2003 through a Dutch kaleidoscope

19th December 2003, Comments 0 comments

From the jailing of Pim Fortuyn's killer to the birth of the Netherlands' future queen, 2003 also saw Dutch political indecisiveness transformed into record budget cuts and revived hopes of football glory. Cormac Mac Ruairi and Aaron Gray-Block look at January to June.

For the 2003 news of July-December, click here

10 January
Clash of cultures continues

The "Muslim issue" which was so central to populist Pim Fortuyn's campaign remained centre stage in 2003. Two female Muslim students mounted a challenge to the ban on wearing veils that cover the entire face at an Amsterdam educational institute. They lost and decided to look for another school.

17 January
Pair jailed in Nulde case

Mike Jansen is jailed for 12 years and his partner Wanda Rikkers for eight for the gruesome killing of the woman's four-year-old daughter Rowena. Known as the "girl from Nulde", Rowena's severed head and body parts had been found dumped in various locations around the Netherlands during 2001. Wanda Rikkers had her jail term reduced in the Arnhem Appeals Court on 24 October from eight to six years.

22 January
Voters go to the polls to 'fix' 2002 result

The Dutch public go back to the polling booth for the second general election in eight months to fix the Dutch political system that had been so traumatised in 2002 by the Fortuyn factor. After his murder nine days earlier, his LPF party won a place at the Cabinet table following the election on 15 May 2002. But chaotic infighting within the LPF brought the Dutch flirtation with populism crashing down just 87 days later.

Second time around, the voters stick with the traditional parties: the Christian Democrat CDA rising one seat to 44 and Labour PvdA, under youthful leader Wouter Bos, rebounded from 23 to 42. Everything points to a CDA-PvdA coalition, but the CDA is on the lookout for more conservative bedfellows. PvdA grassroots were opposed to the impending US invasion of Iraq, while the CDA is broadly supportive.

Over the next two months the two parties conducted on-again-off-again talks, but it would become increasingly clear that a CDA-PvdA coalition was a non-runner.

24 January
Heineken kidnapper cut down

Infamous crime boss Cor van Hout and his associate, Robert Ter Haak, are summarily dispatched in a hail of automatic gunfire outside a Chinese restaurant in Amstelveen. Van Hout was a household name since he masterminded the kidnapping of Dutch beer magnate Freddie Heineken in 1983.

25 January
MP attacks the Prophet

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Somali-born Liberal MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells a newspaper that by modern standards the Prophet Mohammed who married a 12-year-old had been a "perverse tyrant". Hirsi Ali spent the latter part of 2002 in hiding in the US following death threats by Muslims angered by her views on Islam. Undaunted, Hirsi Ali continues to make controversial statements about "backward" Islam during the year and is one of the main critics of Muslim schools.

1 February
Shot for throwing a snowball

Rotterdam is plunged into mourning when an irate motorist inexplicably shot 13-year-old Seder Soares in the head. The victim and his friends had been throwing snowballs at cars. The killer remains at large.

15 February
Police can't shoot straight

It is revealed that 500 police officers in The Hague have failed the annual firing tests and as a result have lost their permits to carry handguns on duty. They are assigned to clerical work instead.

24 February
Ahold hit by book-keeping scandal

The biggest Dutch business event in 2003 occurs on 24 February when retailing giant Ahold — operator of the Albert Heijn chain in the Netherlands — confirms that its US foodservice unit had "overstated" its profit by at least USD 500 million (then valued at EUR 465 million). Ahold CEO Cees van der Hoeven, once the darling of Dutch business, and financial director Michael Meurs stepped down. Van der Hoeven is replaced later in the year by Swede Anders Moberg, who manages to weather more bad publicity when it is reported he is to receive massive bonus payments. He agrees to compromise and link the bonuses to his performance.

28 February
Prince to be the rescue

Prince Bernhard, father of Queen Beatrix, pays the EUR 300 fine imposed by a court on Amsterdam supermarket boss Simon Lindeman who was convicted of breaking the nose of a robber who was already in police custody.

1 March
Sick chickens and jobs for the old boys

March ushered in a major avian flu epidemic which devastated much of the Dutch poultry industry. Prevention proved as deadly as the virus itself as the Agriculture Ministry ordered the culling of 25 million chickens in the next few weeks to stem the spread of the flu.


10 March
Juvenile emerges as teen Idol

Jamai, a 16-year-old schoolboy from Schoonhoven, wins the Dutch version of the star search programme Idols. In the following weeks he scores well in the charts, but he seemed to fade from the limelight by the latter part of the year.

