Former MPs and ministers build up €20m benefit bill in 5 years

Former MPs and ministers build up €20m benefit bill in 5 years

Former MPs, ministers and junior ministers have cost the treasury almost €20m in unemployment benefits over the past five years, television news show EenVandaag reported. One former MP has been claiming benefits for over 16 years while one former junior minister has been given €465,000 in payments over five years, the figures show. EenVandaag obtained the figures for politicians' benefits, known as wachtgeld in Dutch, from the home affairs ministry using freedom of information legislation. In total 178 MPs, 18 ministers and 15 junior ministers claimed wachtgeld, averaging €93,000 each. The highest amount paid to a former MP in the five years was €390,000, the lowest just €25, the ministry figures show. One former junior minister has had almost €465,000 in payments, a former minister €446,000. MPs and ministers who lose their seat or their job are entitled to 80% of their salary for one year. Subsequent payments which can last several years are made at 70% rate. Current MPs and ministers can claim the money for up to 38 months, but the payments used to be unlimited. EenVandaag said one former MP had claimed the benefit for over 16 years while one minister had been paid wachtgeld for over 11 years. Former politicians who get a job which does not pay as much as being and MP can claim top-up benefits.  More >

Dutch dairy farmers under fire over fraud

Former MPs and ministers build up €20m benefit bill in 5 years Many Dutch farmers are fiddling the books about the age of the cows they have, allowing them to get round strict rules on manure and phosphate reduction, farm minister Carola Schouten has told MPs. Ministry inspectors found fraud in the registration of calves on half the 93 farms they visited earlier this week, Schouten said in the briefing. Adult cows are more polluting, so farmers are passing some older calves off as younger animals by claiming that their cows have given birth to twins or triplets. This enables them to reduce the amount of manure and phosphates each cow had produced on paper. Normally, between 3% and 5% of cows have multiple births, but last year the figure on 2,000 Dutch farms reached over 10% and on a further 5,700 farms between 5% and 10%. 'Every form of fraud is unacceptable,' Schouten said. 'These are criminal acts... companies which commit fraud can expect fines, their EU subsidies to be cut and possibly prosecution.' Targets The ministry statement coincided with new figures from national statistics office CBS which say that Dutch farmers met EU phosphate targets last year. It is the first time in three years that the target has been met. The CBS said that efforts to reduce the number of cows in the Netherlands had an impact and that the national herd has shrunk by 130,000 animals. The new reduction plan was introduced following the abolition of milk quotas, which led many farmers to expand, despite the impact on manure and phosphate levels. Manure At the end of last year, the NRC revealed that farmers are also committing fraud on a wide scale when it comes to manure. Farmers are forging their accounts, illegally trading their manure or dumping more on their land than permitted by law, while transport companies are fiddling lorry weights and making unrecorded trips to dump manure at night, the paper said. In total, the NRC found that 36 of the 56 manure processing and distribution companies in the two regions had been fined for fraud, or suspected of fraud, in what the paper calls the ‘manure conspiracy’.  More >

Eindhoven wants €170m for foreign tech

Former MPs and ministers build up €20m benefit bill in 5 years A €170m investment plan to attract foreign tech businesses to the Eindhoven region has come in for criticism for being ‘mostly pr’ and ‘elitist’, the Financieele Dagblad reports on Tuesday The proposal, which was presented to the cabinet on Friday, is meant to boost the region as a centre for technological innovation. Brainport Eindhoven, the lobby group which comprises companies such as ASML, Philips, DAF, VDL and NXP, is an important economic motor for the Netherlands but is losing the battle for talented staff, Eindhoven warns. The government has set aside €950m for six areas that need help: Eindhoven,  Rotterdam-Zuid, the Caribbeann islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, space centre Estec in Noordwijk, Zeeland and 'the nuclear issue', such as the transport of nuclear waste. In order to make the Eindhoven region more attractive than other competing high-tech regions such as Munich, Helsinki, Singapore and parts of China, Eindhoven wants to improve the city’s infrastructure, build a conference centre for high tech manufacturing industry, set up a design district and introduce English language cultural events geared to foreign staff. Lobbying It also wants to start intensive lobbying campaigns abroad to attract staff at prestigious universities, more international schools and a better integration of working and learning schemes on all vocational levels. It will also invest in technological innovation and set up a photonics institute which it hopes will also attract talent. However, according to Erasmus University professor of urban and regional economy Frank van Oort, the plan fails to make clear why Eindhoven should get the money and not other regions with similar problems. Erik Stam, economics professor at Utrecht University, told the paper that the plan has 'a lot of pr and little analytical substance.’ Definitions Van Oort also branded the plan ‘elitist’ and expressed doubts about whether new jobs for highly skilled staff will lead to jobs on lower and intermediate levels. He also fears that investment in things like a photonics institute and top drawer cultural amenities will not benefit the whole of Eindhoven, the FD writes. The experts also question the government's criteria for allocating the €950m fund. ‘The question is how these regional problems have been defined,’ Van Oort told the paper. ‘Is it market failure? Can money actually solve the problem? The cabinet doesn’t seem to have a vision.’ Van Oort told the FD the cabinet has a duty to weigh the interests of all regions and should ‘not simply hand over a big bag of money to one hoping it will do the trick.’ Single region Last October Dutch employers organisation VNO-NCW launched a project to promote the Netherlands and neighbouring regions as a ‘sustainable urban power house’. The project’s supporters say Dutch cities are too small to compete in what it calls the ‘battle of the cities’, in which mega cities compete for investment and talent. By treating the Netherlands as an urbanised delta with 17 million inhabitants, the project’s supporters say that are creating a very strong player in this ‘battle of the titans.’ ‘Our city marketing is too fragmented and inefficient,’ the project website says. ‘In practice, the Dutch cities compete with each other abroad.’ Amsterdam Metropool, Brainport Eindhoven, Twentestad, Ede Food Valley, Regio Groningen Assen and Dairy Delta are just some of the names Dutch regions use when marketing themselves abroad.  More >

Can you vote in the local elections?

