Politics

Latest Dutch Election Results

 

First Published in the May 2014 Edition of the Holland Times.

 

The results are in, and there are losses for the coalition.

On March 19, 2014, local elections took place in the Netherlands. The results meant losses for most major parties, but particularly for the Labor Party (PvdA). Huge reductions were also seen in the VVD seats. This negative municipal election result means that the PvdA – VVD coalition will face problems.

Safe havens for PvdA votes such as Amsterdam became places of defeat; the Democrats ‘66 (D66) won almost a quarter of the votes. In fact, D66 gained significantly throughout the country, often beating the coalition parties and taking their seats. In total, D66 gained an extra 260 seats to become the largest party in Amsterdam and Utrecht. Amsterdam has usually been PvdA stronghold. However, this election led to D66’s seats in the city doubling to a total of 14. PvdA votes decreased by over 10% and VVD votes were down over 5%. The Socialist Party (SP) experienced an increase, winning 3 more seats. This major loss for PvdA means that for the first time since its founding in 1946, it is no longer the biggest party in Amsterdam. NRC’s correspondent Enzo van Steenbergen called it a heavy blow for the Labor Party. NRC goes on to report that these results are a large command for change from the people.

Pieter Hillhorst, PvdA party leader in Amsterdam, resigned following these disastrous results. He tweeted that he could not reverse the trend of loss within the Labor Party, which was why he had decided to quit. He told NRC that he went into politics to make a difference, but that he had now realized he was not the one to make that difference. Following his resignation, Marjolein Moorman was then elected to be the new leader of PvdA.

PvdA’s bad news was D66’s good news. D66 became the largest party in many smaller cities including Apeldoorn, Haarlem, Delft and Leiden. D66 also became the largest party in The Hague, securing 15.5% of the votes. PVV followed with 14% and PvdA came up third at 12.4%. These voting percentages meant that PvdA lost 10 seats in The Hague. In Utrecht, D66 took 26.3% of the vote, gaining another 4 seats for a total of 13 seats. Utrecht was another place where the coalition parties lost a share of votes. D66 also gained in Amstelveen and Breda.

The SP experienced a great result in the elections, doubling their seats overall with specific victories in Groningen and Eindhoven. In Eindhoven, their share of votes increased by 5.7%.

Many local parties also experienced great victories, particularly in Rotterdam, which had the greatest local party result within a major city. Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam) took 28.2% of the vote. Its number of seats remained at 14, unchanged since the last election. Party leader Joost Eerdmans was thrilled by the result and said that at last, they had the keys to the city back.  Again, Rotterdam was a place of loss for PvdA:  they lost 6 seats and their share of votes dropped by over 15%.

What caused the changes?

Many immigrants are leaving PvdA for D66, which explains some of the change. Another thing to affect the vote outcome is the growing support for local parties. Around a third of voters chose a local party, their ideas often being more practical than political. This is clearly a winning policy with voters, as local parties came away with 2500 seats in total during this election.

Cleo Passier explains why she voted for D66: “I voted D66 because they would be trying for all sorts of student-related improvements.” She continued, “But they weren’t solely for students. If the student topic had been the only thing I cared about, I would have voted differently. D66 was also planning to focus on improvement of safety in traffic, and I liked that, because I only have a bike to get around. Those two combined were most important in my decision.”

Dutch-Russian tensions escalate

 

Despite a long-standing friendship, Russia and the Netherlands have recently been provoking each other in a precarious exchange of events. SOPHIA TAHA takes a look at how it all began.

Published in the Holland Times November 2013Image (5)

In the aftermath of the Pussy Riot case and the run up to the Olympics, another story emerges of clashes between Russia and demonstrators. On 17 September, three Greenpeace activists were arrested for scaling a Russian oil platform. Two days later, Russian security forces boarded their ship, the Arctic Sunrise. NRC reports that this occurred despite the fact Greenpeace received permission to protest from Russia the previous month.

The Greenpeace ship faced an armed Russian response to their protest. The ship, which flies under the Dutch flag, was in international waters at the time. There were some Twitter updates before Greenpeace lost contact. On 18 September at 05:25 the Arctic Sunrise tweeted “At the same time, the coast guard fired 11 shots across the bow of the Arctic Sunrise.”

During the boarding, the protestors managed to keep up a twitter feed, regularly updating the progress of the Russian Authorities. Their last tweet was “This is pretty terrifying. Loud banging. Screaming in Russian. They’re still trying to kick in the door. #savethearctic.” After contact was lost with the ship, Greenpeace took over the Twitter feed.

