2003 through a Dutch kaleidoscope — Part 2

19th December 2003, Comments 0 comments

From the jailing of Pim Fortuyn's killer to the birth of the Netherlands' future queen, 2003 also saw Dutch political indecisiveness transformed into record budget cuts and revived hopes of football glory. Cormac Mac Ruairi and Aaron Gray-Block look at July to December.

For a review of the first six months of the year, click here

18 July
Fortuyn killer loses appeal

Volkert van der Graaf's 18-year sentence is confirmed by the Amsterdam Appeals Court for the murder of populist politician Pim Fortuyn in May 2002. The prosecution again demanded a life sentence, but the ruling means the animal rights activist could be released after serving 12 years. The appeal considers the proposition that Van der Graaf suffered from a mild form of autism, opening up the prospect of a life sentence in a TBS psychiatric institute. But the claim proves to be unfounded.

18 July
Volendam cafe boss escapes jail

The owner of a Volendam cafe that caught fire on New Year's Eve several years ago killing 14 youths, gets a 12-month suspended jail term and 240 hours community service. Haarlem Court also rules that Jan Veerman — who was accused of culpable homicide and negligence leading to the fire on the night of 31 December 2000 — may not work as a cafe, restaurant or hotel employer for the next two years. Defence lawyers and the prosecution have submitted appeals. Meanwhile, cafe manager, John Veerman (no relation), was acquitted of culpable homicide and negligence and Laura Veerman, 27, the daughter of cafe owner Veerman, was also acquitted.

18 July
Tilburg murder sparks Antillean crackdown

Bart Raaijmakers, 18, is robbed and stabbed to death. He is laid to rest on 23 July. Among the suspects are two Antilleans, prompting community outrage and a crackdown against Antillean crime. Tilburg authorities claim criminal Antillean youth are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, but a local ethnic association claims the Antillean community is being stigmatised. Four men are facing charges over the fatal robbery.

12 August
Mirna Godett appointed Antillean PM

Power behind the throne

Despite winning the election in May, FOL party leader Anthony Godett is prevented from being appointed as Antillean Prime Minister due to corruption allegations. In August, his sister, Mirna, is sworn in instead. Tension soon mounts between the former colony and the Netherlands, as Anthony Godett talks of independence for Curacao, the largest Antillean island, and blames the drugs trade between the two nations on the Dutch. On an official invitation, his sister conducted an official State visit of the Netherlands late October, despite warnings she would postpone the trip. The prosecution demanded on 11 November a two-year jail term against Godett and the court is expected to hand down its ruling soon.

12 August
One year anniversary of aid worker's kidnapping

Arjan Erkel

Working as head of mission for Doctors without Borders (Artsen zonder Grenzen or AzG) in the Russian republic of Dagestan, Dutchman Arjan Erkel is kidnapped in the capital of Machatsjkala on 12 August 2002. On the anniversary of his kidnapping, Arjan's family and AzG demand greater action be taken to secure his release. The aid worker's kidnappers indicated several times that Arjan — who was reportedly in contact with US spies before his disappearance — is still alive. But reports surface in early November that Dagestan authorities have lost patience with the gang leader who is demanding a USD 5 million ransom and they plan to have him murdered. The case remains unsolved.

13 August
Legal action against residence permit prices

Forum, an institute for multicultural development, and more than 20 other ethnic organisations, announce they are taking the Dutch State to court forcing Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk to defend a rapid-fire, two-step 660 percent rise in the price of residence permits. Non-EU foreigners now pay EUR 490 for a residence permit, compared to a pre-May 2002 price of EUR 56. Foreigners pay EUR 285 if they wish to extend the permit, children permits cost EUR 285 and a permanent residence permit is EUR 890. The legal action against the State, is expected to be a drawn-out affair.

20 August
Freed Dutch hostage returns home

After about six months as a hostage in the Algerian Sahara, motorcycle tourist Arjen Hilbers returns home to the Netherlands. Along with 13 other hostages (nine Germans and four Swiss), he flies into Cologone, Germany, from Mali and then catches a bus with family for the journey across the Dutch border. Libya reportedly paid a USD 5 million ransom to the Algerian GSPC terrorist movement in exchange for European diplomatic favours. Hilbers says in a press conference he wishes to take a holiday, contact friends and family, put the pieces of the puzzle together and disappear into anonymity. He appears to have succeeded.

