August 15, 2015

Wepod, a self-driving car with ambitions

Filed under: Automobiles by Branko Collin @ 10:33 pm


The province of Gelderland will try to achieve a world first in May 2016 when it hopes to run a shuttle service on public roads using self-driven vehicles.

The vehicles are called Wepods and should drive guests of the University of Wageningen from the nearby rail station of Ede-Wageningen to the university and back. Currently however the vehicle laws of the Netherlands don’t allow self-driven cars on the road. The province hopes to convince the relevant ministries during a demonstration in October. The first Wepod, produced by Ligier in France, was delivered in June.

Rotterdam was the first city in the Netherlands allowing self-driven vehicles on its territory. The Rivium shuttle bus however does not mix with other traffic and has its own road — it operates a bit like a train without the rails.

(Link: Smart Driving; photo:

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July 20, 2015

Shock blog tries to stop Ukraine from joining EU

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 10:46 pm

vote-counting-rnwA new law allows Dutch citizens to call for a non-binding referendum in the Netherlands, the Dutch Pirate Party writes.

Shock blog Geen Stijl is trying to become the first organisation to scale the considerable thresholds the Dutch state imposes on such a referendum by getting the country to veto Ukraine’s entry to the European Union. The blog has four weeks to collect 10,000 signatures from people who support the collection of further signatures. If it succeeds, it has another six weeks to collect 300,000 signatures. Currently, signatures can only be collected in writing.

Once those two hurdles have been passed, the Yes and No campaigns may receive up to two million euro in subsidies for their campaigns. Geen Stijl claims it is unwise to let a country that is currently at war join the European Union.

The Pirate Party stresses that it doesn’t have an opinion either for or against the issue of Ukraine joining the EU, but applauds the addition of the referendum to the “rickety and unsatisfactory democratic toolkit we have now”.

The party for rich pensioners, 50Plus, was hoping to sabotage a new pension law from entering effect through a referendum last January, but the law that makes referendums legal only came into effect on 1 July. Observers believe that even though referendums under the new law are non-binding, parliament will respect them.

In 2005 the Netherlands used a special one-off referendum to let citizens rubber stamp something the European Union claimed to be a constitution. Dutch voters from both the pro- and anti-EU camps used the opportunity to vote against the document.

(Photo by Photo, some rights reserved)

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January 29, 2015

Dordrecht detains unrelenting serial letter writer

Filed under: General by Orangemaster @ 10:10 am

Despite a court order to minimise his letter writing, Mustafa Karasahin of Dordrecht, aka the serial letter writer, has started ‘harassing’ city hall again with a barrage of letters. The city of Dordrecht has to make its position clearer and has placed Karasahin in a detention centre. Fining the man hasn’t worked, so detaining him was the next step.

Dealing with his letters has cost the city of Dordrecht nearly half a million euro. Back in 2013, the court had limited him to 10 letters a month (although the source below says two). Either way, 16 letters as of late was over the limit.

According to the city and experts, the law governing access to information requests needs to be modified to address this kind of abuse and doing so is taking a long time. In the mean time, the serial writer has given no signs of letting up once he’s free again. Karasahin owns some 40 buildings and rents room illegally to migrant workers. He is considered a slum lord.


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April 29, 2014

Voting booth ‘stemfie’ to be contested in court

Filed under: Online,Photography by Orangemaster @ 10:31 am

Following up on the selfie, Dutch word of 2013, there’s a new variant, the ‘stemfie’, which means taking a selfie while voting. The Dutch word for vote and also voice (noun) is ‘stem’, hence ‘stemfie’.

The trend kicked off during the last municipal elections on March 19, but now it’s time to go to court over it. Posting a selfie with your filled out voting ballot violates voting secrecy and therefore should be forbidden, according to the Dutch Foundation for the Protection of Civil Rights. The Ministry of the Interior has no problem with selfies and even encourages them, but this foundation claims international jurisprudence and says it’s a big no-no.

For the upcoming European elections, Belgium’s Guy Verhofstadt, campaigning to be head of the European Commission, has told voters, “Send us your selfie, showing us where or how you enjoy the benefits of European integration. Did you just board an airplane on a cheap flight or crossed a border without having to use your passport or to change currencies? Put it on your instagram profile and tag it with #selfEU.”

Illegal or not, I’m more worried about electronic voting in the Netherlands. In 2007, the government axed electronic voting because hacking into the devices was child’s play, and in April of this year, they’re planning to reintroduce electronic voting.

UPDATE (9 May): ‘Stemfies are not forbidden’, says a high court in The Hague (in Dutch).


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March 16, 2014

Remarkable election posters from the Netherlands

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 2:22 pm

The municipal elections are around the corner and many news outlets took the opportunity to discuss what they feel are the funniest (Binnenlands Bestuur), clumsiest (AD) or outright silliest (Adformatie) election posters of the current campaign.

political-posters-kunstgras political-parties-plap

The hockey poster for VVD (“we want more artificial grass for our hockey players”) caused one punter to say: “VVD has an eye for the serious problems of the rich”.

The poster for Platform Lokale Partijen will raise an eyebrow with those familiar with the earlier work of satirists Van Kooten and De Bie. The two men on the poster are the spitting image of two early 1980s’ characters of the comedians, the two extreme right-wing politicians (and part-time crooks) Jacobse and Van Es. The duo killed off the characters when a certain part of the electorate started to take the over-the-top policies of their fictional party seriously.

political-posters-koen-hawinkels political-posters-srh

Koen Hawinkels became a minor Facebook sensation with his “do me” campaign—presumably everybody thought “why?” In Dutch “Koen” rhymes with “doen”. The party with the curious name Sociaal Rechts (‘social right-wing’) drew attention for obvious reasons; their poster shows a man spanking somebody else’s bare bottom. If you look closer you will see that the victim’s underwear sports the logos of two other parties, VVD and PvdA, who currently form the national government.

