Dutch news in brief, Friday 30 October 2009

30th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Read the roundup of today's Dutch press from Radio Netherlands.

To be or not to be: Balkenende for EU president?

Today’s newspapers are all tantalised by a single question: Will Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende become the first European president? “Will it be him or won’t it be him?” Trouw ponders, revealing that, while the current EU summit in Brussels is ostensibly all about the environment and the financial crisis, “when the microphones are switched off, it’s all about the names”.

De Telegraaf lets the pictures do the talking and features a front-page snap of the Dutch PM holding court with the likes of a beaming Nicolas Sarkozy, asking “The new boss?”.

With a decision expected soon, speculation is reaching fever pitch and much of the Dutch press reckon the Christian Democrat leader’s star is well and truly on the rise now that heavyweight candidate Tony Blair has been “dismissed as a relic of the Bush era”, according to AD. NRC-next claims: “Balkenende’s name is on everyone’s lips”. AD leads with: “Support for Balkenende on the rise in Brussels”, while Trouw reckons “Balkenende is more and more in the picture”.

Balkenende: tough competition and irritation at home

It’s certainly not going to be plain sailing for the Dutch PM though. NRC Handelsblad warns: “They’re all jostling for the top spot” and “the outcome is uncertain”. De Telegraaf tips Luxembourg’s PM Jean-Claude Juncker and former Finnish PM Paavo Tapio Lipponen as the main competition. NRC Handlesblad goes with Latvia’s Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Ireland’s John Bruton.

AD emphasises that Balkenende has more to worry about than Europe alone. The paper notes that “irritation is growing in The Hague” as MPs back at home are miffed by the PM’s coy tactics. He denies he even wants the European top job even though his unofficial candidacy is the most public of secrets: “The grumbling grows ever louder as Balkenende’s silence paralyses Dutch political life.”

The paper reckons even his own party has had enough, with one internal source quoted as saying: “He’s talking to no one. I even wonder if his own wife knows the score.” Let’s hope the decision’s made soon. Judging by today’s media frenzy, the Netherlands cannot bear to be kept in suspense much longer…

Dutch sniffer dogs rule the world

A gigantic pair of nostrils pokes out at us from the front page of today’s NRC-next, accompanied by the headline “Dutch noses sniff around everywhere”. It’s not a slur on the Dutch character, but a paean to the Dutch sniffer dog, which the paper informs us, is “in demand the world over for tracking down drugs and explosives”.

The paper announces proudly that “the Netherlands is the world’s largest supplier” of these talented canines and that “there’s a very good chance that the dog checking Obama’s car for explosives or intercepting 500 kilos of cocaine on the Mexican border is from the Netherlands.”

So what makes a good sniffer dog? The paper talks to top Dutch trainer Piet van den Broek who looks for “the primitive hunting instinct, constantly wanting to play with a ball … They have to be a little bit crazy, a bit hyperactive.” But more prosaic qualities are also essential: “They can’t have problems with slippery surfaces. Many dogs that grow up outdoors are afraid of airport floors.”

Business is booming: a single animal can fetch up to EUR 6000 and Van den Broek exports around 400 a year to 33 different countries. He attributes the Netherlands’ leading position to its age-old tradition of breeding and domesticating animals. But he also stresses the human touch. “We put more emotion in our voices when we talk to our dogs ... China recently started up its own breeding stations, but they’re too big and the dogs aren’t given enough attention. Dogs are like people, they have to experience things in order to socialise … the best sniffer dogs come from private owners who have invested time and energy in their upbringing.”

Advisory body slaps government’s wrist for discrimination

Trouw reports that the Dutch government has been given a firm rap on the knuckles for discriminating against the country’s Moroccan community. Advisory body the Council for Social Development has criticised the government for a letter it sent to parliament in which it held Dutch Moroccans partly responsible for the criminal behaviour shown by Moroccan youths.

In a report on polarisation in Dutch society - ironically commissioned by the government itself - the Council cites the letter as an example of how not to behave: “It traps an entire group of people in a collective ethnic identity and if you do that too often it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The Council goes on: “Citizens should be held accountable for their criminal behaviour, not addressed in terms of their ethnic origin. In this case that principle has been trampled underfoot.”

The advisory body is not in favour of treating everyone with kid gloves. Its report recognises the advantages of hard-hitting debate with clear positions being adopted by both sides. But it also warns that this can be taken too far. “Cling too firmly to a position and you risk losing all room for negotiation … and end up avoiding issues that might harm your electoral chances.”

Hurling abuse at the police

De Volkskrant takes a look at the latest initiative to make life a little more bearable for the Dutch boys and girls in blue. The paper reports that they are “sick and tired of all the abuse hurled at them”. It talks to criminal law professor Jan Naeyé of VU University Amsterdam who points out that while you can be fined up to EUR 480 for tailgating in the Netherlands, the average penalty for abusing a police officer is only around EUR 280. And it’s something that happens a lot: the police report 6900 cases of verbal abuse a year, a rise of 600 percent since 1996.

Professor Naeyé, himself a former police inspector, puts the blame on our current obsession with freedom of opinion. “We’ve created a liberal society with rough edges and not much time for manners. That’s a luxury not everyone can deal with.” Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst has responded by announcing tougher action, but she also called on police officers themselves not to let abuse go unpunished. “Police should feel free to take appropriate action to ensure that people think twice before hurling abuse at an officer of the law.”

Fingerprinting the elderly proves a challenge

AD reports that the patience of the Netherlands’ senior citizens is being tried to the limit by the demands of the new biometric ID card and passport. The law now states that at least four different fingerprints need to be taken when issuing these documents. But it appears that the electronic equipment has trouble scanning the prints of people aged around 70 and over.

The paper describes how tempers frayed at one local authority in Groningen. “It’s understandable,” admits one official. “It usually takes over 15 minutes for us to get the four fingerprints we need. Older people often feel ill at ease in such situations, plus they worry about keeping others waiting. Some are even afraid they might have a medical condition or that they are wanted by the authorities.”

The reason apparently is that old people’s skin is looser. Wear and tear of the fingertips may also play a role. The Foreign Ministry says it is aware of the problem, but that the equipment can’t be improved. As irritation mounts, the local authorities are already dreading the peak period ahead of next year’s summer holidays. The other day one disgruntled customer was even heard to shout: “Get a move on! We didn’t have to wait this long when the Germans were in charge!”

Radio Netherlands/ David Doherty/ Expatica

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