Those aboard have been charged with piracy and are currently being detained by the Russian authorities. The protestors aboard the Arctic Sunrise are from many different countries, two of the 30 are Dutch.

Under the UN convention of the High Seas, Article101, Piracy is defined as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft.” This definition is applicable to international waters, only if the Greenpeace ship was in Russian waters does the Russian definition of piracy legally apply. Under Article 227 of the Russian Criminal Code, piracy is defined as an “assault on a sea-going ship or a river boat with the aim of capturing other people’s property, committed with the use of violence or with the threat of its use.” While the Russian definition does not mention personal gain, the legitimacy for application of this legislation to an oil platform remains unclear.

On 11 October RIA reported that a human rights advisor to the Kremlin has deemed the piracy charges to be unfounded. He likened the charges to trying to prosecute for “attempted gang rape of an oil platform” and said that his council would urge for the charges to be dropped.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans (PvdA) says that the Netherlands has started an arbitration process based on the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea against the “unlawful detention” by Russian officials.

Despite the legal action being taken by the Dutch against the Russians, The Irish Times reports Russian deputy foreign minister Alexei Meshkov as being seemingly unconcerned, he is quoted as saying, “I would say we have more questions for the Dutch than they can have for us.” In another article they quote President Vladimir Putin. He said on 25 September, “of course, they are not pirates (but), formally speaking; they tried to seize an oil platform.” The action by the Russians seems rather strange, especially as according to Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty’s website, “Greenpeace held a similar protest at the same oil platform last year without incurring any punishment”.

In the meantime both Russian and Dutch diplomats have been targeted by their respective host nations. In The Hague, a Russian diplomat was arrested and held for a few hours under domestic violence charges, flaunting the diplomatic immunity he should have had. In Moscow, men posing as electricians violently assaulted a Dutch diplomat in his home; Russian police took an hour to respond to his call for help.

Regardless of these troubles and rather ironically, a planned visit by King Willem-Alexander to Russia this month is set to go ahead. The visit was organised as a culmination of Netherlands-Russia 2013; this year’s much-publicised celebration of the 400-year-long friendship between the two nations, which saw President Putin visit Amsterdam in April.

NRC report that Greenpeace international director Kumi Naidoo has written to President Putin vouching for the conduct of his 30 employees. In his letter he says that they do not consider themselves above the law and that he offers himself as a guarantee. The letter was written after bail had been refused for nine of the 30 so far. Kicking off global Greenpeace protests, Kumi Naidoo said, “we will not be bullied and intimidated into silence.”

Current reports state that the crew will be held until 24 November at least, when the case is due to go to trial.

Dutch Defence Spending Flip Flop

 

The Dutch economy is still struggling to recover at a time when other European economies have already begun to improve.  In the wake of large defence cuts, budget reversals, a ship that may or may not be needed, a ten year-year air-craft debacle and now the UN peacekeeping mission to Mali, SOPHIA TAHA reviews some of the Defence spending decisions made this year

Published December 2013 in the Holland Times.

Image

Following a debate of nearly 12 hours, the majority of the Dutch parliament agreed to buy the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) aircraft, which it is argued will be the most future proof example of this type of fighting vehicle.  It will be beneficial to the Dutch due to both the new technologies involved and the international cooperation required to train pilots and technicians.

The acquisition of the JSF planes has been a ten-year project, with frequent technical difficulties slowing proceedings.  By buying from the US, the Dutch are also buying into a considerable saving on their own research and development.

However many others feel that these planes are an unnecessary expenditure.  Some have argued that trying to keep pace with the defence technologies of counties such as the US is not a wise idea.

So far two test planes have been delivered and it is hoped that pilots will complete their training by 2015, with the first test flight happening this month.  Despite the strong argument that the JSFs and their new technologies are needed for the Dutch military to progress, the initial order of over 80 planes has now been reduced to 35 planes (reported by the Financieele Dagblad).

These 35 planes will cost around 4.5 billion euro.  According to international.sp.nl, the defence budget has been cut by 1.3 billion and 12,000 jobs already – this plane therefore seems like a waste to some.  There must have been some strong decisions made in order to cut the defence budget; making the decision on the JSF program very controversial given the cost and the timing of the project.

After a complicated and erratic decision making progress to reach consensus on spending earlier this year, yet another series of about-turns has occurred.  The Defence Industry Daily reported on 25 October that the government plans to reverse some of its defence cuts.  This includes a decision to proceed with the purchase of the Karen Doormam, a ship much debated about.

