politics

What should we do with controversial statues?

In recent years controversy over historical persons which had statues erected for them or streets named after them reached the media occasionally. After the death of George Floyd on 25 May anti racism protests gained critical mass and the battle against controversial statues and street names intensified. In Bristol the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown in the harbor by protestors. In Belgium several statues of king Leopold II, responsible for a colonial reign of terror in Congo Free State (currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo), were defaced. A statue of Leopold II in Ekeren which was damaged has now been removed and is unlikely to return. I consider it justified that people with migration backgrounds had enough of it and are taking action.

In the two news articles on the statues of Leopold II two opponents of the removal of statues give their opinion as well. Mayor Tommelein of Oostende states that racism doesn’t disappear immediately after the removal of the statues. This argument is a straw man, because nobody is so naive to think that racism would end then. Another argument he gives is that Leopold II was important for Oostende (the king had a villa in this city). He also thinks that the commentary near the statue which describes his role in Congo Free State is sufficient. Another opponent argues that everyone makes mistakes, not just Leopold II. Noah, a proponent of removal with a Congolese background, says it would be unimaginable if Hitler had a statue in Berlin.

In the Netherlands the statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen in Hoorn was defaced several times in the past. Coen was responsible for the death of thousands of inhabitants of the Banda Islands (currently part of Indonesia) because they did not respect the monopoly the Dutch East Indies Company had enforced on the nutmeg which was cultivated there. He has the illustrative nickname “the butcher of Banda”. Yet his statue still stands there, albeit with a commentary at its pedestal which mentions the massacre on the Banda islands. Already in 2012 the West Frisian Museum in Hoorn held an exhibition about Coen, which gave exposure to the proponents and opponents of the statue. At the exhibition 63 percent of the 2,466 visitors voted in favor of letting the statue remain, with the addition of a critical text about Coen. Museum director Ad Geerdink told that the proponents in the exhibition argued that the statue serves to remind us of the dark side of the Dutch Golden Age.

In another news article from 2018 several scientists give their opinion in response to the debate about the Dutch slave trade. Some of them don’t want to erase the black pages of history because statues and street names offer opportunities to make the past visible. Another scientist points at the fact that most ‘colonial heroes’ received a statue or street name only hundreds of years after their death. Coen for example died in 1629 and received his statue in 1893. Especially in the nineteenth century blind nationalism and the search for national heroes would have been a motivation to erect a statue for someone like Coen and choose him as prominent part of our history. Now that we in our own time have been liberated from nationalistic tunnel vision, it makes sense that we come to a different insight.

In the end it comes down to the purpose we want to achieve with statues and street names of historical persons. In my view they serve to show respect to those persons and provide us with inspiration. We consider them to be good examples. In my neighborhood streets are named after resistance members from World War II. Elsewhere streets are named after William of Orange and Nelson Mandela. Coen received a statue because he was considered a hero who made us rich, but with his massacres he doesn’t fit in at all with the respectable persons mentioned above. You can place commentaries at statues, but that does not undo the fact that a statue represents respect for the person who is depicted. And who would want to sit on the square de Roode Steen in Hoorn with a good view of the statue of Coen, in the knowledge that you are looking at a mass murderer? I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that! Mass murderers only belong in one place: a prison cell. That’s why both Coen and Leopold II don’t deserve a statue, if you ask me their statues should be removed as soon as possible.

As for those who don’t want to see history erased, we could simply move the statue of Coen to the West Frisian Museum and teach about him in History class. That way nothing is erased. As for street names, I’m more pragmatic. The inhabitants of the street and other parties will face much administrative difficulties if they have to change their address everywhere. I would opt for a commentary at street name signs, only changing the name if the majority of the street’s inhabitants agree with it.

But now the most difficult question: how far do we want to take this? Yes, every person has made mistakes. To answer Noah’s rhetorical question, we all agree Hitler should never have a statue. He is guilty of the greatest sin of all: genocide. Leopold II and Coen are accused of it as well, but their crimes don’t conform to the strict definition of genocide. Opinions are divided on both persons, but possibly their statues will actually be removed in the coming years if the controversy proves too great. How will we continue then? Let’s evaluate two statues which are not controversial now, but which do have the potential for it. For example, the statue of Charlemagne in Luik and the statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki.

Charlemagne ordered the execution of 4,500 Saxons who had surrendered in Verden. Alexander the Great was responsible for the destruction of Thebes (some of the inhabitants, including women and children, were put to the sword, others sold into slavery); the killing of Greek mercenaries who desired to surrender at the end of the Battle of the Granicus (only according to Plutarch); a bloodbath (and only according to Quintus Curtius Rufus a mass crucifixion) after the Siege of Tyre; the mass murder of the Greek Branchidae who welcomed him in Central Asia on friendly terms.

Alexander the Great was not much more cruel than his contemporaries. It was accepted in that time that a cities’ inhabitants were subject to the whims of the victor if the city refused terms, resisted a siege and lost. The killing of those who had surrendered went further, but was not uncommon in history. Even so, if we agree that such acts were atrocious even then, the conclusion that follows is inevitable to me. If we think that Coen and Leopold II don’t deserve a statue because of their mass murdering, neither do Charlemagne and Alexander the Great. Yes, this could mean that many more statues would need to be removed. But there are plenty of other historical persons whose conscience isn’t burdened with murder or execution and are good moral examples.

