No result after marathon talks; pension negotiations to continue next week

Marathon talks between unions and employers have failed to produce an agreement on changes to the current Dutch corporate pension system and will continue after the weekend. Prime minister Mark Rutte was also involved in the talks at the social affairs ministry for a time but declined to comment on the progress to reporters. Unions and employers are trying to come to a deal about pension reform which will then become the basis for new legislation. The change is necessary because the aging population is putting more pressure on the current pension system and pension funds are having to pay out to more people for longer. Talks on reform began several years ago. State pension age One important theme has been the way the rise in the state pension age has been linked to increasing life expectancy. Unions in particular say this is forcing people who do heavy physical labour to work too long in arduous jobs. The state pension age in the Netherlands is currently 66 but will rise to 67 and three months by 2022. However, sources in The Hague have told broadcaster NOS that ministers are prepared to relax this rule, despite the considerable cost to the treasury. The government is also keen to introduce ‘personal pension pots’ to bring more flexibility into the pension system. Currently, the Dutch corporate pension sector is dominated by industry or company-based schemes. The Dutch pension scheme is widely considered to be one of the best in the world.  More >

A sunny but cold weekend ahead

This weekend will be sunny but cold, and the clear skies on Saturday night offer perfect conditions to watch falling stars from the Leonids meteor shower, weather forecasters say. Friday's mist will eventually clear to reveal a sunny day in most places, with temperatures reaching seven degrees in the west and 11 in the south of Limburg. The temperatures on Friday night will fall to as low as freezing point in the east of the country. Saturday and Sunday will be crisp and cold, with temperatures around seven degrees in most places and a light overnight frost in sheltered areas. Saturday night is also the best to watch the Leonid meteor shower which peaks on November 17 as the earth passes through the debris left by comet Tempel-Tuttle. Next week will be colder again with sunny spells and light sleet or snow possible on Wednesday. The KNMI weather bureau says cold, dry weather is likely to continue to the end of the month.  More >

Special court to try police violence cases

Statue of justice. Justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus is keen to establish a special court to deal with cases involving police violence. A special court is needed because cases in which police are accused of using excessive force require specific expertise, Grapperhaus said. Police use violence almost exclusively in complex situations, he said, and judges with experience in such cases should examine them. The public prosecution department and the Council for the Judiciary do not support the minister and say all courts have the ability to look at cases of police violence. The government is also planning to reduce the maximum sentences for police who are found guilty of wrongly using violence. The crime of 'breaking the law on the use of violence' would then carry a maximum of three years in jail if passed, even if someone had died.   More >

Culture budget is out of balance: MP

The right-wing VVD's culture spokesman says more money from the arts budget should go on 'folk' art and regional festivals rather than the national opera company or major orchestras. 'The current balance is skewed and should be made fairer,' Thierry Aartsen, 28, told the Volkskrant in an interview. He wants money from the national culture fund to go to traditional pursuits such as the bloemencorso flower parades from next year. And from 2021, there should be a structural shift from professional, national performance arts groups to regional, amateur initiatives, Aartsen says. Asked what he meant by 'volkscultuur', Aartsen told the paper: 'It could be the flower parade, where people raise money from their local baker or butcher and decorate huge floats with flowers, blue with cold. They sleep in the tents where they work to stop their stuff being stolen.' 'I'm thinking of the costumes used by guilds... the cost of security for carnival processions, to games such as kaatsen (a Frisian version of handball) and shooting carbide.' Things have to be done more fairly, he said. 'At the moment, the Concertgebouw gets €7m and attracts 210,000 people. But nothing goes to the bloemencorso which attracts 100,000 people on a single day. I think that is weird.' Parliament will discuss the culture ministry's budget for 2019 and onwards on Monday.  More >

Tax office sacks 15 for tax fraud

The tax office has sacked 15 members of staff since January 2017 for submitting fraudulent tax returns, the Telegraaf said on Friday. A further 20 workers are being investigated, the paper said. The tax office officials have attempted to cheat on their tax return like 'normal citizens' and have tried, for example, to hide assets which they hold abroad or make up deductibles, the paper said. A spokesman for the tax office said he did not know how many cases of tax offical tax fraud would be taken to court.   More >

Life in NL hard for Eritrean refugees

Eritrean refugees are having a difficult time adapting to life in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research SCP said in a report published on Friday. The refugees, most of whom are fleeing from the open-ended compulsory military service in their country, are often traumatised by the long and dangerous journey they have made to the Netherlands, having faced exploitation and sexual abuse on the way, the SCP writes. Once in the Netherlands, the wait for a permanent residency status often leads to frustration and boredom. Learning Dutch, a requisite for a permanent status, is another stumbling block, with refugees unable to choose a suitable language school. Many of the 26 Eritreans interviewed by the SCP said they were worried about not being able to meet the three-year deadline for the ‘inburgerings exam’ which means they would have to pay back their loan and a fine on top. The Eritrean refugees, most of whom arrived in 2015, came to the Netherlands without their partners and getting family members to join them is proving more difficult than they have been led to believe, the SCP writes.  This is putting them under even more pressure. Officials Contacts with officialdom in the Netherlands is often difficult because the refugees are unable to explain what they need and complain about a lack of patience, understanding and help while organisations say they are confronted with mistrust and a lack of initiative. Most Eritreans have not been able to find a job. Professions that are familiar to them, such as baker, furniture maker or welder, are not accessible to them because they require diplomas. According to recent figures from national statistics office CBS, 80% of Eritrean refugees in the Netherlands are unemployed. Because of the lack of Dutch language skills social contacts are usually limited to fellow Eritreans, the SCP writes. Although an important source of emotional support it also means that Eritreans are in danger of becoming ‘trapped’ in their own culture which is not conducive to integration, the SCP said. There are some 20,000 Eritreans in the Netherlands, of whom around 75% are under the age of 30.  More >

Man arrested in quadruple murder probe

A 26-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the mass shooting earlier this week which left four people dead in Enschede, police say. The man was arrested near Dordrecht on Tuesday evening, a couple of hours after the bodies were found. A second man who was arrested with him has since been released. The man will appear in court later today for a remand hearing. The four men were found dead in a commercial property in Enschede which, according to chamber of commerce information, was home to a company selling equipment for growing plants on Tuesday afternoon. All four had been shot dead. It later emerged that two of the victims were being investigated by police in connection with the seizure of 17 kilos of marijuana on the premises this summer. One of the men, since identified by the AD as 61-year-old Max Klaasse, was sales rep for a plant feed company who was 'in the wrong place at the wrong time', the paper said.  More >

Police back tasers for emergency teams

Electric shock weapons such as tasers should become part of the equipment used by police officers on emergency service duty, police officials have recommended to the justice ministry. If approved by the minister, this would mean electric stun guns would be made available to all police teams which are called out on emergencies. It will take five years before the introduction because 17,000 officers need to undergo special training to use the weapons, police said on Thursday. In June, a report on a year long trial by the police academy found that tasers do have ‘added value’ for the police. Since the start of the trail in February 2017, tasers have been drawn 343 times and in 62% of cases, the threat of use was enough to calm the situation down, the report states. In February Amnesty International called for trial to be abandoned after it emerged that the devices had actually been used on suspects more than 100 times. Tasers work by firing electric charges of around 50,000 volts at a suspect from a distance, temporarily disabling them. Police say the danger of serious or permanent injury is minimal, but experts disagree on the risk to the heart.  More >