An announcement in September revealed that the ship would be sold off before it was even delivered.  However this has now been reversed.  This change of heart means that once the new ship is finished, the ageing HNLMS Amsterdam  can be retired.  This reversal is reported as resulting from the lack of European support vessels, and so the Karel Doorman may be used to support NATO missions.  Dutch ships are already a large part of NATO missions.

Finally, it was confirmed on 1 November that the Dutch will contribute to the UN Mission in Mali: MINUSMA.  The Netherlands will send 380 people to the stabilising mission with the intention of keeping them there until 2015.  One of the main functions of the resources committed will be to gather and process intelligence.

There will also e a unit consisting of four Apache combat helicopters used to gather information and protect UN personnel. In addition, some police are to be sent out with the intention of running training programs and establishing the rule of law.

This mission and the Dutch involvement has been justified as an attempt to combat a combination of problems that Mali’s instability has caused, including drug and weapon smuggling, human trafficking and terrorism.

According to a report from Reuters, the first year of the mission will cost 65 million euro, then a further 40-50 million euro each year afterwards.  This decision comes after a Dutch minister was appointed to head the MINUSMA mission earlier this year.  The mission to Mali is seen as very important on humanitarian grounds and the Dutch contribution has been well received by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The defence decisions made this year have been marred with indecision, reversals, and arguably unwise spending decisions.  While the assistance within Mali is admirable, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the Defence Department’s over all bumbling is that a lack of clarity exists due to bumpy and uncertain government decision making processes.

Call for a change in the EU’s policy on CubaCubaMap

A recent visit to Cuba by Frans Timmermans led to some political wave-making as he called for reforms. SOPHIA TAHA looks at the Netherlands’ relationship to Cuba and what Timmermans might have achieved.

First published in the Holland Times February 2014

Following a visit to Cuba by a Dutch delegation in January, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans (PvdA), made some political waves by stating publicly, “I believe that the dialogue between the EU and Netherlands and Cuba is of extreme importance for development of the whole region.” The BBC reported that Mr Timmermans said the best way to promote change on the Communist-run Island was through dialogue, not isolation. This engagement with Cuba breaks with the rest of the EU, where many countries still refuse to engage with the island nation that has run so afoul of the US.

In 1996 the EU adopted “the common position” that said that cooperation with Cuba should only be conducted if human rights standards improve. Following an incident in 2003, the EU suspended links with Cuba and only resumed a dialogue in 2008. Cuba and the Netherlands signed an agreement in May 2013 to spur cooperation in trade, investment, agriculture, healthcare, culture and sports.

Euractiv.com reports that Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said he welcomed the opportunity to hold discussions on issues of common interest and that changes underway on the island represented an opportunity for Dutch businesses.

Full diplomatic relations between the two nations predate the Revolution that happened in 1959. The Netherlands is one of the primary destinations for exports from Cuba, particularly because of the trade with Nickel. According to Xinhuanet, the Dutch trade volume with Cuba reached 792 million US dollars in 2012. There is also a large tourism industry with about 30,000 Dutch vacationers visiting Cuba in 2013, according to the island’s National Statistics Bureau (NSB). Currently the Netherlands is the second largest business partner of Cuba after Spain.

On the second day of the visit, Mr Timmermans said that the relationship with Cuba and the EU needed to be adjusted. “Havana through the centuries has been a meeting point between Europe and the Americas and I believe it still has an important role to play in this regard,” the Guardian quotes him as saying.

Reuters reports that, “Cuba recently opened a Chinese-style special economic zone and is preparing a new foreign investment law.” Any capital investment needs to be approved by the government but the Netherlands’ two-day visit has meant that the continuing relationship between the two nations is safer. Reuters goes on to report that, “A delegation of businessmen accompanied Timmermans on his visit, the first by a Dutch foreign minister since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.”

Despite the strong commercial ties with the island of Cuba, the Netherlands is a staunch supporter of human rights and democracy. Reuters reports that the Netherlands actively supports dissident groups within Cuba. When asked to speak on this, a prominent NGO that works within Cuba said that it could not give any official comment.

As well as business partners and officials, the Dutch delegation brought footballers with them, who ran a football training camp in Havana. This cultural exchange – as well as the economic ties – is intended strengthen the move towards a more open government within Cuba.

This is not the first meeting between the two nations. On 20 December 2013 the Ambassador of Cuba had a meeting with Dutch officials,in which he discussed topics such as the economic situation within Cuba and the current state of the bi-lateral relations between the two nations. The event also had a cultural element with an exchange of Cuban music. Attendees also discussed the Cuban Five, the five intelligence officers accused of espionage within the US following an event at the embassy in September; a documentary was watched and a letter from their relatives was delivered to those that attended.