Three different IT workspaces for the Dutch national government

Recently I discovered that the Dutch national government uses no less than three different IT workspaces. With IT workspace I mean the software environment (operating system and applications) where public servants can log in through their computers to do their work. It appears that most ministries, namely Domestic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Infrastructure and Water Management, Social Affairs and Employment, Justice and Security and Health, Welfare and Sport use the workspace provided by SSC-ICT. SSC-ICT stands for Shared Service Center ICT and the largest IT service provider within the Dutch government. Two other ministries, Economic Affairs and Climate (abbreviated EZK in Dutch) and Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (abbreviated LNV in Dutch), use a different IT workspace provided by DICTU, another IT service provider for the national government which is probably second to SSC-ICT in size. Finally the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences (abbreviated OCW in Dutch) uses its own IT workspace.

The situation with OCW won’t last long because it started a temporary migration to the IT workspace of one of its executive organizations, DUO. When complete, it will start a migration to the workspace provided by SSC-ICT. Apparently OCW was very slow to migrate to SSC-ICT’s workspace because all the other ministeries already migrated in 2009. The cause of this delay is not clear to me. This is not the case for DICTU however. Initially EZK and LNV did intend to join the SSC-ICT workspace, but in 2014 SSC-ICT didn’t have to capacity to provide it to those ministries. As a consequence EZK decided to develop its own workspace.

This situation reminded me of the ideas of the economist William A. Niskanen, which I became familiar with during my master in Public Administration. Niskanen thought that bureaucracies would function more efficiently if they would have to compete with each other. I never had much confidence in this theory. Maybe it could work for some governmental organizations, like the Korps Commandotroepen and Korps Mariniers, respectively the special forces of the Dutch army and navy, competing with each other. It’s hard to image that competition would be favorable in this case of SSC-ICT and DICTU though. An IT workspace requires high startup costs for software development, infrastructure and end user support after all. It only becomes efficient when a sufficient scale is reached.

What seems to be the case here is that there was no vision or leadership from the level above the ministries to force them to collaborate on one IT workspace. The lack of commitment and unilateral decision making of a few ministries has led to the inefficient situation. It is unclear to me what the right of existence is of the DICTU workspace and why EZK and LNV can’t use the SSC-ICT workspace.

The interesting question is how it came to be this way. I spoke with a manager who had been working for some time with DICTU already about the issue. When I asked him why the capacity of SSC-ICT wasn’t expanded to serve EZK and LNV as well, he didn’t know. It would be interesting if a journalist or investigative committee could delve into this.

The departure of Krikke and the role of the nomination committee

“Hurrah!” was my response when I heard the news that Pauline Krikke would step down as the mayor of The Hague. In my previous post about the elected mayor I had already voiced my dissatisfaction with Krikke, especially for her failure to prevent the 1 January 2019 bonfires from getting out of hand.

Now the Dutch Safety Board released a report which made it clear again that Krikke had the opportunity to prevent to prevent the large damage caused by the bonfires, but failed to do so. When it became clear that the municipal council would no longer support her, Krikke decided to cut her losses and announce her resignation. It’s a pity we had to wait more than half a year for this report to come to this conclusion, because it was already clear in January that Krikke was the one to blame. Others who point the finger at the reckless behavior of the organizers of the bonfires may be right, but that fact is irrelevant. Krikke was paid to keep them in check and maintain the safety and public order.

Cutting your losses instead of waiting for a forced resignation has the advantage of limiting your loss of face and being able to show your sense of responsibility. The latter doesn’t apply here though; if Krikke had felt genuinely responsible, she would have left in January already. Her video in which she announced her resignation doesn’t show responsibility either, she leaves because she is “under fire” and the “debate over her future stands in the way of the debate over The Hague’s future”. Not because she acknowledges her negligence regarding the bonfires; she doesn’t say “sorry”.

Wat surprised me most however is how Krikke was appointed as the mayor in first place. If you investigate her career, you’ll find that she did a bad job as mayor of Arnhem and as director of the National Maritime Museum. According to the newspaper Trouw a leaked report from the municipality of Arnhem stated that she bullied personnel. Her style of leadership was experienced as soloistic, intimidating and rude by the personnel of the museum, where she left amid a row. She served as director for little more than a year.

Of course this is not new information. An article in the newspaper NRC from 2017, right after Krikke’s appointment as mayor in The Hague, emphasizes how gobsmacked the employees of the museum were when they heard this. The appointment of Krikke was received with agreement by every party in the municipal council. When the NRC finally asked D66 party leader Robert van Asten for the criticism Krikke had received from Arnhem and the museum, his reply was that he hadn’t looked into her CV and that he assumed the nomination committee had investigated this. For me it is even more embarrassing that the newspaper Volkskrant wrote that Arjen Kapteijns, councilor for my party GroenLinks, also praised Krikke’s experience at that time.

