Nederland in the News

Train Trein
The Netherlands has been making news over the past few days, for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. Although to watch some of the international news programs, you wouldn’t know it. For example, there was a train crash on Saturday, in which one woman died and 117 were injured, but it didn’t get a mention on BBC’s The Hub news program, which we watch nightly. It’s not that they don’t cover similar stories, since the plane crash that happened that day elsewhere was covered quite extensively.

It seems that the crash was the result of one of the drivers missing possibly missing a red light. However, the driver may not face prosecution, because the signal safety was out of date. It, and most of the other signals across the country, lack the updated security, which would cause the train to halt and avoid running into another train. They have been attempting to update the security of the signals since the 1980s, but the original plan was put on hold, because of a different EU system. However, the EU system was prohibitively expensive and never put in place. Since 2006, they’ve been installing an improved version of the system they started with in the ’80s, but only 1,264 signals have been refitted. Out of 6,000. The transport minister said in November of last year that she is not planning on rolling out the upgrade across the country. I wonder if that plan will change now.

Milling About
However, it is not likely to change any time soon, since the other bit of news is that our government has fallen apart. Geert Wilders, leader of the PPV, who made up an unofficial part of the majority coalition, decided to take his toys and go home (he pulled out of the budget negotiations), causing the coalition to collapse. Prime Minister Rutte (VVD) handed in his cabinet’s resignation yesterday to Queen Beatrix. There was a debate today as to when the election should be held, with some groups preferring to hold it within the next few months, but it seems as if it is going to be put off until the beginning of September. We will be left with a caretaker government in which the current figures carry on, but cannot make any major laws or changes.

The collapse hasn’t come as any real shock, since the VVD and CDA were unable to form a more stable coalition, ultimately having to depend upon an unofficial majority through the support of Wilders and his PPV party. The problem is that Wilders is a eurosceptic and heavily opposed to what he calls the “Islamisation” of the Netherlands and Europe in general. His party’s support has dropped recently as the party itself seems to be falling apart. He’s not well-liked by many here, and he was always viewed as the straw that would probably break the coalition’s back eventually.

So now comes the juggling to see which parties will take the lead in the election, which may well depend on when the election is held. If it were to be held sooner, certain parties would be more likely to come out on top, whereas with a longer delay, other parties might be able to take the lead. As for now, there’s still talk that an agreement over the austerity plan will be reached before the deadline of April 30, when it is supposed to go to the European Commission in Brussels. I guess we’ll see.

Here are some English-language stories with more details:
Train crash
Election
Government collapse

I thought this was an interesting opinion piece (in Dutch) about Wilders having laid the ground work to make a move to the US.

Sitting on the Sofa

Rutte?
Despite the rain that’s been with us all day, we headed out to hit up a few shops and the Saturday market. Half a kilo of shrimp for €5, and three stinky cheeses for €5 are pretty decent deals! After running most of the errands, we stopped at Café de Journal in the Neude square for a hot chocolate to take the chill off. As we sat out on the terrace, which fortunately has lots of big umbrellas and even a heater, we saw this group arrive.

PvdA is one of the political parties. Mark Rutte is the current prime minister of the country, but he’s with the VVD party. There’s an election coming up soon, so I guess this is some form of campaigning and perhaps a complaint against Rutte. The sign says, “Met Rutte kom je op de bank te zitten”, which basically means “sit on the sofa with Rutte”. I suppose there is some implied meaning that is just lost in translation. Or not. Anyway, they had a guy there with a paper mask of Rutte and you could get your photo taken seated next to him. No idea how successful they were, since it was raining. Who wants to sit on a soggy sofa? Hopefully someone reading this will be able to explain the whole sofa/Rutte thing. Meanwhile, as they were setting up, we saw a couple of people from D66, one of the other parties, walk past. They restrained themselves from standing behind the sofa and making rude gestures. I bet they at least thought about it.
PvdA