Dutch news in brief, Friday 30 January 2009

30th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Read the roundup of today’s press from Radio Netherlands for the latest news in the Netherlands.

Pension funds seriously affected by crisis
The main news on the front pages of nearly all of today's Dutch newspapers is a possible lowering of pension benefits as a result of the global financial crisis. Trouw writes that the funds are ‘experiencing their worst crisis ever’ and de Volkskrant says ‘a reduction of pensions is uncomfortably close’.

According to Trouw, the pension fund lost billions of euros at the end of last year as a result of the financial crisis, much more than was expected. The funds' reserves have decreased to the point where a drastic recovery programme has become inevitable.

With most of the pension funds, the ratio between reserves and pension claims has dropped under the legal minimum of 105 percent. The reserves of some of the smaller funds have even dropped to below 85 percent. The pension funds are legally obliged to submit a recovery plan to the Dutch central bank which will replenish their reserves to the legal minimum in three years.

The pension funds' branch organisation has called on the cabinet and the central bank to give the funds more time to avoid premium increases which would adversely affect spending power and competitiveness. However, according to AD, parliament is divided on the issue and Social Affairs Minister Piet Hein Donner says he fears that postponing drastic measures will only endanger the payment of future pension benefits.

Two-thirds of all donor hearts exported or destroyed

De Telegraaf reports that two-thirds of all Dutch donor hearts are shipped abroad and implanted there or eventually destroyed because of transport and time-related issues. At the same time, dozens of lives are lost each year because of an alleged lack of suitable donor hearts.

The interest group Hartpatiënten Nederland has sent an urgent letter to Public Health Minister Ab Klink in which it writes that "the decrease in the number of heart transplants in the Netherlands has reached a historic low." According to the interest group, in 2007, only 55 out of a total of 167 suitable hearts were actually transplanted into Dutch patients.

The organisation has called on the minister to urgently investigate the reasons behind the current situation and to take measures to quickly increase the number of transplants. In addition to the existing two facilities in Rotterdam and Utrecht, a third transplant centre was taken into use in 2007, but the number of transplants has continued to fall.

Queen Beatrix: when will she abdicate?
Nrc.next is speculating about the possible date when Queen Beatrix, who turns 71 on Saturday, will abdicate in favour of her son Crown Prince Willem Alexander. The paper writes that the media have reserved extra mobile beam transmitters which facilitate live broadcasts to all corners of the country. Amsterdam's New Church, where Dutch kings and queens are coronated, can reportedly no longer be booked ‘on crucial dates’.

In short, rumours about a possible abdication abound, as is usual just ahead of the queen's birthday (not to be confused with Queen's Day, which is celebrated on 30 April, the birthday of the queen's late mother, Juliana). However, the rumours may be slightly more serious this year because the queen is turning 71, the same age her mother abdicated in her favour.

According to nrc.next, people believe Willem Alexander is ready to take over the helm and the renovation of Drakesteyn Castle, where Queen Beatrix says she will move after here abdication, is nearly completed. De Pers writes that the queen's abdication would be a perfect moment to abolish the "archaic institute called monarchy", but goes on to list four reasons why such a move is highly unlikely.

Firstly, there has never been any kind of serious discussion about what kind of republic the Netherlands would like to be. French style? German style? And are there any suitable candidates for the presidency? Secondly, three historical attempts to abolish the monarchy failed due to the underestimated popularity of the House of Orange. Thirdly, the queen is worth a lot of money in tourist revenue and as a non-political representative of the Netherlands which helps conclude foreign business deals. And lastly, they are an important source of scandals, and thus, national entertainment.

Market forces in integration courses “expensive failure”
Trouw has a report on the continuing problems regarding integration courses for immigrants who do no speak Dutch. The paper writes that Integration Minister Eberhard van de Laan was shocked when he found out last November that all attempts to enrol adequate numbers of immigrants have failed.

In 2007, only ten percent of the expected number of 60,000 students enrolled, and in 2008, only half of all immigrants started on an integration course. And a recent study sponsored by the Socialist Party shows that 80 percent of all teachers say the quality of the integration courses is sub-standard.

SP MP Sadet Karabalut, herself of Turkish-Kurdish descent, says the introduction of market forces has meant that experienced teachers have been replaced by cheap unqualified staff, also because the sector is expected to supervise itself. Karabalut says the SP supported the introduction of the 2006 plan for integration courses because ‘language is just hugely important to enable immigrants to catch up’, but objected to the introduction of market forces.

The failure to enrol adequate numbers of students has already cost the government 45 million euros. According to Karabalut “the courses were to get better and cheaper, but things only got worse and more expensive.”

The mystery of the vanishing traffic jams
AD has a report on "The riddle of the decreasing traffic jams". This month has seen a substantial decreased in traffic jams compared to January 2008. There was a general decrease of ten to fourteen percent, with even 20 percent less gridlock during the evening rush hour. However, the experts disagree on the cause of the unexpected reduction.

The VID (Traffic Information Service) mainly blames the economy. The ANWB (Dutch automobile association) says it is mainly a combination of better weather, less work on the roads (not where I live, that's for sure) and more accurate satellite navigation systems.

November and December of 2008 also showed an average reduction of fifteen percent. The experts may disagree on the cause of the reduction in traffic jams, but the real question is: Will it last?  

Radio Netherlands/ Georg Schreuder Hes/ Expatica

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