The complete council was asleep, especially the nomination committee. On the basis of anonymous sources, Omroep West claims that the nomination committee primarily chose her because she was a woman and wasn’t a member of the social democratic Labor Party, which two important parties in the council hated. If we’re talking about something important as the appointment of a mayor, it’s a weak excuse for a councilor to say that they simply trust the nomination committee. I expect more from you! For other jobs which are far less important references are checked seriously.

For me this illustrates how important it is that we introduce the elected mayor in the Netherlands. If Krikke actually had to campaign for her election, she would have been asked constantly to explain her bad performance with Arnhem and the museum. Her campaign wouldn’t have stood a chance! The ways of shrouded procedures for the appointment of unelected administrators are mysterious indeed, but let’s hope that Krikke won’t get another appointment in public administration elsewhere.

Abolish the ‘snorfiets’

Alderman Sharon Dijksma of the municipality of Amsterdam is one of my new favorite politicians. She is responsible for legislation which forbids drivers of snorfietsen, a category of light motorcycle in Dutch law, from using most bicycle lanes in Amsterdam since 28 April.

This was made possible by an Algemene Maatregel van Bestuur (AMvB) issued by the government on 21 June 2018. An AMvB is delegated legislation. The Wegenverkeerswet 1994 (Road Traffic Act) contains the general rules and leaves the details to be defined in AMvB’s, which can be changed by the government without approval from the States General. The AMvB in question enables the municipality as road administrator to decide through its traffic order where snorfietsen can drive.

In the explanation given in the AMvB it becomes clear that it was written especially at the request of the municipality of Amsterdam. Amsterdam had a problem with the accessibility of its center because of the increasing numbers of bicycles and snorfietsen. Because snorfietsen often caused dangerous situations on bicycle lanes due to their wide size and speed difference with bicycles the municipality asked for the law to be changed. The House of Representatives supported that request and asked the government to change the rules.

To understand this policy I will first explain the Dutch legislation regarding snorfietsen. In the Netherlands we have three legal categories for motorized vehicles on two wheels (excluding ordinary electric bicycles):

  1. The snorfiets is a motorcycle with a maximum speed of 25 km/h. Requires an AM driver’s license and has a blue license plate. Must drive on bicycle lanes doesn’t require a helmet.
  2. The bromfiets is a motorcycle with a maximum speed of 45 km/h. Requires an AM driver’s license and has a yellow license plate. Must generally drive on the road in built-up area and on bicycle lanes outside built-up area. The reason for this is that it isn’t allowed to drive on roads and highways with higher speed limits. Requires a helmet.
  3. The ‘normal’ motorcycle with the same speed limit as a car. Requires an A driver’s license and has a yellow license plate. Never drives on bicycle lanes, just like a car. Requires a helmet.

In the new traffic order of the municipality of Amsterdam which bans the snorfiets from the bicycle lanes it is obvious that a lot of effort went into justifying the change. According to national legislation which made the change possible the special reasons for banning snorfietsen must relate to ‘great hustle’. What that entails is not defined and up to the interpretation of the municipality, but it is clear that it has employed much research and calculations methods to define it.

If you ask me this is a waste of time because snorfietsen are by definition an unnecessary danger to bicyclists on the bicycle lane, even if it’s not busy. The speed difference, format and weight of a snorfiets mean that a bicyclist will always draw the shortest straw in case of a collision. Another issue not addressed by this legislation is the foul stench and pollution created on bicycle lanes by snorfietsen running on gasoline. An investigation by the GGD Gelderland Midden from 2017 shows that snorfietsen contribute significantly to ultrafine particle emissions on bicycle lanes. This is a health risk to bicyclists. The GGD Midden Gelderland advises to phase out non-electric snorfietsen on the long term and to ban them from the bicycle lane on the short term.

Since I’ve been riding my bicycle to work in The Hague to the center in half an hour I’m confronted daily with fast driving snorfietsen (many are illegally modified to exceed 25 km/h) and their filthy exhaust gases. But what truly worries me is that my daughter Rosalinde will be riding a bicycle in a few years and would have to share the bicycle lane with snorfietsen which are easily able to flatten her. Fortunately, salvation is on the horizon if it is up to our alderman Robert van Asten. He expects to follow Amsterdam in 2020 with a ban of the snorfiets on the bicycle lane. I encourage him to interpret ‘great hustle’ very broadly.

The end goal has to be the complete abolition of the snorfiets as a category, however. De facto that might happen with the upcoming general helmet requirement for snorfietsen. It is expected that a legal change will be introduced for that at the end of this year or next year. If one of the advantages of the snorfiets is taken away it might persuade their users to switch to electric bicycles, bromfietsen or motorcycles. In addition the proposed Klimaatakkoord (the Climate Act) would prohibit the sale of snorfietsen and bromfietsen on gasoline starting in respectively 2025 and 2030. If accepted this will solve the pollution problem on bicycle lanes. But the official maximum speed of 25 km/h for snorfietsen remains a problem then. On the road they will slow down cars which are allowed to drive 50 km/h. That is why abolishing the entire category is the best solution. It is unnecessarily convoluted, complicated and inconsistent if every municipality has to make their own choice in their traffic order.

