Dutch news in brief, Monday 3 February 2009
Read the roundup of today’s press from Radio Netherlands for the latest news in the Netherlands.
Political divisions on Dutch Iraq inquiry
All of today's papers are full of the news that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has finally agreed to an inquiry into the Dutch government's decision to support the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. While all of them see an inquiry as inevitable, there is a fierce debate about its nature: the government has announced that an independent committee of experts will look into the matter while the indignant opposition insists that there should be a parliamentary inquiry.
NRC-next sums up the political opinions, which are divided neatly along party lines. The coalition parties all say they are satisfied with the move and brandish qualifications such as "very wise" and "positive". The opposition take a very different line, however. According to the Socialists "This is Operation Cover-Up…the old boys' network of the people in power has been handed the job of clearing things up." The conservative VVD isn't much milder: "I think Balkenende is treating parliament with contempt. This is a solution from the 1950s."
GreenLeft sees the investigation as "political sleight of hand ... an attempt to keep parliament at arm's length." While the D66 Democrats dismiss the investigation as "a diversion" and say "there are dozens of very clear questions on the table…why does Mr Balkenende need to wait nine months to answer them?"
What the papers say about the Iraq inquiry
Although all the papers are happy that there is to be an investigation at last, some lean towards the opposition view while others back the government. NRC calls it "an investigation with a handicap" and reckons this is a particularly bad state of affairs "for an issue that could hardly be more relevant: the decision to take part in or support a war." AD reckons Prime Minister Balkenende's approach "has only made things worse" and says "he is no longer the right person to commission an Iraq inquiry."
De Volkskrant thinks it's a case of "better late than never" but believes "it's regrettable that parliament didn't take charge and hold its own inquiry" adding hopefully "there's nothing to stop it doing so if the expert committee's report gives them cause". But Trouw strikes a different tone and reckons that "parliament only has itself to blame if it finds itself on the sidelines." It singles out political manoeuvring on the part of Labour and the conservative VVD as one of the main causes.
It's up to the mass circulation De Telegraaf to take the establishment line and proclaim "What's the world coming to when we distrust an independent commission in advance, even when it's led by a former member of the Supreme Court?" Its editorial has a dig at the opposition as "peevish" and "out for political gain."
Testing times for Dutch primary school kids
All of the papers give coverage to the CITO test being taken by pupils at around 6,300 primary schools across the Netherlands starting from today. The test plays an important part in deciding what type of secondary school a child will attend and is therefore subject to a fair bit of controversy. Does it play too big a part in determining a child's future at a relatively tender age?
De Telegraaf asks its readers whether the test should be done away with and a resounding 64 percent say ‘yes’. Their main objection is that it provides no more than a "random snapshot" of a child's abilities. One primary school approached by Trouw recognises this concern. "We try to give the secondary schools the complete ‘film’ of the child's development in the course of eight years, not just that one snapshot. Some schools are open to that but many are not."
Deputy Education Minister Sharon Dijksma, speaking to AD, agrees "We may have become too fixated on that one final test. We need to get away from the idea that you'll never get back on track if you do badly during that one week at school."
Amid all the adult concerns, Trouw features some refreshingly down-to-earth responses from the kids themselves. "If I end up with a lower mark than I want, I'll get over it," says one 11-year-old philosophically. A classmate agrees: "It's not that big a deal if you mess it up."
Winning souls for Christianity on Arabic TV
De Telegraaf reports on a company based in the northern city of Groningen that makes television productions with a Christian message, which is trying to win over Muslim souls to Christianity with broadcasts on a number of Christian Arab channels. Arab Vision's documentaries on issues like children's rights and female circumcision apparently reach around five million viewers on satellite channels.
Director Inge Verhoef explains: "I see what we're doing as typically Dutch. We in the Netherlands are known for our strong opinions. We're keen to speak out on injustice while others keep quiet."
While she appreciates the irony of such missionary work coming from a country where as the article puts it "churches are being demolished right left and centre" she still remains optimistic: "I feel sure that the growth of Christianity in the Middle East will ultimately give us a new impetus here in the Netherlands."
Eurovision Toppers get some flak
"It's a scandal!" "Totally unacceptable!" The Netherlands chose its entry for this year's Eurovision Song Contest in a TV show watched by 1.8 million viewers on Sunday. But not everyone is happy about it! The honour of representing the Netherlands at the contest has become something of a poisoned chalice in recent years following a string of disappointing results, so things seemed to be looking up when popular trio the Toppers entered the fray. But today De Telegraaf reports "Everyone's mad at the Toppers" while AD blasts "Toppers come under heavy fire."
The problems arose with the revelation that the three Toppers—all of them well established singers in their own right—were singing along to backing tapes.
Former Eurovision entrant Ben Cramer says "I'm mad as hell. The television audience and the jury have been conned."
Songwriter Henk Westbroek chimes in "If you're going to mime you might as well send my daughter…she looks a damn sight better as well."
Radio Netherlands/David Doherty/Expatica