully, change the legislation.

NS forces clients to go for more expensive option

By Anneclaire van Not

AMSTERDAM – Travelers going from Amsterdam to Rotterdam with a regular NS train will have to deal with an extended travel time of ten minutes starting next year, reports Dutch daily NRC Next.

The only alternative to prevent this delay is taking the faster, but more expensive Fyra.

According to the Maatschappij Beter OV, the NS, the Dutch national railway company, is abusing its monopoly position and forcing travelers to take the more expensive train.

The organization Beter OV calls it a deterioration of regular train services, whereas the NS refers to it as providing faster ways of traveling (the Fyra beats the regular trains by at least ten minutes).

The Fyra has cost the NS over 385 million Euros this year alone, almost bankrupting the NS High Speed Alliance.

In order to avoid bankruptcy, the Fyra surcharge was lowered to increase the number of passengers on Fyra trains.

The Fyra is still running loss, but it is unknown how much.

Beter OV accuses the NS of having made the travel time for regular trains longer on purpose, to get more of its customers to take the Fyra.

Instead, they have proposed a solution to this problem.

“If the NS let’s its daughter companies compete with each other, the travel times will be shorter and the ticket prices lower”.

Beter OV has filed an official complaint with the NMa (Nederlandse Mededingsautoriteit), but the NS does not expect any problems, especially not because Rover, the leading travel organization in the Netherlands, has already agreed with the new schedule.

Childish Quarrels mar Second Chamber debates

By Stella Toonen

AMSTERDAM – Discussions associated with last Tuesday’s budget proposal for 2012 seemed to get out of hand.

Traditionally,  the Queen announces the Government’s financial plans for the next year on Prinsjesdag.

Deliberations are always followed by some days of discussion and reflection from political parties.

After some disagreements are resolved the parties are normally satisfied, but this year the tensions in the Second Chamber (the Dutch equivalent of the House of Representatives) got tense.

This year, the allocation of the Government’s budget seemed to be the cause of the political storm.

Left-wing opposition parties sought more financial aid for people with low incomes, while the right-wing Government actually tried to cut most benefits.

Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer emphasized the ‘social’ element of the word ‘society’ and said that the Government had become one of only individual gaining.

Democratic Party leader Alexander Pechtold said that cuts were not necessary if there was a possibility for good reforms.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is adamant “some cuts are just necessary.”

The tone of the discussions also became a point of irritation, observers said.

Right-wing party leader Geert Wilders was accused of inappropriate wording of his opinion, but Rutte did not want to give him “the attention for a reaction.”

Rutte said he was opposed to Wilders’ suggestion that  the Turkish Prime Minister  was an “Islamitic monkey”.

The dialogue became a childish quarrel in which no one wanted to give in.

“Act normal, man” was Wilders’ defense, to which the prime-minister replied “Act normal yourself, man”.

Government’s budget for 2012 shows effects of crisis

By Stella Toonen

AMSTERDAM – Queen Beatrix will officially announce the “Miljoenennota” in The Hague Tuesday during “Prinsjesdag” proceedings.

“Prinsjesdag” is a day set aside for the monarch to address a joint session of the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives.

The “Miljoenennota” is the Dutch Government’s budget proposal for the next year.  She will also present the “Troonrede,” her speech about the Government’s non-financial regulations for 2012.

Next year’s proposal shows cuts in several benefit regulation while a decrease in purchasing power will also take center stage.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s main goal is to reduce the national debt, a move expected to spark severe cuts in all ministries.

The most important amendments are cuts in health care, rent and day care benefits.

Lower- and middle-class families are expected to bear the brunt of these new rules.

Amsterdam alderman André Van Es of the left-wing party GroenLinks said it is “unbelievable that the Government doesn’t choose to increase taxes for people with higher incomes.”

Also, prices will increase by 4 percent, while Dutch salaries will only enjoy a 2 percent increment as  the Euro 5.8 billion cuts hog the limelight.

That means the purchasing power will decline, which also was the case last year and the year before.

The Miljoenennota also emphasises the importance of a united Europe. In a 76-paged document, the word “Europe” features at least forty times.

A showdown is expected between coalition partners with Rutte (VVD) willing to make sacrifices to support Europe, while tough-talking, right wing party leader Geert Wilders (PVV) is demanding an exit strategy.

Wilders’ PVV wants Queen out of politics

By Maxine van Grootel and Maurits Pieper

AMSTERDAM – Far-right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders is seeking to reduce Queen Beatrix’s role to that of a ceremonial monarch according to draft legislation released Thursday by his PVV party.

Wilders, notorious for his rants against Muslims, says the Queen’s mediating role in government formation should be scrapped.

“This is about modernizing the monarchy,” Wilders was quoted as saying.

He is however adamant she should remain a ceremonial head of state for the purposes of unity.

The proposed law will be evaluated by the Council of State before it moves to parliament for debating and voting.

Wilders’ plans may hit a snag if his party fails to get two-thirds majority support in parliament.

But several opposition parties including Labour, which is the second-largest in parliament, D66 and Green Left are thought to be siding with Wilders.

“The monarch should remain as the head of state but should be completely independent and should not be connected in any way to political responsibilities,” said Wilder’s PVV colleague Andre Elissen.

The Queen, backed by government ministers, makes up the Dutch parliament.

According to the Dutch Constitution, the Queen remains an unchallengeable figurehead.

No one can force her to resign. In fact, ministers are technically responsible for any statements attributed to the Queen.

She along with a respective minister signs into law all legislation adopted by the parliament.

She also signs the Acts of Parliament and the Royal Decrees.

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