Then there is also the matter of support for such a policy with snorfiets owners themselves. They can modify their snorfiets towards a bromfiets, but then they would also have to change their registration with the RDW (Netherlands Vehicle Authority). This requires an inspection by the RDW which costs several hundred euro’s and which can only be performed in Lelystad (!). If we make this inspection easier and cheaper I think the policy would meet less resistance. Give all motorcycle businesses which are licensed to test vehicles for road safety the authority to perform this inspection and instate that sales ban on snorfietsen and bromfietsen on gasoline, then we would have a nice compromise.

What is wrong with the Forum for Democracy

On 20 March this year the elections for the States-Provincial were held in the Netherlands. A new party, the Forum for Democracy (abbreviated FvD in Dutch), participated for the first time and won the most seats in this election. In the Senate the FvD won twelve seats and became the largest party, together with the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) which acquired the same number of seats. I thought it would be wise to investigate what plans this party has for my province and country.

The website of their local chapter in Zuid-Holland province, where they became the largest party, does not reveal much. The older parties like GroenLinks or the VVD tell us their plans for policies in a detailed party program of several pages. The FvD Zuid-Holland limits itself to several lines of text spread over different policy subjects. With some ideas I agree, such as an elected King’s Commissioner and municipal fusions only after approval of the inhabitants. With other ideas I completely disagree, like abandoning the transition to sustainable energy. Other ideas are simply vague, like their position that the province should only execute core tasks. Which core tasks then?

It’s not true that people are not interested in a detailed political program. I think there are enough voters in Zuid-Holland who would want to know a party’s position on the construction of the Duinpolderweg highway or the growth of Rotterdam-The Hague airport. The issues which are visible and clearly affect our daily lives, on which FvD Zuid-Holland remains silent.

Let’s consider the national party of the FvD then, which has gained much more influence thanks to their victory in the Senate elections (remember that the States-Provincial elect the Senate in the Netherlands). Again their website mentions some policy positions which I approve, like the elected mayor and binding referenda. But here the details in their ideas are missing.

What caught my eye in particular is their plan for taxation. Apparently discussing income taxes, they want a tax-free bracket of € 20.000 for everyone and just two tax brackets, with a rate of 20% and 35%. The range of these tax brackets isn’t mentioned, but the current tax rebates (what the FvD would mean with a tax-free bracket) are significantly lower and the rates for the four current brackets are significantly higher.

The FvD writes that this tax plan will lead to much lower execution costs and that less taxation leads to a smaller government. As if a smaller public sector is a goal in itself for this party, regardless of the useful services like security, health care and education it delivers. What the prognosis for those execution costs is and how much smaller the government would become is not explained either.

The lack of details in the financial plans of the FvD makes it impossible to give an accurate calculation of the consequences it would have, but with some assumptions the publication De Correspondent arrived at a deficit of € 66.7 (!) billion. This would bankrupt our country. FvD supporters would probably consider De Correspondent to belong to the lying leftist media, but if they can point me to a financial basis for the plans I would be very interested in reading that. To my amazement their economic policy is never a subject in the debates in which FvD leader Thierry Baudet participates.

With the inability of the FvD to present a solid financial basis for its plans it’s no surprise that it didn’t let the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB in Dutch) calculate the effects of its political program. Our country is unique in the tradition that the CPB, an independent governmental organization, calculates the economic effects of political programs before the elections. Political parties participate on a voluntary basis and fortunately most do so. This means that they can’t make all kinds of promises without the financial backing to make good on those promises. Instead of working on a better financial basis the FvD resorts to cowardly excuses, like calling the CPB the greatest source of fake news and claiming that the CPB’s models are outdated. Of course they don’t explain why these are outdated, let alone that they make an effort to present an alternative ‘correct’ calculation of their economic plans.

What strikes me as well is that the FvD would like a return to normal relations with Russia. In their position on geostrategy they write that our geopolitics is still based too much on the goals of the Cold War and that we have an interest in good relations with Russia for economic reasons. Apparently they forgot what happened after the Cold War, like the Russian attack on Georgia in 2008, the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and the support to dictators in Syria and Venezuela. Closer to home Russia is suspected of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom in 2018. In the Netherlands a Russian cyberattack on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was foiled in 2018. But above all, Russia is responsible for shooting down flight MH17 above Ukraine in 2014.

It is incredible that the FvD is burying its head in the sand for a country which is so obviously hostile towards our country and a large part of the rest of the world. Even worse, Baudet signed a letter to Trump in 2016 to ask for a new investigation of the shooting down of MH17 because he didn’t trust the investigation of the Joint Investigations Team (JIT) led by the the Netherlands. In 2018 he did vote in favor of holding Russia responsible for the attack. However, in a TV debate last month he repeated that he doubts the independence of the JIT inquiry and that he still considers Ukraine as one of the possible perpetrators of the attack. Baudet invests so much effort into discrediting the JIT investigation that it raises the question if the FvD is bankrolled from Moscow.

I could go on about the human-caused climate change denial by Baudet and the dubious claim that climate policy will cost us € 1,000 billion. But I will finish with a discussion of the political style employed by the FvD and the character of Baudet. I thought the political party DENK had already reached a low point in decency with all their personal attacks and the claim that doctors stop the treatment of sick elderly with immigrant backgrounds sooner than those of sick elderly of Dutch ancestry. It appears that the FvD and Baudet can sink even deeper.

