Rutte does U-turn and pledges to release documents on dividend tax

Prime minister Mark Rutte has promised to publish all memos relating to the government's controversial plan to scrap dividend tax. Rutte had previously said the documents would not be made public because it would breach the confidentiality of coalition talks and make it harder to form governments in future. The proposal to abolish dividend tax for foreign investors was included in the new government's coalition agreement in November even though none of the four parties in the cabinet had mentioned it in their election manifestos. It is expected to cost the state €1.4 billion a year once it is implemented in 2020. For months ministers insisted the negotiators had received no memos on the subject from third parties. But when two academics filed a freedom of information request to see the documents, the finance ministry replied that releasing them would 'breach the confidentiality of the negotiations' - thus confirming their existence. Rutte insisted at his press conference on Friday that he had no memory of seeing any such document. But on Monday morning he told reporters: 'Having considered the matter we have decided it would be good to make a exception on this occasion on the confidentiality of the documents. 'But as a one-off measure, because we believe that if we did this on other issues it would make it impossible to form governments in the Netherlands.' Personal memos Rutte said two personal memorandums sent to economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, which came to light in the Telegraaf newspaper on Monday, would also be made public, as well as any relevant documents sent to other departments. Labour party leader Lodewijk Asscher accused Rutte of lying about the existence of the documents and demanded a full explanation from ministers of the conflicting reports. 'I don't have another explanation for memos that first didn't exist, then there was no an active memory of them, then they were on the side table and then maybe were or were not on the finance negotiators' desk. Different ministers with different versions of the truth: it's a mess,' he told NOS. Shell and Unilever Opposition parties have claimed that scrapping dividend tax is an economically unproductive measure and that the government bowed to threats from multinational companies such as Shell and Unilever to move their headquarters out of the Netherlands. In March Unilever announced it was closing its joint headquarters in London and basing its operations solely in Rotterdam. Rutte said the decision was 'very good news' but denied that it made scrapping dividend tax unnecessary. 'We want to bring as many head offices as possible to the Netherlands,' he said.  More >

Icelandic bitcoin suspect arrested in NL

An Icelandic national who escaped from jail on the island at the end of last week has been arrested in Amsterdam, Dutch media said. Sindri Thor Stefansson is wanted in connection with the theft of 600 computers which were being used to mine virtual currencies, including bitcoin, in Iceland. The machines are still missing. The thefts took place at three data centres at the end of last year and Stefansson was arrested along with 10 other people in February. He was being held at a low security prison. According to Dutch media reports, Stefansson jumped out of a window at the prison and made his way to the airport where he boarded a plane for Sweden. Trips to Sweden do not require passport checks and he was travelling on a ticket made out to someone else, news agencies reported. It is unclear how he made his way to Amsterdam and police have not said how they were able to track him down. However, on Sunday he was photographed with two others in front of the Bijenkorf department store in central Amsterdam and the picture was placed on Instagram, the AD said. Stefansson send a letter to an Icelandic newspaper last week claiming he was being held in jail illegally and was planning to raise the issue at the European Court of Human Rights.   More >

Utrecht's Avicii tribute goes global

The Utrecht bell tribute to Swedish dj Avicii, who died last Friday in Dubai at the age of 28, has been broadcast around the world. The city's official carillonneur Malgosia Fiebig decided to play some of his most famous work at the weekend, and fans of the dj were suprised to hear numbers such as Wake Me Up, Without You and Hey Brother sounding out from the medieval Dom tower. CNN, the BBC and Swedish television are among the broadcasters who picked up the impromptu performance. Fiebig told the AD on Monday she had been overwhelmed by the reaction to the tribute, particularly because it put the spotlight on carillon-playing.   More >

Access to the legal system is under threat

Statue of justice. The Dutch courts processed 1.6 million cases last year, but there was a drop in the number of cases heard across all the different types of law - corporate, civil and criminal - the Council for the Judiciary said on Monday. In particular fewer cases were taken to district courts (kantonrechter) which mainly deal with non-payment of bills and other minor issues, according to the council's annual report. While this is partly due to the improved economy and more cases being solved by mediation, there is a 'worrying factor', the report said. 'An increasing number of people are finding it too expensive and too complicated to go to court,' the report said. 'The courts are becoming less accessible and that impacts both people who want to have recourse to the law and the entire legal system.' Frits Bakker, chairman of the Dutch legal council Raad voor de Rechtspraak, has also called for court costs to be lowered. The aim of lowering the fees would not be to increase the number of cases per se but to 'guarantee Dutch citizens the protection of the law.' 'Unhampered access to the courts is a crucial condition of this,' Bakker said.  More >