12 March
Union leader seizes the boardroom

A little over a year since he stepped down as Labour PvdA prime minister,  Wim Kok — who started his career in public life as a trade union leader — is  appointed to the boards of Anglo-Dutch petroleum giant Royal Dutch/Shell and Dutch bank ING. He later gets similar positions with post and logistics firm TPG and Dutch airline KLM.

Airlines suffer from Sars

KLM and all other international airlines suffered cancellations and loss of revenue as Sars strikes down thousands of people in Asia. Despite occasional scares, the virus did not reach the Netherlands.

18 March
Cabinet backs US on Iraq

Argument rages through the Netherlands as to whether Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was right to pledge that his government would give "political, but not military support" for a US-led war against Iraq. Unfazed by the contradictory signals from the Netherlands, US President George W. Bush gives the order to attack two days later.

24 March
'Angel of Death' jailed for life

A court in The Hague jails nurse Lucy de Berk for life on 24 March for killing four of her patients and the attempted murder of three others. Dubbed the "Angel of Death", she had denied killing 13 patients, young children and the elderly, with lethal injections. An appeal will be held in the course of 2004.

4 April
'Everything is collapsing'

Ronald Verboom, the incoming commander of the Marechaussee military police, falls on his sword when pornographic material is discovered on the computer in his office.

11 April
Pim 'attacked' again

Fortuyn statue

As if he had not suffered enough already, the memory of murdered populist Pim Fortuyn takes another knock as a flatbed truck carrying a bronze statue of the fallen leader to Rotterdam passes under a low bridge. The statue is beheaded.

On the same day, the Christian Democrat CDA finally pulls out of talks with Labour PvdA about forming a coalition government. CDA leader and caretaker Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende cited a "lack of confidence" between the two parties rather than differences over massive spending cuts as the reason for the failure. Within days, the CDA opened negotiations with the Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 and quickly made a deal.

15 April
Fortuyn's killer is jailed for 18 years

Animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf is jailed for 18 years for the murder of anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn on 6 May 2002. The sentence was confirmed by an appeal court in July.

24 April
PM roasted in Margarita affair

Balkenende gets a roasting in Parliament for his handling of the so-called Margarita Affair, in which the Queen's niece, Margarita, accused the royal family of running a smear campaign against her husband Edwin de Roy van Zuydewijn. Princess Margarita also claimed her conversations on the matter had been secretly recorded. The prime minister denies withholding information from a parliamentary debate on the issue about a letter from the state's legal advisor which suggested the head of the Queen's staff might have acted inappropriately.

25 April
Two die as balcony collapses

Two residents of an apartment complex in Maastricht die when their balcony collapsed. Investigators blamed faulty construction work.

15 May
We are in recession

It comes as no big surprise to anyone when the Central Statistics Bureau (CBS) confirms the Netherlands was officially in recession  First quarter (January to March) growth in the economy in 2003 was 0.3 percent lower than the same period in 2002. The economy also turned in negative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in the fourth quarter of 2002. The two back-to-back quarters of negative growth is defined as a recession.

27 May
New government, no change

New PM

Queen Beatrix stands for the official photograph with Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's second coalition government on the steps of Huis ten Bosch palace in The Hague. The three-party, centre right government is made up of Balkenende's Christian Democrat CDA, the Liberal VVD and the small Democrat D66 party. The government commits itself to slashing public spending to get State finances back on track, while at the same time reviving the economy by imposing a wage freeze.

The football world is shocked when Fons Spooren, the commercial director of PSV Eindhoven, is arrested for allegedly having sex with underage boys in the Anne Frankplantsoen park in the city. Spooren denied he was a paedophile or that he had unprotected sex with young men after discovering he is HIV positive. He was released on bail in August and his trial is expected to begin in 2004.

2 June
Businessman in knife drama

The vulnerability of celebrities to unprovoked attack is underlined when businessman and former Philips executive Roel Pieper and his wife are stabbed in the garden of their Aerdenhout home by a homeless man. Pieper's wife received potentially life-threatening wounds, but survived. Her husband is less seriously injured and leads a campaign for greater security in his locality.

6 June
Dutch troops to go to Iraq

The Cabinet announces that it has decided to send 1,100 marines to Iraq to relieve US troops guarding the southern province Al-Muthanna. MPs approve the decision in mid-June and the Dutch force take over responsibility for the province which is in the British sector on 31 July.

18 June
Royal baby-in-waiting

Having taken a battering in the Margarita affair earlier in the year, the Dutch Royal Family receive a much-needed boost when it is announced that Argentine-born Princess Maxima — the wife of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander — is two months pregnant. Their daughter, Princess Catharina-Amalia, was born on 7 December.

For the 2003 news of July-December, click here

19 December 2003

Subject: Dutch news in 2003

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