Baudet has weird ideas about women. His question to prime minister Rutte at the end of a debate last month, asking when he had cried for the last time, was insolent. He published his own nude photo, which I consider strange behavior for a people’s representative. He holds his political opponents responsible for rape committed by immigrants. The arguments presented by the FvD for setting up a contact point to investigate leftist indoctrination in education read like a bad joke and are scandalous. The FvD is often covered in the news for internal fighting. I could go on with this, but for me it’s clear that this party and Baudet himself are completely unsuitable for participating in government.

To the voters and members of the FvD I have to say the following. I understand that you’ve had enough of the traditional political parties. But is a party which makes empty promises without financial backing, which doesn’t stand behind the MH17 victims, which is rife with infighting and which is committed to fact-free politics really what you want? Fortunately the members of the FvD have the possibility to file motions and approve the political program at their party’s meetings. I don’t expect you to send Baudet home any time soon. But I do hope that you at least make sure the political position on Russia is corrected to be in favor of sanctions towards that country.

The elected mayor has come one step closer

In november 2018 it was finally accomplished: the appointment of the mayor was ‘deconstitutionalized’, a long word for the removal from the Dutch constitution. Thirteen years after the Easter crisis the political party D66 made a step towards realizing one of its important goals, the introduction of the elected mayor.

Changing the constitution is complicated and takes a lot of time, because the House of Representatives and the Senate have to approve the change twice. The House can only give its second approval after a new election. In both the House and the Senate a majority of two thirds of votes (instead of half plus one) is required for the second approval. Of course, this created an extra barrier for changing the appointment procedure for the mayor.

It is important to know how mayors are appointed currently to understand the discussion. According to the Municipalities Act the municipal council writes a profile for the mayor and candidates can apply for the job with the King’s Commissioner (Dutch: Commissaris van de Koning, CvdK in short). The CvdK informs the nomination committee of the council about who applied and whom he/she considers suitable for nomination. The comittee can decide to include candidates deemed unfit by the CvdK in its procedure. The comittee informs the CvdK and the council of its findings. The council then recommends two candidates to the minister for the appointment. In principle the minister follows the recommendation and the order in which the candidates are listed. The minister can ignore the recommendation, but only for grave concerns and with motivation.

The Municipalities Act isn’t clear on the “order in which the candidates are listed”, but if I understand correctly it is meant that the minister appoints the candidate who is listed first. At least that is what is written on the website of the ministry of Internal Affairs. This website differs on details with the Municipalities Act. For example, it states that the council doesn’t send the recommendation to the minister directly, but to the CvdK who then forwards it to the minister with his/her advice.

It should now be clear that the appointment of the mayor is a very shady and nontransparent process. The council can in theory choose the candidate it wants, but the CvdK has a lot of influence on the process. In the Provinces Act we can read that the CvdK is appointed in a similar manner as a mayor, after a recommendation by the States-Provincial, the legislative assembly of the Dutch provinces. Why does the CvdK have to interfere with the appointment of mayors? The appointment of ministers is also done by the political parties which form the government after House elections, without external interference. Besides, the political signature of the CvdK can be very different from the political signature of the municipal council. Imagine a council in the province of Zeeland, part of the bible belt and filled with Christian parties. They have to deal with a CvdK, Han Polman, of the very progressive party D66. Maybe this man is very objective, but I can imagine that the political differences can lead to a very manipulative interference with appointment procedures for mayors.

There also is a huge difference between the political parties which occupy municipal councils and the party membership of appointed mayors. In the results of the last municipal elections, the local parties won in most municipalities. Yet, 83 percent of al mayors are members of respectively the VVD (30%), the PvdA (27%) and the CDA (27%). In Amsterdam, GroenLinks is the largest party and Femke Halsema of the same party was appointed as the mayor, but in Utrecht Jan van Zanen of the VVD is mayor while the council’s ruling coalition consists of GroenLinks (largest party), D66 and ChristenUnie. There is a huge gap between the political signature of the council and the mayor. The appointment of the mayor for six years and that appointment not being synchronous with the council elections makes the gap even larger.

Then there is the important question, why would would you want to elect the mayor? The most important responsibilities of the job lie in public order and security. Some, especially the mayors themselves, consider this a technocratic affair devoid of politics. The cliche that mayors stand “above the parties” is used often. But is that the case? Femke Halsema (mayor in Amsterdam and left-wing GroenLinks member) doesn’t prioritize enforcement of the burqa ban. Pauline Krikke (mayor in The Hague and member of the right-wing VVD) scorns demonstration rights. It seems logical to me that for example the enthusiasm for the legalization of marijuana and a fireworks ban run along similar lines in the left- and right-wing political scale, even though I can’t find evidence for that. This illustrates that public order and security do have a political signature.

Apart from that the voters could punish or reward a mayor by refusing or granting them a new term. I think many inhabitants of The Hague’s Scheveningen district would want to do away with Pauline Krikke after her blunder with the bonfires during the last New Year’s Eve. Without the means to do so, I can see it happen that Krikke gets another term or a job as mayor elsewhere.