The local elections are looming – and you may well be able to vote On March 21, voters in the Netherlands will elect the members of some 380 local councils. As well as Dutch nationals, an estimated 450,000 foreigners will also be able to vote - and that could include you. 1 Who can vote To vote in the national elections you must have Dutch nationality, but the situation is different in the local elections when EU nationals also get a voting card. In addition, foreign nationals who have lived officially in the Netherlands for more than five years can also vote. 2 So I qualify, do I have to do anything? If you are eligible to vote, you will automatically receive a voting card (stempas) posted by your local council. You need to take this card, and ID, to the polling station when you go to cast your vote. Voting takes place in polling stations, usually located in schools, community centres and other public buildings. Some councils set up polling stations in railway stations to catch early morning commuters. The polling stations are open from 07.30 hours to 21.00 hours, when the count begins. 3 About that ballot paper... Dutch ballot papers are ridiculously large. Each party contesting the election gets a column and the names of all the potential councillors for each party are included in it. To vote, you need to fill in the little square next to the name of the candidate of your choice with a red pencil. Nothing else will do. The pencils are provided in the polling booths. If you know which party you want to support you can simply vote for the top name on the list. If you have a specific candidate in mind, you can vote for them instead. Their votes will automatically count towards the total and if they get enough of these preference votes, the council hopeful will leapfrog other names on the list. 4 So what am I voting for on March 21 Local councils, or gemeentes are the third tier in the Dutch government system, below the national and provincial authorities. There are currently 380, ranging in size from Amsterdam and Rotterdam to small villages. Amsterdam and Rotterdam also have a fourth layer, the district committees, which focus on very local issues. Although all the national parties take part in the local elections, local parties - often with Leefbaar or Belangen in their name - usually win around 40% of the vote. This year Geert Wilders' PVV is taking part in 30 elections - it currently only has seats on Almere and The Hague city governments. 5 What do local authorities do? Some 90% of local council funding in the Netherlands comes from national government. Councils themselves raise money through local property taxes, waste collection and water charges, parking fees, tourist taxes and dog taxes. The main tasks of local councils include ensuring sufficient housing, building local roads, tunnels and cycle tracks, collecting and processing waste, providing schools and libraries, issuing documents like passports, dealing with welfare (bijstand) claims and ensuring proper long term residential and home care. 6 How many councillors does a gemeenteraad have? The number of councillors in a gemeenteraad depends on the size of the local authority area. Councils with a population of more than 200,000 residents have 45 members and the smallest, with fewer than 3,000 residents, just nine. Local councils are run by the mayor (who is appointed by the crown) and a team of wethouders, or aldermen. The college van burgemeester en wethouders (B&W) is the local authority equivalent of the cabinet. 7 So do we have the same coalition formation process as in national government? Yes. The number of parties taking part and the Dutch electoral system makes coalition councils inevitable and the parties are already bickering about who will or won't work with the PVV. As soon as the votes have been counted, work begins on putting together a working coalition. Once a coalition has been identified and agreed, the councillors from the ruling parties appoint the aldermen who are, in effect, local government ministers. This process can take several weeks. 8 What about the referendum? The referendum on the Big Brother law - the government's new law giving the security services far greater powers - is also being held on March 21, but only Dutch nationals can vote in that. The European elections are being held in April 2019, so you might have another chance to vote next year - but not, perhaps, if you are British. 9 Take part in our poll is setting up a special website section to focus on the local elections and we'd like to know more about your thoughts. We've set up a simple and confidential survey - with just five questions - to help us make sure our coverage meets as many of your needs as possible. Please take a couple of minutes to fill it in.  More >

NAM ordered to pay Groningen home owners

Former MPs and ministers build up €20m benefit bill in 5 years Gas production company NAM has been ordered by judges in Leeuwarden to immediately start compensating home owners in Groningen for the loss of value caused by the earthquakes. NAM had said it is only willing to pay the difference once the property has been sold but the appeal court judges agreed with an earlier court ruling which said compensation should be paid now. Research bureau Atlas voor Gemeenten said last year that between 2012 and 2017 homes in the earthquake zone in Groningen have fallen in value by an average of 2.2% because the region’s reputation has been damaged. The researchers focused their attention on areas in which at least 20% of the homes were damaged by earthquakes and found that homes that were not physically damaged also went down in value. Homes in Loppersum, a centre of many of the quakes, lost an average of 8% of their value, while homes in the city of Groningen are now between 0.9% and 2.9% cheaper. A foundation representing 4,000 home owners said it now wanted to get round the table with NAM as soon as possible to start fleshing out the compensation deal. 'Four years after we started legal action, it is about time,' chairman Lolke Weegenaar told broadcaster NOS.  More >