Whether the move by Timmermans will have any lasting impact on Cuban-EU relations remains to be seen, but it seems certain that the Netherlands is committed to a continuing dialogue; both with the Cuban people and their government.

 

 

image taken from http://blogs.dickinson.edu/cubamosaic/files/2012/03/CubaMap.gif

It’s a battlefield – fighting for attention in the Russian Public

first published: http://avondvandepersvrijheid.nl/archief-2013/its-a-battlefield-fighting-for-attention-in-the-russian-public/

In an interactive workshop, Gregory Shvedov let the participants lead the flow of conversation. Gregory’s website Caucasus Knot is created mainly for Russian speaking audiences, although there is also English content.

It concentrates on human rights and human interest stories. They also publish a list on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis of people who have died as a result of violence in the region. He feels that a lot of people in Russia do not care enough about Human Rights stories. However, people’s interest is increasing all the time. With 2.8 million hits per month this means that there is someone on their site every second.

The website is paid for via grants, foreign donors and some advertisement.  It took a long time to build up to what is now a service that provides 24/7 news reporting.  He is always striving to have a user friendly platform so that people can comment and share information.  Currently the website has a community of 19,000 commentators.

Does your work make you scared?

“I am always scared….when I’m on the street I’m scared…I think it’s healthy… you need to be prepared…you need to think what to do if you are detained by police”

What has changed in 12 years since you began?

“Twelve years ago this was all just an idea; to create something different to the traditional human rights reporting countering the unbalanced reporting that came from the region.  The idea was not to be on either side but to report facts in place of propagandas.”

Where do you see this project in 10 years’ time?

“Regional audiences taking more responsibility, not just with reading, but with greater writing and submissions. However there is (also) a responsibility for people outside of the region…human rights is not about borders…people need to check data from other parts of the world…take responsibility for sharing their opinions…it is now the time for people to share things online. With people being more proactive there creates a very powerful tool that can stop human rights abuses in the future.”

 

America’s Information War

 

first published https://www.freepressunlimited.org/en/article/guest-blog-americas-information-war-are-you-spy-or-whistleblower

 

Some information leaks are harmful to a state and others are needed for a healthy democracy.

In Bradley Manning’s case, the sending of classified government documents to wiki-leaks has resulted in a conviction. Wiki-leaks founder, Julian Assange said, ‘it is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism’

In the wake of this event Leon Willems, director of Free Press Unlimited, speaks to BNR Radio.  He discusses the fine line between a whistle-blower and an accusation of espionage, and what it means for the freedom of press.

“There is a constant struggle between the press and the government.”

He argues that despite America’s love of freedom of speech, the government limit accessibility to information.

“We depend more and more on whistle-blowers because large organisations are closed off”

Willems feels that if whistle-blowers are branded as spies, it is only a short step before journalists face the same allegations.  This could lead to a real risk of press staying away from dangerous topics. A disaster if it included reporting on human rights violations. In short he states that the press relies heavily on someone saying something to someone, and thus whistle-blowers are needed.

 

Blaming and Thanking Putin

first published: http://avondvandepersvrijheid.nl/algemeen/blaming-and-thanking-putin/

In a full theatre in Amsterdam we meet Olaf Koens, a Dutch freelance Journalist based in Moscow, he now mainly works for RTL.

Looking past the big problems
Olaf forgets exactly how long he has been a freelance journalist in Moscow but he estimates it has been about six years. During that time he has seen Russian society change a lot. He says living in Moscow is still amazing if you look past the big problems.

While “things have definitely gone from bad to worse” since Putin was re-elected he points out that “things are going very bad but it has never been so good” for the Russian people. Their quality of life under Putin has definitely improved since Soviet times, so in a way Russians both blame and thank Putin. Still it doesn’t excuse the current state of affairs.

The illusion of democracy
The Russian system is very complicated, Olaf says, “even after 6 years I still don’t understand”. Putin creates an opposition and then causes factions and fighting amongst them before “stamp(ing) out” resistance. Putin’s message is mainly spread via television; a media output that most do not question the veracity of. It all contributes to the illusion of democracy.

Learn from the Russian internet
Despite all of this there is still something that the Netherlands can learn from Russia. Its Internet market is growing by 20% each year. Because traditional media is under so much pressure you have to go online if you want independent information. The Netherlands has a very limited number of online platforms and this is something that we can improve on. Though he stresses internet freedom is not a substitute for real freedom. The freedom to post on Facebook cannot be an alternative for freedom of expression.

What should we know about Russia? He replies there is a lot we should know, the news changes every day and it is always exciting, even from the Netherlands he checks Russian news online more than he looks at Dutch news, and he recommends that we do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

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