The Dutch Association of Mayors had written a letter to the Senate before the vote to, surprise, convince them to vote against the change of the constitution. They may be right that you can’t consider the function of the mayor in isolation from the other bodies in the municipality. But their statement that a problem analysis and vision of the future for the position of the mayor should be made first doesn’t hold. The appointment of the mayor was only moved from the constitution to the Municipalities Act, nothing has changed de facto yet. Now we can have the discussion on the problem analysis and the vision for the future. If we had waited for that first, the process would take much longer due to the complicated change to the constitution. There would have been a complete lack of progress. Again they boast of the “independent position, above the parties and between the inhabitants” of the mayor. I think I’ve made it sufficiently clear such a claim is very dubious. The letter breathes demophobia, the fear that they can no longer get their appointments for mayor positions through the ‘party cartel’ (to use the words of the populist right-wing Forum for Democracy party).

How should it be done? Outside the Netherlands there is plenty of experience with elected mayors. I imagine the job can be shaped in analogy to the prime minister at the municipal level. That would make the mayor the political leader of the college of mayor and aldermen. Just like the House of Representatives, the coalition of governing parties in the municipal council can decide amongst themselves who becomes the mayor and the term for the mayor matches that of the council. Direct election by the inhabitants could work, but then there might be a risk of the mayor not being able to collaborate with the coalition if the mayor’s job takes on a more political character. Now the question is if and when D66 and other parties can finish the job and compose legislation to actually change the appointment procedure.

Daylight savings time and the time zone in the Netherlands

After recent nieuws about the plan of the European Commission to abolish daylight savings time, I decided to investigate the subject. The summary: winter time is our ‘normal’ time, Daylight Savings Time (DST) advances the clock one hour so that we have can enjoy the sunlight longer during summer evenings. The advantage of longer daylight in the summer is clear. I also like having longer sunlight on a summer evening when I’m relaxing in my garden with guests. The Dutch Olympic Committee*Dutch Sports Federation thinks that the extra sunlight in the evening is important for sports participation. I understand that because I also like to go surfing or swimming in the sea after my work. They also mention running, but that is also possible in the dark.

However, the longer daylight for leisure after the workday is the only substantial advantage of daylight savings time. In the different news items and the expansive Wikipedia article about DST I read that the other alleged advantage, lower electricity consumption, is doubted. On the other hand the evidence for negative effects, such as disruption of our circadian rhythm and sleep pattern, is convincing. While I personally don’t experience sleep problems during the beginning and end of DST, it is apparently disruptive to many other people. En the complexity of the clock change is also an argument against DST. Telephones and computers change automatically, but my oven and mechanical clock don’t. There is extra confusion when you have to make a an international phone call because you have to take DST into account when you convert your local time to other time zones.

The first news item also point out that the Netherlands should actually use Western European Time because of it’s geographic location, just like the United Kingdom. In other words, the our clock is actually one hour (two when we use DST) ahead of the solar time. If the solar time would be followed exactly, the sun would reach it highest point at 12:00 hours. A look at the Wikipedia article on time zones tells us that it is even more extreme elsewhere in the world. Russia has a very strange application of time zones, China has one time zone for the whole country (!) and the western tip of Spain deviates strongly. The time zones in the United States do make sense and match the solar time.

Because it interested me to see how the time zone in the Netherlands compares with others, I compared the time of dusk and dawn in The Hague with two other cities. The Hague lies at the 52th parallel north, which is a line of about 111 kilometers wide running over the earth in east-west orientation. Other places on this parallel receive roughly the same amount of daylight, no matter their distance from The Hague. To compare I have chosen Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Lipetsk in Russia.

In the tables below you can see the results. The data was taken from the website Time and Date and applies to 2018. I compare the shortest and longest day for the three cities. Cambridge is located in the geographical center of the WET zone and matches the solar time very closely. Lipetsk is one of the few larger cities in Russia which has a geographically fitting time zone and is relevant because Russia doesn’t use DST.

Current situation
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Cambridge 21 Jun 04:38–21:24 13:01 16:46
Den Haag 21 Jun 05:22–22:06 13:44 16:44
Lipetsk 21 Jun 03:57–20:48 12:23 16:51
Cambridge 21 Dec 08:06–15:48 11:57 07:42
Den Haag 21 Dec 08:48–16:32 12:40 07:43
Lipetsk 21 Dec 08:30–16:08 12:19 07:38

In the first news item I mentioned it is written that the chairman of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has a personal preference for permanent DST if we would indeed abolish the current DST. As the first news item explained this is quite an extreme change, because the time in the winter will then have the same large deviation from the solar time as it does during the summer. The consequence is that the sun will rise as late as 9:48 on 21 December in The Hague. I consider this very undesirable and it will certainly not help our cyrcadian rhythms. Effectively it means that we will have to rise even earlier during the night in the winter.

Permanent DST
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Den Haag 21 Jun 05:22–22:06 13:44 16:44
Den Haag 21 Dec 09:48–17:32 13:40 07:43

Abolishing DST seems the most logical choice to me, a good compromise. And what if we were to look at the problem in a different way? After we abolish DST we could decide start the workday earlier, at 8:00 hours instead of 8:30 hours for example, to win back some sunlight in the evening

Abolishing DST
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Den Haag 21 Jun 04:22–21:06 12:44 16:44
Den Haag 21 Dec 08:48–16:32 12:40 07:43

If we wanted to be entirely correct we shouldn’t just abolish DST but also start to use WET. This takes it too far for my taste because we loose even more light during the summer evenings then. Because the Netherlands lies in the eastern half of the WET zone, the clock is slightly ahead of solar time.