Alarm over cyber security brain drain

The Netherlands is facing a critical shortage of cyber security specialists,’ Leiden university professor Bibi van den Berg told the Financieele Dagblad on Monday. Van den Berg, who is a member of the government's Cyber Securty Board, said increasing numbers of students are being trained in cyber security but that many go abroad when they graduate. 'In Delft there are currently 1,000 students enrolled to become specialists in the field, up from 400 and the number at Leiden has increased to 300 from 150,' she said. ‘The problem is that a great many graduates get jobs outside the Netherlands as soon as they graduate. In Germany, for example, graduates get a generous research budget and research group without any question.’ Last Friday, justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus who has security in his portfolio, hiked annual spending on cyber security to €95m. Van den Berg says neighbouring countries spend far more. Dutch security specialist graduates often head for the US where they experienced specialists earn $300,000 a year instead of €100,000 in the Netherlands. The result is a brain drain, she says. The  CSR was set up in 2011 and advises the cabinet on security-related matters. It is aiming ultimately to set up a digital cyber security institute.  More >

Van Persie lifts Feyenoord to KNVB Cup win

Feyenoord fans celebrating in Rotterdam after the 3-0 Dutch Cup final win against AZ Alkmaar. Feyenoord salvaged a disappointing league season by winning the 100th edition of the KNVB Cup in convincing style with a 3-0 win over AZ Alkmaar on Sunday. Robin van Persie's goal 10 minutes after half-time was the high point of a pulsating game in De Kuip stadium. The 34-year-old striker floated the ball over the head of goalkeeper Marco Bizot to make the score 2-0 and put the game beyond AZ's reach. Nicolai Jørgensen had opened the scoring in the 28th minute and Jens Toornstra added the gloss in injury time to seal coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst's fourth trophy in three seasons. Van Bronckhorst acknowledged that the victory went some way to compensate for a lacklustre defence of the league title. Last year's champions are destined to finish fourth in the Eredivisie, one place behind AZ, and are currently 21 points adrift of champions-elect PSV. 'It was a difficult season, especially when you look at the league and the Champions League,' said Van Bronckhorst. 'But in the end we've won two out of three trophies and ended the season on a positive note.' Feyenoord also won the Johan Cruijff Shield, the traditional season opener, by beating last year's cup winners Vitesse Arnhem on penalties. Van Persie said he would sit down with the club in the next few weeks to discuss whether he will continue playing next season. The Netherlands' record international goalscorer, who arrived at De Kuip in January, has a contract until mid-2019 but is unsure if he can manage another full season. 'In my heart I'd love to keep playing football for another five years, but I need to be realistic,' he said. 'Maybe the outside world doesn't see it. but it can be a real struggle to get fit for games. 'It's partly to do with age, but over the years I've had quite a few knocks. It takes me longer to recover.' Around 30 people were arrested after the match as celebrations broke out in Rotterdam, but police said the atmosphere was mostly convivial. The arrests were for public drunkenness, abusive language and setting off fireworks. Two AZ supporters were also arrested after beer cans were thrown out of a coach on the A16 motorway. The winning club's official reception will be held on Monday afternoon at De Kuip stadium rather than the usual location of the Coolsingel, which is partly closed for roadworks.  More >

7 in 10 flexible jobs done by youngsters

In 2017, 25% of the 7.9 million working population of the Netherlands had a flexible employment contract, the national statistics office CBS said on Monday. The CBS said the numbers of ‘flexiworkers’ had increased by more than 850,000 between 2003 and 2017. This increase was largely taken up by youngsters under the age of 25 who now account for seven out of 10 flexible contracts, compared with four in 10 15 years ago. Often people are forced into accept flexible contracts because they cannot find a traditional permanent job. The CBS said, however, that 80% of the under-25s with a flexible contract were students who combined part time work with their study.  More >