Dutch news in brief, Wednesday 24 June 2009
Read the roundup of today's Dutch press from Radio Netherlands.
Prime minister refuses to apologise after cover-up
Today’s edition of De Telegraaf reports on Tuesday evening’s parliamentary debate on the ‘Catshuis fire’ cover up. During the debate, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was forced to admit that senior civil servants as well as the attorney general had acted improperly and incorrectly.
In 2004, a painter was killed during a fire in the Catshuis, the official residence of the prime minister. The painters had been using the banned solvent thinner. Allegations that government officials had been aware of the use of the banned solvent were proved false but an investigation by the major research institute TNO showed the government might be held liable because of the building’s flammable wall covering. The report was suppressed by the attorney general and never handed over to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The free newspaper De Pers writes that when questions were asked, the prime minister said the report was not yet finished. However, the scientist who wrote the report wrote a letter to the editor of NRC Handelsblad in which he said the attorney general ordered him not to finalise the report; a classic cover-up, as De Pers puts it.
Yesterday evening in parliament, Balkenende said he would introduce stricter rules for government officials and a protocol for dealing with reports but he refused to apologise or take action against the officials involved.
“I regret what has happened,” the prime minister said.
Socialist Party MP Paul Ulenbelt asked: If you don’t want to call this a cover-up, what do you want to call it? A cesspool?
De Pers concludes by saying that it expects the prime minister will be allowed to stay in office—and with him the lack of transparency he personifies—if he promises to be a good boy and never do it again.
AD reports that the world’s first goldfish hotel will open its 'doors' at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport today. The goldfish hotel is an initiative of Dutch travel organisation D-reizen. In an interview with AD, D-reizen director Steven van Nieuwenhuizen said it is not a hoax but a promotional campaign to start off the summer season.
“Many people have a problem finding a good place to stay for their pets while they are on holiday. Vacationers who booked their trip with our organisation can have their fish stay at Schiphol for free.”
The fish will each have a separate bowl to prevent a sick fish contaminating others. The fish will be cared for by experienced keepers but, should one die during its hotel stay, the owners will be able to pick a new one—free of charge—from the show aquarium at Schiphol Plaza.
Nieuwenhuizen announced there is still room for dozens of goldfish at the hotel.
No mortgages for problem districts
De Volkskrant writes that ‘difficult districts’ have dropped out of favour with the banks. Since the start of the credit crisis, banks have almost completely stopped granting mortgages for homes in problem districts in The Hague and Rotterdam. This development jeopardises government plans to renovate these districts, one of the spearheads of the current cabinet’s policy.
A Rotterdam civil-law notary said “Banks only want to grant 'safe' mortgages. Difficult districts and buyers are left in the lurch. It does not say anywhere that no mortgages will be granted in problem districts but that’s what it boils down to in practice.”
The chair of the Rotterdam regional real estate agents’ organisation said prices in problem neighbourhoods are falling faster than elsewhere. Market leader Rabobank denies excluding certain districts in granting mortgages and other banks also deny having implemented a 'post code policy'.
Huge natural gas reserves in the Netherlands
De Volkskrant has an item on EBN, the government body responsible for the exploitation of natural gas in the Netherlands. In its report ‘Focus on Dutch Gas’, EBN writes that in addition to the natural gas field near Slochteren, there is at least another 500 trillion cubic metres of underground natural gas. New technologies are expected to make exploitation of these reserves commercially viable in the coming decades.
According to EBN’s commercial director Joost Haenen, “Politicians often act like our gas reserves will be exhausted in 15 years but this is not true, in particular when you take into account that gas is more difficult to exploit.”
In the past, it was too expensive to extract gas trapped in low-porosity layers of coal or rock. However, EBN is looking to the United States, where recent improvements in extraction equipment have led to a sizeable reduction in costs. EBN encourages the cabinet to follow the example of the US government and scrap taxation on the exploitation of these difficult gas reserves to support profitability:
“Even if you can only extract one percent of those 500 trillion cubic metres, you should do it,” urged Haenen. “The Dutch state would make less on the gas itself but would benefit via company tax and the ensuing economic activity. The Netherlands has built up extensive gas-exploitation know-how. In this way, you can sustain it.”
Sunbathing at a UNESCO World Heritage site
AD’s front page shows a seal resting on a sandbank near Den Oever on the island of Texel. Large parts of the Wadden Sea—a shallow sea between the northern islands and the Dutch mainland—fall dry at low tide, providing feeding grounds for many species of birds. As evidenced by the photograph, the sandbanks are also ideal spots for seals to catch some rays.
According to AD, the Wadden Sea stands a good chance of being designated a World Heritage site later this week.
Radio Netherlands / Georg Schreuder Hes / Expatica