Abolishing DST and switching to WET
City Date Sunlight Noon Day length
Den Haag 21 Jun 03:22–20:06 11:44 16:44
Den Haag 21 Dec 07:48–15:32 11:40 07:43

Finally, there was news that the EU member states postponed a decision on DST. The Netherlands apparently wants to use the same time zone as Germany. And the European Commission wants to avoid a patchwork of different time zones in the EU because it would be bad for the economy. I don’t follow this line of reasoning because the United States, the largest economy in the world, use four time zones without a clear disadvantage to its economy. So I don’t see any issue if the EU abolishes DST en the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and Spain switch to WET while the rest of the EU uses Central European Time or Eastern European Time.

The dividend tax stays

On 5 October Unilever announced that it would not move its headquarters from London to Rotterdam because its stockholders opposed the move. Later that day the Dutch government, the Rutte III cabinet, stated that it would reconsider the abolition of the dividend tax. According to prime minister Mark Rutte it did not mean the dividend tax would be preserved definitively. He stated the plan to abolish it wasn’t launched for a single company, but that Unilever’s decision was relevant in the reassessment of the plan.

The words of Rutte don’t connect with reality. The announcement to reconsider the plan came directly after Unilever’s announcement. And the action of just Unilever, one company, was the motivation for the reassessment after all. The statement of Rutte doesn’t have any credibility. Once again it’s a smoke screen, because I think Rutte had been searching for an exit of the despised plan to abolish the tax. Unilever’s action is right up his alley because it enables him to cancel the abolition without much loss of face. That the reappraisal wouldn’t directly lead to preservation of the tax is unbelievable, because otherwise they wouldn’t be sowing doubt with such an announcement. I know for sure now that the dividend tax will stay.

Also consider that Unilever’s plan to abandon the move is a pitifully bad excuse for the reconsideration. The move of the headquarters to Rotterdam would have brought several dozen jobs to the Netherlands. Even if you add some indirect employment, such a small number is meaningless. Are we supposed to believe that this meager amount of jobs is influencing a decision on € 1,9 billion of potentially lost tax revenue? That is the amount lost if the dividend tax would be abolished.

In other news, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands thinks the dividend tax is legally sustainable and doesn’t discriminate against foreign investors. The news isn’t very clear about the arguments of the Supreme Court, but it does give a link to the detailed ruling. I don’t have knowledge about tax law, but after reading the summary I think I understand. Denmark was discriminating because it didn’t offer foreign investment funds the choice to be taxed on the exit instead of the entrance, just like Danish investment funds.

The tax on the entrance is apparently the tax which is paid to the state where the investment fund is located. The tax on the exit is paid to the state where the recipient of the dividend is located, as far as I understand. In practice the choice doesn’t offer any advantage, because exemption from the tax at the entrance is only granted if the tax is paid at the exit. The latter requires so much complex administration that in practice not a single investment fund would want this. If the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration would allow foreign investment funds to choose to pay tax on the exit and then offer them exemption on the tax at the entrance, they’ve got nothing on the Dutch state.

The summary is reasonably readable in this case which is so complex for laypeople. Yet, the unnecessary use of English directly caught my eye in the language used by advocate general P. J. Wattel. For example “zowel de lokale, if any, als de Deense bronbelasting” and “zal het niet-ingezeten fonds moeten tracen welke ontvangen dividenden hij dooruitdeelt”. Naar correct Nederlands vertaald “indien van toepassing” en “traceren”. These words were not English legal jargon without Dutch counterparts. Dutch people have a hand in polluting their own language with unnecessary English. It’s a pity to see that even the Supreme Court is affected by this disease.

Lili, Howick, Harbers and discretionary authority

Earlier this month Mark Harbers, State Secretary for Justice and Security, decided to use his discretionary authority to grant Lili and Howick permanent residency in the Netherlands. I had hoped that the Secretary would be just as uncompromising in this matter as the cabinet is with its plan to abolish the dividend tax. I’m disappointed that Harbers doesn’t have a spine.

Some facts first: Lili (12) and Howick (13) live in the Netherlands since 2008 but are Armenian nationals. Their case was heard eight times by the courts and eight times the judgment was that they did not have a right to asylum in the Netherlands. Armenia is a safe country after all. Their mother had been deported to Armenia in 2017. Because she did not tell were her children were in hiding she was deported without them.

Of course, if you grew up in the Netherlands like Lili and Howick it will be difficult to integrate in Armenia. But difficult is not impossible: if the refugees who come to the Netherlands are able to integrate here, Lili and Howick should be able to integrate in Armenia, right? On their return to Armenia Lili and Howick would have to live in an orphanage for six months because their mother couldn’t care for them. If comfort in the country of return becomes a criterion, we might as well grant every asylum seeker from Africa or the Middle East a permanent residence permit. A quick look at the statistics of forced departures shows that plenty of people are deported to nasty countries where the level of welfare is far lower than in Armenia.

