Dutch news in brief, Thursday 11 September 2008

11th September 2008, Comments 0 comments

Find out what’s the latest news in the Netherlands in the roundup of today’s press from Radio Netherlands.

11 September 2008

Relax lounge in transport ministry creates stir
Today's De Telegraaf has a picture of government workers at the transport ministry doing relaxing exercises in a futuristic 'relax lounge' so they can get back to work "recharged and refreshed" Alternatively, they can choose to replenish their energy by having a picnic in a room with a deep-pile carpet or reflect on life in a meditation room.

The relax lounge is intended to change the mindset of tired government workers so they can come up with new creative solutions to problems such as gridlock.

Both the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party have expressed their outrage, accusing the ministry of throwing EUR five million down the drain.

CDA MP Ger Koopmans wants Traffic Minister Camiel Eurlings to tell him whether the government intends to build more of these "esoteric" facilities.

Socialist Party MP Emile Roemer commented that: One day we are informed that prices of tickets in public transport will go up by 4.5 percent and the next we find out that the government is spending funds this way".

Secondary schools receive EUR 200 million
Today's de Volkskrant reports that the education ministry has earmarked an additional EUR 200 million for the next four years to boost the quality of secondary education.

It will be left to school boards, teachers and parents to decide jointly how the money will be spent, as long as it is intended to enhance the quality of education.

Schools will not have to submit applications for the funds; each school will automatically receive a first instalment of EUR 56 per student, to be followed by similar amounts in the summers of 2009, 2010 and 2011.

The Council for Secondary Education, a national organisation of schools, said it was pleasantly surprised by the ministry's move.

Chair Sjoerd Slagter said it was unique for schools to draw up an agenda of quality targets and have the ministry adopt the plans and earmark funding.

"It's usually the ministry which dictates policy".

The ministry has also earmarked additional funds for a number of other projects, including EUR 250 million for a trial involving social work experience placements, EUR 193 million to fight premature school-leaving, EUR 300 million for free school books and EUR 1 billion to raise teachers’ salaries.  

Raise examination requirements
AD reports that Deputy Education Minister Marja van Bijsterveldt has proposed raising examination requirements in secondary education.

To graduate, students will in future have to score passing grades on their final grades list for at least two of the subjects Dutch, English and Math.

In addition, they will have to score passing grades for all subjects tested at the final exams.

The stricter requirements are intended to facilitate students moving on to schools of higher vocational education and to universities.

However, education organisations have criticised the deputy minister's proposal, saying that if introduced, the new requirements would lead to a serious drop in the number of students passing their final exams.

An estimated 10 to 16 percent of students would fail if required to score a passing grade in both Dutch and English.

The organisation says it fears many talented children would not be able to reach educational levels attainable for them now.  

Deputy Minister Bijsterveldt has dismissed the criticisms as premature: "We are still investigating all options".

Alarm phase
De Volkskrant writes about a meeting between Labour Party leader Mariëtte Hamer and the Society of Directors in Chief.

At the meeting, Hamer said all sections of the party are in a "state of alert", and that Labour was working on a "resuscitation plan".

She gave no further details, but emphasised that Finance Minister Wouter Bos would not be replaced.

"He is doing a great job at the finance ministry. Since this summer, we have found our way back up again".

According to de Volkskrant, Labour is suffering from a series of problems common to Social Democratic parties across Europe.

Many voters view Labour's half-hearted support for globalisation as a betrayal of the party's social ideals.

Hamer did not really want to discuss her party at the meeting, but when asked whether Labour would still be able to reach the electoral threshold in the next elections, she replied laughing: "Labour can always count on a minimum of five seats".

The Labour Party leader criticised the hyperbole of some of her colleagues: “Politicians promise everything to everybody. Because they can't deliver on their promises, this results in much anger among voters. And this anger ends up mainly on our doorstep, because we are primarily the party of the common people".  

Hamer argued for creating a parliamentary ' Future Commission ', comprised of party leaders.

Three or four times a year, the commission would organise debates with ministers to discuss major issues without the pressure of coalition agreements.

Housing corporations
nrc.next reports that Dutch housing corporations would prefer to abandon their status as institutions forming part of a government-controlled structure which regulates housing in the Netherlands, and go fully commercial.

The move was prompted by government attempts to skim off the assets of the housing corporations.

Since January, housing corporations have to pay a tax on profits.

The corporations argue that they are at a disadvantage compared to commercial real estate companies which are entitled to a wider range of tax rebates.

However, Housing Minister Ella Vogelaar has rejected the request of two housing corporations who asked her for permission to leave the structure and acquire full commercial status.

The two corporations in question have taken the case to the courts, arguing that they voluntarily joined the structure and should be allowed to leave it whenever they decide to do so.

Socialist Party MP Paulus Jansen dreads a ruling in favour of the housing corporations, saying: "The whole system would be in danger of collapse, because there are many more housing corporations which would like to leave the current structure".

Economist and former senior civil servant Sweder van Wijnbergen says Minister Vogelaar is about to blow up the whole structure of social housing in the Netherlands.

"All kinds of new rules have drastically changed the nature of the current structure. If all conditions are optimal, it's easier to realise social housing outside rather than inside the system".

He added: "I'm surprised that few people seem to realise that we have reached a point of no return. All corporations are watching what is happening in the courts. If the judge rules in favour of the housing corporations, an exodus will follow. Even if corporations agree to keep operating under government guidelines, the cabinet will have lost its power to centrally control social housing".

[Radio Netherlands / Georg Schreuder Hes / Expatica]

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