Press Review Friday 21 May 2010

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Today’s Dutch papers are awash with rainbow colours and mind-boggling graphics in an effort to explain the implications of the manifestos of the Netherlands’ main political parties in the run-up to the elections. It’s tradition for the parties to submit their election pledges to the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis for an independent analysis. This year the analysis has been done in collaboration with the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. In its editorial calls the collaboration “a wise decision … the financial crisis is not the only thing that matters.”

Readers can be forgiven for feeling a bit bewildered and bamboozled by this multicoloured information overload on everything from CO2 emissions and the budget deficit to the cost of home ownership. In its editorial, de Volkskrant concludes that across the board “there is no clear winner or loser, but it’s a different matter on specific issues”.

Some findings make for surprising reading. For instance, the Labour Party’s plans create fewer jobs than most of the other major parties, while the top performers in this category - the conservative VVD and Green Left – are poles apart politically. points out that the VVD – always keen to promote itself as the motorist’s best friend – comes out as one of the worst when it comes to unblocking the Netherlands’ chronically congested roads. But as Trouw’s headline notes – one thing unites them all: in these troubled times “no party can avoid cutbacks … everyone is out to make staggeringly ambitious savings”.

No holds barred as election approaches Of course, it doesn’t help the poor Dutch voter that the parties are all out to put the best possible spin on the figures in the heat of the election battle. The papers too are selective in what they choose to emphasise. De Telegraaf shows its right-wing tendencies by leading with “Labour will send the value of your home tumbling” while left-wing de Volkskrant points out that right-wingers the Freedom Party and the VVD are the least environmentally aware. Where the politicians themselves are concerned, objectivity is out the window. As observes “now it’s all about party rhetoric”.

The VVD is currently riding high in the opinion polls. It’s an enviable position, especially for a party that’s been in the doldrums for much of the year. But as AD and De Telegraaf report, the knives are now out. AD notes that “a frontal attack on the VVD was launched yesterday” while De Telegraaf proclaims “the mudslinging has begun!” The Christian Democrats have slammed the VVD’s plans as “disastrous for the elderly and families”, while Labour dismisses the right-wingers’ policies as “indecent, cold and heartless”. Needless to say, the VVD can give as good as they get. Leader Mark Rutte hit back with “Labour is desperately in search of votes and is lashing out in all directions” and described the Christian Democrats as “being in a state of disarray”.

The myth of more police on the beat Despite all the political fisticuffs, there’s another issue on which all parties seem to agree: the need for more police on the streets. But NRC Handelsblad comes with the sobering news that “there’s too little money available and things are set to get worse”. Never mind extra coppers, “even keeping the force at its current strength is way too expensive”. The figures come from a financial report commissioned by Dutch police chiefs and the Interior Ministry. The paper warns that the police’s “budget shortfall is long term … and there’s no recovery in sight.” It concludes “in the coming weeks it will be up to the parties to explain how they are going to rhyme their desire to expand the force with this financial shortfall.”

It’s the police chiefs themselves who come in for criticism in AD. It turns out that most of them still live outside of the region they are responsible for, a situation that goes against the wishes of parliament. The paper gives the example of Kennemerland police chief Janine van den Berg who has a chauffeur-driven car at her disposal for the 70km commute from her home in The Hague to her work in Haarlem. Irate Christian Democrat MP Coskun Çörüz complains: “Our wishes are clearly being ignored. I blame those who are politically responsible … the mayors.”

The police chiefs insist they can always be reached in an emergency, but security expert Uri Rosenthal is having none of it: “A police chief does a better job if they live in the region where they work. That’s all there is to it. Citizens should be able to go up and have a word with them at the supermarket on a Saturday morning.”

Train conductors not happy playing policeman De Telegraaf reports that there is also friction between Dutch Railways and the boys in blue. The paper reveals that since April, conductors who have completed a training course in security have been given the authority to frisk troublesome passengers, arrest them and bring them in for questioning. Train conductors also have the right to use reasonable force against aggressive passengers, something Dutch Railways says occurs less than once a year.

It’s all part of a drive to make rail travel safer, but the railway personnel are not at all pleased. “It will mean the police won’t bother to turn up any more because they expect the conductors to bring in the suspect themselves and do all the paperwork.” Police reassurances have so far done nothing to allay the rail workers’ concerns.

Sylvie hits the big time in Germany AD announces the news that celebrity footballer’s wife Sylvie van der Vaart has landed a multi-million TV contract with RTL television in Germany. The paper describes the “megadeal” as her “definitive breakthrough” and talks to RTL’s programme director in the Netherlands who confirms “this is unique … they are the biggest commercial broadcaster in Germany, so there’s no way they are backing her just because she happens to be Mrs Rafael van der Vaart”.

The paper points out that Sylvie is the latest in a long line of Dutch entertainers and presenters to make a bid for fame and fortune in Germany. In the 1960s and 70s, Dutch light entertainment star Rudi Carrell carved out a household name for himself across the border, while in the 80s and 90s, “the Germans embraced Dutch television sweetheart Linda de Mol” who kept them glued to their screens with her Honeymoon Quiz and the Soundmix Show.  

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