In the Netherlands it is possible to prolong deportation forever by appealing rulings time and time again. But does that make it our fault that Lili and Howick have become accustomed to life here? No! Their mother didn’t have to appeal every decision for years, that was a choice. She accepted the risk that it would lead to denial of residency in the end and should live with the consequences.

The decision of Lili and Howick to go into hiding was effectively a form of blackmail. The concern for their safety is what drove Mark Harbers to grant them a permanent residency permit. In their desperation Lili and Howick probably probably didn’t intend it so, but it’s still wrong. By giving in, Mark Harbers shows other asylum seekers that going into hiding will be rewarded.

What troubles me the most in this case is the very existence of the discretionary authority of the State Secretary. There are no rules for the use of that authority. The State Secretary can decide to grant permanent residency permits to those who have been denied one by the courts as he sees fit and without explanation. This introduces arbitrary decision making in the process. Asylum seekers like Lili and Howick, who are able to play the media and public opinion, do get a permit, while those who are not well-publicized are deported. The very reason we have judges is to prevent arbitrariness and decide objectively if the law was applied correctly. There should not be any discretionary authority with the executive branch to sweep aside rulings made by the legislative branch.

My sentiments about arbitrariness and the stimulation of going underground are apparently shared by the public servants of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service. Meanwhile a committee has been appointed to investigate how these sort of situations can be prevented. Apparently stacking legal procedures and appeals for years is hard to prevent because of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. If so, that treaty should be changed.

The abolition of the dividend tax

The plan of the Rutte III cabinet to abolish the dividend tax is continuously receiving negative attention in the media. The cabinet couldn’t deliver convincing evidence that the plan would have a positive effect on job creation. The plan also tears a hole of 2 billion in the budget.

Recently there was news that abolition of the dividend tax seemed to be necessary for legal reasons. Currently the Dutch dividend tax only affects foreign investors because Dutch investors can deduct the dividend tax from their tax return. Denmark had the same rule, but was sued by foreign investors. The European Court of Justice found in favor of the foreign investors because it considered the policy discriminatory. If the Dutch state would lose in a similar court case it would mean that foreign investors would be allowed submit a request for a tax refund as well. Because the Netherlands Tax and Customs Administration would not be able to deal with such a change, it would de facto necessitate abolishment of the the dividend tax. I don’t understand however why plan B – no tax refund for Dutch and foreign investors – is not possible.

I suspect the politicians of the VVD (the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, which is the largest party in the Rutte III) launched the plan because the lobby of the multinationals whispered it in their ears. According to the news item the legal argument may have been the real reason for Rutte III. It wouldn’t have been communicated openly because public servants had advised not to mention the legal aspect. It would have weakened the legal position of the Dutch state. Did Rutte III really create a smoke screen? Often the simple explanation is the better one: the VVD politicians are not political masterminds but the pawns of the multinationals. The lobby for this plan goes back for years and the legal dimension only entered the spotlight very recently.

Whatever the true reason may be, in principle no one likes discrimination? Certainly not if we are discriminated, as with the German road toll plan. This plan entails that foreigners pay tolls for the use of German highways, while Germans get a refund on their road tax for the tolls they pay. At the end of last year the Dutch state decided to join other EU member states in a legal case against Germany at the European Court of Justice. Is it not consistent then to deal with the dividend tax as well?

In the end, what really matters for me is if the abolition of the dividend tax is honestly compensated by higher taxes on capital and profit (specifically including corporate tax on the profits of companies). We will have to wait for the upcoming government budget later this month, but it does seem to go that way. The plan would be to cancel the intended reduction of the highest corporate tax to 21%. Instead, it would be reduced to 22% to compensate for the loss of the dividend tax.

The problem is that the highest tariff of the corporate tax currently is 25% and used to be 46%. The Netherlands allows itself to be dragged into a race to the bottom for tax competition along with other states. The idea is that corporate taxes should constantly be reduced because companies might relocate to other states where taxes are lower. Consider some statistics. The tax burden (total revenue of taxes as a percentage of the gross domestic product) has risen from 37,2% in 1995 to 38,5% in 2017. The revenue of the corporate tax as percentage of the gross domestic product rose from 2,87% in 1995 to 2,90% in 2017.

The tax burden evidently rose while the share of the corporate tax remained virtually unchanged. This small change is more grave in reality. The Netherlands Bureau of Policy Analysis (CPB) can partially explain the leveled revenues of the corporate tax with two causes. On the one hand the lowered tariffs were compensated by a broader tax base, caused by less room for tax deductions, depreciation and such. On the other hand there is a shift in the legal entity used by companies, for example from sole proprietorship to the private limited company (plc). A business using the sole proprietorship entity pays income tax and a plc pays corporate tax. Because corporate tax is lower, it is attractive to convert the sole proprietorship legal entity to a plc. The consequence is that revenues from the income tax take a hit.

The above is of course only a part of the answer because we only discussed corporate tax. Unfortunately I can’t find any good historical statistics on the division of the tax burden between companies and households. I have a strong suspicion that these would show that the share contributed by companies has decreased while the share contributed by households has increased. Lowering the corporate tax tariffs slightly less sharply is not going to solve the problem.