Press Review Friday 16 July 2010

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Workers at Organon in a bitter protest against the closure of its R&D division, ex-minister warns of cabinet rivalry, KLM launches price war with EasyJet, would-be spy sells British secrets to Dutch intelligence and Dutch World Cup player gets married in the enemy camp.

Bitter pill The workers of MSD pharmaceutical firm – formerly known as Organon - are clearly pointing an accusing finger over the proposed closure of its prestigious Research and Development division and it’s directed at the politicians. Last week US-owned MSD announced it was laying off 2175 workers at its plant in the southern town of Oss, with more than 1000 of them in R&D - a sector the Dutch government is keen to promote as a cornerstone of the country’s economic future.

Yesterday, the firm’s researchers marched to government chambers in The Hague donning T-shirts with “Bitter Pill” printed on the front, as we see in a photograph in de Volkskrant under the headline “Sold off and plundered”. The Organon plant, sold to US MSD three years ago, is known for its production of the oral contraceptive, ‘the pill’. “We won’t swallow this,” chant the demonstrators. “Sarkozy would have made a phone call” reads the slogan on one of the banners.

NRC Handelsblad quotes Economic Affairs Minister Maria van der Hoeven who describes the closure as a “business decision”. But surely “a little protectionism is allowed?” argues the broadsheet, citing the examples of French President Nicolas Sarkozy who intervened in the merger of two other pharmaceuticals to save French jobs and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who made every effort possible to keep Opel open.

But when Minister van der Hoeven meets the protesters, she pleads powerlessness: “I don’t have the authority to reverse the decision, but I’ll do all I can to save as many Dutch jobs in the knowledge industry as possible.” The 2175 workers in Oss will probably have to swallow that. Ex-minister issues words of warning for future coalition The Netherlands’ efforts to form a new coalition government rumble on. De Volkskrant reports that talks “are set to enter a new phase next week” and that the four prospective partners are almost ready to hammer out a coalition agreement. says the parties “are tackling many difficult issues” with health and immigration as the main headaches. The paper observes that immigration in particular touches on “the parties’ deep-seated emotions”.

In a high-profile interview with de Volkskrant today, former Labour Minister of the Interior, Guusje ter Horst, has a few sage words of warning for her successors. “Camaraderie between colleagues doesn’t exist in the cabinet,” she reveals. “Party politics and rivalry rule the roost.”

The parties may have been elected on their proposed action plans, but Ms Ter Horst notes: “It may sound odd but it’s easier for a cabinet not to do something rather than take action.”

One of the proposals in the coalition talks is to give Parliament more power in the political process, but on this subject too, Ms Ter Horst sounds a few alarm bells. “It would be good for democracy, but you wouldn’t get many decisions made.”

She also reveals herself to be anything but a fan of new media at cabinet meetings. “A new PM should ban twitter, text messages and internet – insist that all that junk be handed in at the door.”

Giant Airbus makes Schiphol debut There was plenty of excitement at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport yesterday, as “the Airbus 380, the world’s largest passenger plane, landed at Schiphol for the first time ever”.

With just a hint of sarcasm, de Volkskrant notes that the hearts of the assembled plane spotters were beating faster as they brandished their mobile phones and telephoto lenses alongside the runway. “Wonderful, wonderful,” sighs one. “Jeeez! That’s just beautiful man!” exclaims another. A third looks on speechless, his cheeks flushed with exhilaration.

The paper goes on to report that Dutch flagship airline KLM has little interest in the “super jumbo” as “the high cost of purchase means that it is only profitable on high-frequency, long-distance bulk destinations”. Instead the airline has announced that it plans to get down and dirty in full-on competition with cut-price airlines such as EasyJet.

De Telegraaf reckons the airline’s strategic move comes in response to “Schiphol Airport’s flirtation with EasyJet” which wants to house a number of aircraft permanently in Amsterdam. This sparked a bit of a bust-up between Schiphol and KLM, afraid that its interests were being undermined.

But with cheaper fares and closer cooperation with other Dutch airlines in the offing, Dutch holidaymakers look set to profit from KLM’s discontent.

British spy directed by voices in his head As the international press ran juicy stories of Russian and American undercover spies in the past weeks, today’s Dutch dailies cover a more local version.

Daniel Houghton, AD reports, is a Dutch-born computer programmer who was brought up in England after his parents divorced. He worked for the British secret service between 2007 and 2008 and approached the Dutch intelligence service, AIVD, offering them sensitive MI6 information in return for 2.5 million euros. Quoting Mr Houghton at yesterday’s hearing, AD reports he was “directed by voices to do what he is said to have done”.

“He led a champagne lifestyle on a ginger beer income,” says NRC Handelsblad, quoting the public prosecutor. The spy suspect had tried to sell off copies of more than 7000 electronic files to Dutch agents who then tipped off MI5.

NRC reports that the Dutch agents apparently bugged and filmed him as he displayed his wares – a memory stick with the electronically-stored files and a laptop – in a London hotel last February. The spy was arrested outside the hotel with a case full of cash. “Definitely not a James Bond,” observes Amsterdam-based Het Parool. “He even used his own mobile phone to contact the AIVD.”

At least one Dutch footballer’s dream comes true After a humiliating defeat by Spain in last Sunday’s World Cup final, you wouldn’t expect any member of the Dutch football squad to hit the front page in a photograph with a Spanish backdrop. The populist De Telegraaf depicts defender John Heitinga clutching his bride rather than the cup, who in turn is clutching their little daughter after the couple tied the wedding knot on a beach in Ibiza.

“Dream Marriage” headlines the photo, shot as the sun is about to set on the perfect couple. The tears in Heitinga’s eyes at the ceremony had nothing to do with the memory of last week’s performance on the pitch, but rather John was moved “when he saw Charlotte-Sophie in her breathtaking dress,” writes De Telegraaf.


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