Press Review Tuesday 25 May 2010

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All of today’s papers weigh in with an analysis of Sunday evening’s big TV election debate between the leaders of the four main parties: Jan Peter Balkenende of Christian Democrats, Job Cohen of Labour, Mark Rutte of the conservative VVD and Geert Wilders of the right-wing Freedom Party.

The viewers handed the victory to Mark Rutte and the papers agree. AD reckons “he scored well, and didn’t pull his punches” while praises him for “expressing himself smoothly, sticking to his message and having the gift of not showing his irritation when under attack.”

Labour leader Job Cohen seemed to have had the most difficult time of it, even though viewers gave him second place, well behind the winner but ahead of his other rivals. Trouw concedes that it can’t have been easy for the Labour leader as “the only representative of a left-wing party against three skilful representatives of right-of-centre parties” but nonetheless observes that “the issue of whether Mr Cohen can bring a debate to a successful conclusion is becoming increasingly key in this election”. So far the papers concur that this is something he hasn’t managed. Trouw accuses him of “being continually on the defensive”. notes that “in the one-on-one encounters he barely managed to finish his sentences”. De Volksrkant comments that “in front of the ruthless eye of the cameras, he sometimes came across as helpless”.

The press also note that the tone for coming election debates has been set: hard-hitting and personal. De Volkskrant observes that “the gloves are off” and employs that good old football metaphor “now the campaign has begun in earnest, they’re playing the man, not the ball”. Fresh-faced unmarried VVD leader Mark Rutte is particularly vulnerable to such attacks reckons, “in danger of being dismissed as a schoolboy lightweight”. This is something the paper’s cheeky cartoon regulars Fokke & Sukke gleefully pick up on. They take on the role of spin doctors in today's paper, telling Labour leader Job Cohen not to panic. "Don't worry, Job. You've still got two weeks to play the 'Mark Rutte's still a virgin' card!"

Behind every great man… VVD leader Mark Rutte may be "the man to beat", as describes him, but there always seems to be the spectre of a strong woman hovering in the background. A few years ago it was all he could do to hold off a determined bid for the party leadership by straight-talking immigration hardliner Rita Verdonk. That threat is now a thing of the past. Ms Verdonk left to form her own party TON, which after a spectacular rise in the polls has nosedived just as spectacularly.

But now there's a new lady in Mr Rutte’s life: Euro Commissioner Neelie Kroes. A VVD member, she commands immense respect in the Netherlands having taken on major multinationals in her role as Commissioner for Competition. Now occupying a less high-profile post, she has hinted that she would be available for the post of prime minister if invited. All of which causes today’s AD to ask “Does the VVD really want Rutte as Prime Minister? Yes or no?”. It also prompted a mocking attack from Jan Peter Balkenende during Sunday’s debate: “So if things get difficult, Ms Kroes is going to step in? A true prime minister wants to be prime minister under any circumstances. He doesn’t walk away from a challenge.” Despite his nifty debating skills, it looks like “the man to beat” still has something to prove …

Afghanistan: another Dutch fatality Several of today’s Dutch papers mourn the latest fatality among the Netherlands’ forces in the Afghan province of Uruzgan: 25-year-old corporal Luc Janzen who was killed by a roadside bomb on Saturday. Trouw reports that Corporal Janzen is the 24th Dutch soldier to die on the mission, which is due to come to an end in August. AD reports on the “deep mourning” in the corporal’s home town and quotes the mayor as saying “this loss has really brought the war home to us”.

De Volkskrant devotes two pages to the tragedy and describes the impact at the Netherlands’ Afghan base, Camp Holland. The reporter describes how “a numbing effect spreads over the camp … When a soldier dies in Uruzgan, you know immediately. Notes bearing the text “black hole” appear on all the doors and coffee machines.” The phrase refers to a temporary ban on communications – phone lines and internet links are put on hold – until the defence department in the Netherlands has informed the next of kin.

The report describes in detail how the dead soldier’s fellow servicemen deal with the loss. Two military nurses wash the dead soldier’s body, stitch up his wounds and dress him in a clean uniform. One explains “This is the tenth fatality I’ve had to deal with. I want his body to be presentable for the home front … It’s fulfilling work.” The paper also talks to the soldier in charge of the farewell ceremony at the base “Everything has to be perfect. Camaraderie is essential in the military. This is the last and most intimate thing we can do for one another.”

World Cup warfare The 2010 football World Cup is still weeks away, but the battle of the supermarkets has already broken out in earnest. AD reports that no less than 14 Dutch supermarket chains are out to lure in the customers with collectible toys with wacky names like ‘bungles’, ‘gogos’ ‘sparkies’ and ‘handies’. The catalyst for all this madness was the success of Albert Heijn’s campaign during the 2008 European championships. Giving away 24 million plastic lions called ‘welpies’ with their shopping resulted in 31 million euros in extra turnover. The chain’s upcoming World Cup campaign is shrouded in secrecy and won’t be launched until 7 June. AD talks to a “trend watcher” who’s convinced that we haven’t seen the last of such nonsense. “Collecting things is part of our culture. And during big events it takes on a whole new dimension.”

Never smile at a crocodile Every now and again, the papers – or at least some of them – like to jump on an unlikely tale involving exotic animals. This time around it’s a crocodile in a pond in the town of Nijmegen. Police sealed off the area and launched a large-scale reptile hunt complete with sonar equipment after a woman reported seeing a brown creature around 1.5 metres long slide into the water.

Trouw is very matter of fact about the matter and simply quotes the police as saying “the large objects found in the water turned out to be nothing more than big branches”. But AD and De Telegraaf seem determined to get maximum mileage out of the story. De Telegraaf notes that the reptile search became a sight-seeing attraction for locals over the holiday weekend and that it wasn’t long before some joker had chucked an inflatable croc into the water. It speaks to one expert who believes there’s a 50 percent chance that the crocodile has buried itself in the mud and will come out to bask in the sun once things have quietened down.

AD goes a step further and reports that there’s not one croc but two, based on the testimony of a young lad who swears he saw a man with a moustache releasing two animals into the water after a local reptile trade fair. Thankfully even the most sensational versions of the story play down the danger to the public: “the animals are almost certainly smaller than 1.5 metres. And they’re more scared of you than you are of them…” Wanna bet…?


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