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30 November, 2011 - 11:20

Dutch Press Review Wednesday 30 November 2011

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Just how important are the Dutch? A president, a prime minister and an ex-president in the news. Golden guinea pigs and the speed limit.

Not forgetting sex ed. for religious types in Amsterdam.

President meets Minister President
Today’s Trouw, De Telegraaf and AD all run front-page photos of US President Barack Obama and Dutch Prime Minister (that’s Minister President in Dutch) Mark Rutte smiling, possibly even sharing a joke, at the White House yesterday as Mr Rutte paid his first visit there since becoming PM last year.

Much is being made of the meeting - as Trouw describes it - being “A small diplomatic success in that it overran: from a half hour to an hour”. Other media have reported 55 minutes, but let’s not split hairs. 

AD begins its coverage thus:  “For the United States there is no more important ally than the Netherlands. This is what American president Barack Obama said to Mark Rutte yesterday evening.”

You may be forgiven for thinking that the overrun and this compliment were clever moves by the US presidential team, designed to make the Dutch delegation feel a touch more important than they might otherwise feel? Indeed, US historian and Amsterdam University professor James Kennedy seems at first to agree when Trouw asks him just “How important was the visit by Mark Rutte for Barack Obama?”

His response (condensed version): “Not important at all. Well, no, Rutte’s visit to Obama does serve some purpose. It’s of vital importance to Obama that Europe gets its act together in economic terms. Relations with the Netherlands are not important for Obama, but the ones with Europe are. Obama thinks that he can somehow use the Netherlands to get the Germans to stop being so stubborn [...] It’s down to Rutte to soften up the German stance, that’s why his visit to Obama does have some importance after all”.

There’s another reason why the Dutch are in fact more important than one might suppose: US employment. Not only might the Dutch be able to help move the Germans towards a real solution to the euro crisis – which would also stop the US dipping back into recession and more US citizens losing their jobs just as Mr Obama tries for a second term – but the Netherlands is also, as Trouw points out in an editorial, “a major investor” in the United States.

In this light the Dutch suddenly seem not quite so unimportant after all. Perhaps it was clever move by the Dutch government team when Mr Rutte said he had three issues to discuss during his Washington visit: “Jobs, jobs and jobs”.  
Less than presidential arrival
Not front-page news here, but elsewhere it doubtless is: last night former president of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo was put on a plane for the Netherlands where he will face trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

His extradition followed just hours after the ICC issued a warrant for his and his wife’s arrest on charges of economic crimes, looting, armed robbery and embezzlement. The Gbagbos actually arrived after the papers went to press.

Trouw’s coverage stresses that “The influence of the criminal court is growing. When now, for the first time, an ex head of state is put in a cell, this will certainly add to this process.”

The paper describes how, like many a dictator, Gbagbo started as a “well-educated idealist” but went on to be one of the main instigators of the Ivorian civil war which began in 2002. Later, Trouw explains, he continued as president with no mandate from the people of Ivory Coast, frustrated the work of UN and African peace negotiators and managed to postpone new elections for years. When they did take place in 2010 and he lost, he refused to step down. Some 3,000 people are known to have died in the conflict that ensued.

While Trouw comments on the positive aspect of this ‘triumph’ for the ICC - “Who knows, maybe he will be just the first in a series of heads of state who will be tried by the ICC” - comments that his extradition may lead to new tensions between his followers and those of his elected successor President Ouattara. The paper adds that, “Ouattara’s troops also committed serious crimes in the period after the elections [...]” and notes how Human Rights Watch has said “the victims of abuse by supporters of President Ouattara also deserve justice.”
Cut back on ‘rightwing hobbies’
Returning to economic woes,  free newspaper De Pers has a large drawing of a golden guinea pig on its front page to introduce an article about the money being spent on what it calls ‘right-wing hobbies’ such as the 'guinea pig police': those 500 animal police officers we are meant to be getting sometime soon.

The article inside says that with budget deficit now 1.8 billion euro larger than expected, most of that amount could be found by cutting three ‘massively expensive [rightwing] pet projects’.

De Pers has three projects in mind. Firstly, those controversial ‘Animal Cops’ which the paper says may cost roughly 280 million euros over the next four years .

Secondly there’s the temporary reduction in property transfer tax (from 8 to 2 percent) on house sales.  De Pers says this is costing 1,2 billion in lost tax income but has had practically no impact on house sales or prices, both of which are still in decline.

Finally, there’s the more than 50 million it will cost to raise the maximum speed limit on certain roads from 120 to 130 kph, plus another 139 million to be spent  on ‘road safety’ because the speed limit change could otherwise lead to an additional 3 to 7 road deaths per year.    
Regarding the latter, De Pers comments somewhat cynically that even this did not cause any government minister to raise a finger and say “Shouldn’t we just simply stick to 120?”.

And finally...
Again from De Pers, here’s one of the paper’s bottom-of-page mini-articles, in full but slightly censored - the headline in English that is:

“Holy f***
Amsterdam’s municipal health service is to collaborate with the leaders of various religious groups in organising sex education for their clergy.”

I assume this will include a reminder that sex with minors is illegal(?).