25 August
Abducted girl released unharmed

The man who snatched 11-year-old Lusanne van der Gun previously tried to abduct the schoolgirl before his successful attempt in August. She was abducted while riding to school in the Friesian town of Oldeberkoop, but was released two days later in Venlo. Suspect Simon S., 63, of Ryptsjerk, has confessed to the kidnapping and is alleged to have demanded a EUR 200,000 ransom. His trial will start in the Leeuwarden Court on 26 February.

1 September
Summer misses out on heat record

Weather bureau KNMI says summer of 2003 is the second hottest in recorded history with an average temperature of 18.6 degrees Celsius, just missing out on topping the 18.7 degree average recorded in 1947, the nation's hottest three months ever. The hot summer months led to the deaths of an additional 1,000 to 1,400 people in the Netherlands, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) said on 8 September. Meanwhile, on 10 December, KNMI said 2003 was the sunniest 12 months in Dutch history. The previous record of 1,986 sun hours was recorded in 1959. The level of the Rhine River fell to a record low of 6.9m above the New Amsterdam Level (NAP) around the end of September.

16 September
Record government budget cuts unveiled

Faced with an economy in recession, the government cuts EUR 5.7 billion from the 2004 Budget and unveils plans to slash EUR 17 billion come 2007. Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm hopes to restrict the budget deficit next year to 2.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and reduce it to about 0.5 percent in 2007. Opposition parties slam the budget as "anti-social", but Social Affairs Minister Aart Jan de Geus says: "We are in a now-or-never situation".

30 September
KLM and Air France agree on merger

Merger takes off

In a share-swap deal more akin to a takeover, Air France takes a 37 percent stake, the French government 44 percent and KLM a 19 percent share of Air France-KLM Holding, Europe's largest and the world's third biggest airline. KLM retains its name for five years and its landing rights at Schiphol Airport for the next eight. Final merger filings are expected to be handed over to EU regulators before the end of 2003. The airlines hope to finalise the deal in April 2004, but must also gain approval from US regulators.

6 October
Drug addict Anja Joos kicked to death

Nine youths, all aged about 18, are arrested in the days after drug addict and former prostitute Anja Joos, 43, is killed outside a Dirk van den Broek supermarket in Amsterdam. She was initially suspected of theft, but proved her innocence. But after making racist remarks about Moroccans, the HIV-positive German woman was beaten and left for death and is buried on 17 October. Her murder sparks city alarm over ethnic crime, racism and vigilante-style actions and a silent march is held 15 October. Suspects are still awaiting trial.

10 October
'Mabelgate' scandal climaxes

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende informs Parliament that approval will not be sought for the wedding of Prince Friso and Mabel Wisse Smit. The decision comes after Mabel lied about a previous friendship with drugs baron Klaas Bruinsma, who was shot and killed in Amsterdam in 1991. She denied talk of a sexual relationship, but admitted she withheld the full extent of her contact with Bruinsma. The royal couple still plan to marry in Delft on 24 April, meaning that Prince Friso will lose his rights as third-in-line to the Dutch throne. 

14 October
Unions agree on two-year wage freeze

In crucial CAO labour agreement talks that challenged the resilience of the Dutch Polder Model of consensus policymaking, unions, employers and the Cabinet agree in principle on a two-year wage freeze. In exchange, the Cabinet offers concessions on early retirement schemes, WW unemployment benefits and the WAO disability pension scheme. The deal comes despite rolling industrial action from trade union federation FNV leading up to the accord. FNV — plus those of Christian trade union federation CNV — later back the accord.

23 October
Terrorism attack 'thwarted'

Dutch authorities claim to have thwarted a terrorist bomb attack by arresting five suspects, but all detainees are later released due to a lack of evidence. It was not confirmed when the possible attack would talk place or if it was targeted at the Netherlands.

13 November
Economy climbs out of recession

The Dutch economy pulls itself out of a nine-month recession, recording 0.1 percent growth in the third quarter of 2003, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) confirms. The stronger Dutch performance echoed positive developments in France and Germany, but the economy remained 0.8 percent down in comparison with the first nine months of 2002. For the 7th month in a row, inflation was at 2 percent in October.  The CBS confirmed the Dutch economy was in recession on 15 May as it suffered 0.3 percent negative growth in the last quarter of 2002 and a 0.3 percent fall in the first three months of this year. The downward trend continued in the months of April, May and June when GDP growth was negative 0.6 percent.

18 November
Maja Bradaric murdered, body burned

The burning body of 16-year-old school Maja Bradaric is found dumped near the city of Nijmegen. She died before her body was set alight, but had not been sexually abused. She is buried on 26 November. Police arrest three teenage male suspects and two teenage girls, but later release the girls. The prosecution suspects the motive is relationship-based. All three males are still in custody pending their trial.

