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Dutch News
Classic Zwarte Piet is out in The Hague primary schools: AD 9/20/2015

The classic character of Zwarte Piet, with blackface make-up, is no longer welcome at any primary schools in The Hague, the AD said on Thursday. This makes the city the first in the Netherlands to agree to phase out Sinterklaas’s servant’s trademark characteristics, which opponents say are racist stereotypes, the paper said. ‘Some of our pupils do not feel comfortable during the Sinterklaas celebrations because of Zwarte Piet,’ Gerard van Drielen, head of the Christelijk Onderwijs Haaglanden school group told the paper. All school heads have agreed to make the changes, which will see Piet lose his red lips, curly hair, earrings and black skin. Nor will he appear as a servant, the paper said. Even small independent schools have committed themselves to the new policy, Van Drielen said. Traditional Piets will be phased out over a three-year period and it is up to schools themselves to decide how to do this. Local and national populist politicians condemned the move as ‘political correctness gone mad’ while others said an age old Dutch tradition had been killed off. The AD’s The Hague editorial team said it had been phoned by angry parents and one person reported mothers had been in tears in a school playground. Change In Amsterdam and Utrecht some schools have ditched the traditional Piet character but on a voluntary basis. In August, the Bijenkorf department store group said it is replacing the traditional automated climbing Piets which decorate its main halls every Sinterklaas with golden versions. The store group said it is making the change because the new golden Piets fit better with the Bijenkorf’s upmarket image and not because of the ongoing debate about the future of Sinterklaas’ helper. A UN committee said at the end of last month the Dutch government should actively work to change the features of Zwarte Piet which reflect negative stereotypes. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said in a new report on the Netherlands that even a ‘deeply rooted cultural tradition does not justify discriminatory practices and stereotypes’.

2016 Budget Memorandum

‘Dutch economy better than expected, but not good enough’. The Netherlands is back among the leading economies of Europe. The Dutch economy will grow by 2.0% this year, and 2.4% next year. The deficit is continuing to decrease and unemployment is falling. The recovery is broadly based; this year consumer spending is increasing, as well as exports and investments. In the 2016 Budget Memorandum the government has ensured that as many people as possible can benefit from the recovery, while continuing its reforms aimed at creating more jobs, sustainable growth and healthy public finances. Next year, the government has decided to reduce the tax burden on labour, make purchasing power more equitable, raise spending on health care and defence, and continue to implement the reforms already introduced.
These measures are set out in the 2016 Budget Memorandum, which Minister of Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem presented to the House of Representatives on Tuesday 15 September. Mr Dijsselbloem believes that, although the projected growth of the Dutch economy gives cause for optimism, unemployment is still too high and is falling too slowly, and there is too little scope for growth. ‘The performance of the Dutch economy is better than expected, but not good enough,’ he said.
The minister explained that in recent years the government had taken many vital measures to put public finances in order, preserve the welfare state and strengthen the economy. As a result, the outlook for the Netherlands has greatly improved. ‘However, those affected by the measures have had to make many sacrifices,’ he said. ‘As the economy is picking up, the government wants the public to feel the effects. We also want to create buffers so that we can deal with any shocks during more difficult times in the future.’
The 2016 Budget Memorandum sets out the following measures:
· Taxes on labour will be cut by €5 billion. This will generate higher economic growth and 35,000 extra jobs on a structural basis.
· The rates in the second and third tax bands will be lowered, while the employed person’s tax credit will rise sharply. Employees will therefore retain more of their gross salary.
· Employers will be given an incentive to hire people at the lower end of the labour market.
· The government will make it easier to combine work with caring for young children by increasing the income-related combination tax credit and childcare benefit.
· The government has managed to restore the purchasing power of pensioners and people on benefit. This means that over 80% of households will be better off next year.
· Up to €345 million will be spent on strengthening the armed forces in the coming years. In addition, €60 million will be earmarked structurally for international missions.
· In the care sector, structural spending will be raised by €210 million in the coming years, to improve the quality of life in nursing institutions.
· A structural sum of €60 million will be spent on pre-school childcare.
· From 2017, paternity leave will be increased from two to five days. The government will provide €75 million for this purpose on a structural basis.
· The government is also reforming wealth tax, so that the amount taxed is closer to the yield that taxpayers actually earn on their savings and investments.
· This year the government has earmarked €470 million for a public sector pay agreement. The amount will rise to €1.3 billion per year.
· To deal with the influx of asylum seekers, an extra €539 million will be made available for their reception in the Netherlands in 2015. To offer refugees protection in the first safe country they enter after fleeing their homes, the government has set aside €110 million for reception in the region.
Budget deficit falls, structural deficit rises
The economic recovery is having a positive effect on public finances. The budget deficit will fall to 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016. This is caused by the economic upturn (resulting in rising tax revenues and lower spending on unemployment benefit) and by the government’s earlier reforms and savings. The structural deficit will increase to 1.3% of GDP in 2016, mainly as a result of the lower natural gas revenues and tax cuts. This increase is not significant and falls within the margins allowed by the preventive arm of the EU’s fiscal rules. The EMU debt (general government consolidated gross debt) is projected to fall to 66.2% of GDP (€466 billion) in 2016.

Consumer authority wants hospital prices made public

The Dutch consumer and markets authority says hospitals and insurance companies should publish their prices, so patients can better chose where to be treated. Currently, the agreements between hospitals and insurers are secret because they are considered to be confidential information. But the ACM says patients, who are all faced with an own-risk charge of at least €375, need to be able to compare prices. ACM chairman Chris Fonteijn told the NRC he supports complete openness but that he recognises the need to keep confidential information which is competition-sensitive. The Dutch health authority NZ has also been taken to court over price transparency, the NRC says.

Tax office sets up team to focus on super rich

Since 2011, €5.5bn held in secret bank accounts abroad has been ‘legalised’ by the tax office, generating over €600m for the treasury, according to the tax office’s latest report. Seven out of 10 people who had illicit savings in foreign accounts were over the age of 60, the report states. On average, they had €400,000 on their accounts. Most money was held in accounts in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium. When the government first announced it would tackle secret bank accounts, there was no fine for people who confessed. Now, however, people have to pay a 60% fine as well as tax on their secret savings. The tax office has also set up a special team to focus on people with assets of more than €25m. The 10-man team will focus on analysing the tax returns of very wealthy individuals, thought to number about 2,000. Junior tax minister Eric Wiebes told BNR radio the aim of the new team is to provide ‘better service’ rather than to make sure they are not evading taxes. However Ton Apeldoorn, director of a financial research agency who has worked for the tax office investigation department for years, said Wiebes is talking nonsense. ‘It is all about controls,’ he said. ‘If very rich people have questions about their tax, they are solved by a tax advisor or lawyer.’

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