19 November
Euro 2004: 'here we come'

The Dutch national football team qualifies for the 2004 European Championships, sending the Scottish team packing with a 6-0 victory at the Amsterdam Arena. The win marks a massive turnaround from the 0-1 away loss in Scotland on 15 November. But the young and rejuvenated Dutch team took complete control of their last-ditch Euro 2004 qualification duel, ending the nation's misery for missing out on the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Euro 2004 will be held in June and July next year.

19 November
Amsterdam street walkers get their marching orders


Street walking

The Amsterdam Council resolves to close its tolerated street prostitution zone in the western harbour area of the city. Chronic organised crime problems and the illegal trade of women eventually led to the undoing of the bold social gamble. The area had been opened up to provide a safe place for drug-addicted sex workers to ply their trade, affording them easy access to healthcare and social work. Police have been warned to be on the look out for the spread of street prostitution to other areas of the city.

25 November
Dutch lose EU battle of the budgets

Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm came off second best as Germany and France escaped fines for continued breaches of budget deficit regulations. Zalm demanded France and Germany— which have been running budget deficits above 3 percent of GDP, breaching the euro currency's Stability Pact — be pulled into line, but failed to gain majority EU support. Red Dutch faces reddened on 4 December when the Central Planning Bureau (CPB) warned the Dutch could hit a budget deficit of 3.25 percent in 2005. Zalm has since said he is confident of keeping the deficit to 2.7 percent next year and under the 3 percent limit in 2005.

28 November
Iraqi peacekeeping mission extended

Despite security concerns and the recent killing of 19 Italian soldiers near the Dutch base, the Cabinet extends the peacekeeping mission in Iraq by six months. Defence Minister Henk Minister deploys 70 commandos about a week later to intensify security measures and track down terrorists. MPs back the mission extension on 11 December. Dutch troops will start transferring power to the Iraqis from March 2004.

2 December
Cafes demand 10-year smoking reprieve

Despite evidence indicating passive smoking is more dangerous than previously thought, the cafe, restaurant and hotel industry requests at least a 10-year exemption on looming smoke-free workplace legislation. Branch organisation KHN — which has warned of 50,000 job cuts due to smoke-free legislation — also said it wants to use a system of self-regulation. Government legislation will enforce the right to a smoke-free workplace from 1 January 2004, but cafes, restaurants and bars have been given a temporary reprieve, as have the nation's infamous coffee shops. The Health Council advises the government that second-hand smoke kills thousands of people each year in the Netherlands.

5 December
Heroin scheme to be evaluated

The cabinet delays expanding its current experiment in supplying chronic heroin addicts with their drug of choice until an evaluation of the current scheme is completed. The Netherlands has been supplying heroin via prescription to several hundred chronic long-term addicts in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Heerlen and Groningen in recent years. Statistics indicate that the level of criminality has significantly reduced and the physical and mental health of users has improved. Several smaller cities are keen to also become involved in the project, but will have to wait until the evaluation has been conducted. The evaluation could take several months.

7 December
Birth of Princess Catharina-Amalia

Future queen

Princess Maxima, the Argentinean-born wife of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, gives birth at 5.01pm to the couple's first child and the future queen of the Netherlands. The happy trio returns from the Bronovo Hospital in The Hague to their Wassenaar mansion the same night. Willem-Alexander registers the birth in The Hague on 9 December and officially names his daughter Catharina-Amalia Beatrix Carmen Victoria. The media got hold of the name the day before by discovering the Royal Family had registered internet addresses under the name Catharina-Amalia. The princess is second in line to the throne, the latest in a long line of Dutch queens, and her call name is Amalia. 

14 December
Saddam Hussein arrested in Iraq

Iraqi dictator

US forces capture the ousted Iraqi dictator and the Netherlands immediately calls for him to be tried by Iraqis in Iraq. Prime Minister Balkenende sends a congratulatory telegram to US President George Bush. Foreign Minister Ben Bot confirms on 17 December the Dutch government is opposed to the death penalty for Hussein.

16 December
MPs back obligatory ID

From 1 January 2005, failing to show police ID will result in a fine (maximum of EUR 2,250, but more likely EUR 70), following official Parliament approval on 16 December. It is not obligatory to carry ID, but should police ask, everyone aged 14 and above will be required in a public place to show ID. Concerns were raised over privacy violations and discrimination, but Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner hopes the new regulation will assist in reducing crime. Police may only request ID to assist in the line of duty.

19 December 2003

For a review of the first six months of the year, click here

Subject: Dutch news in 2003

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