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January 13, 2014

Dutch housing prices are historically high

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 2:35 pm

The Economist has been keeping track of the development of house prices for a while now and this recent graph neatly shows the house price bubble the world is slowly getting out of.

What may surprise you to know is that the Netherlands, typically known as an economically stable country, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to driving up prices to insanity level 11. What is worse, is that unlike most of the world’s nations, the country will see only little decrease of house prices in the near future.

Hendrik Oude Nijhuis looks even further back than The Economist in an article for Z24. He points out that in the past 400 years, house prices in the Netherlands have always followed inflation. Sometimes they rose more quickly than inflation would dictate and sometimes they would lag behind inflation, but they would always go back to a happy medium. Houses in the Netherlands are now 75% more expensive than the historic average, which is a record.

House prices have been decreasing slowly since 2008, but as you can see in the first chart, the process is slow. One giant brake on the current housing market is that the current generation of first-time homeowners is in a bad fix. On the one hand, these young house owners got in when the prices soared, meaning they bought expensive houses, and on the other, they took out mortgage loans that they are not paying off. The result is what Oude Nijhuis calls ‘submarine mortgages’, loans where the collateral is worth way less than the amount owed. This generation (Oude Nijhuis says there are 1.7 million of these submarine loans against 4.3 million privately owned houses) is unable to move on even if it wanted to. Home owners cannot afford new houses and yet if they buy one, they will take a loss on the old one.

Add to this toxic mix the fact that politicians don’t want to be seen touching interest deductions and you have the recipe for an unhealthy housing market for years to come.

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November 11, 2013

How to sabotage freedom of information requests in the Netherlands

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 10:51 am

Two angry blog posts in as many months show the state of freedom of information in the Netherlands. Long story short, the government wants everybody to be transparent except themselves.

In the past year political blog Sargasso directed 30 or so freedom of information requests at all levels of government. Their report of how they fared (the first court victories are expected next year) reads like a how-to for civil servants—how to sabotage freedom of information requests:

  • Be late in everything you do.
  • Split requests into multiple parts and reject them all separately.
  • Send ten-page-long rejection letters full of legalese.
  • Let the complaints committee reject the inevitable complaints.
  • Once forced by a court of law, redact the information you return to the point of illegibility.
  • Wash, rinse, repeat.

Dealing with all of these things takes time and money, of which the state possesses infinitely more than the average citizen or reporter.

Sargasso also noted that they had no troubles at all with FOI requests for non-sensitive subjects (e.g. how many restaurant permits does a city have). Only once they started digging into things like the presumably fraudulent past of the former mayor of Helmond, Fons Jacobs, did they run into a wall.

In August the Retecool blog made minced meat out of the argument that the fines governments have to pay for refusing to perform their legal duties were too high and the result of systemic fraud. Both the Vereniging Nederlandse Gemeenten (Association of Dutch municipalities) and Minister of the Interior Ronald Plasterk had argued as much.

Retecool (a not always SFW blog) pointed out that many municipalities only had to pay one or just a few fines in 2012 which hardly points to systemic abuse. The few cases where abuse seemed real ended up before the courts who had no troubles finding for the municipalities when the facts warranted it. The city of Eindhoven (200,000 inhabitants) paid the highest amount of fines of any place in the Netherlands. The 119,060 euro in fines they paid last year were for all requests they failed to process in time, not just FOI requests. Retecool contrasts this to the severance packages the city handed to its former employees, which was 150,000 euro in just the first 9 months of 2012. The blog contrasts Eindhoven’s fines with the cost of The Hague’s new year’s party, 125,000 euro in 2013. Sounds to me like the fines may not be high enough.

See also: No fees for freedom of information requests says Dutch Supreme Court

(Photo of the closed city of Severomorsk in Russia by Sergej Shinkarjuk, some rights reserved)

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October 5, 2013

Krol under fire after exposure as pension fraud

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 11:04 pm

Yesterday the leader of 50PLUS quit his seat in the Dutch parliament over allegations that he had failed to pay pension premiums for his employees when he was still editor-in-chief of Gay krant, a recently collapsed monthly magazine for the gay community.

50PLUS is a political party that claims to represent the elderly. Stronger pensions are one of the main issues for the party as exemplified in a Ben Cramer / Peter Koelewijn song that goes like “Keep your hands off my dough / This is my last warning / Keep your hands off my pension / I won’t vote for you again.”

Law professor Evert Verhulp told Volkskrant that not paying premiums counts as breach of contract.

An Elsevier blogger headlined today: “Irony flirts with Henk Krol.” Former member of parliament for the Christian Democrats Ger Koopmans tweeted “Henk Krol not paying pension premiums is like Geert Wilders converting to Islam.” The elderly as a group are among the most affluent of the country, even though the babyboom generation that Krol represented put remarkably little into the pension funds as Sywert van Lienden and others point out. According to Van Lienden the babyboomers worked four-day weeks. The generation before worked harder and the generation after will have to work longer. In 2023 the Dutch legal retirement age will be 67, ten years later than the early retirement age that was possible from the mid 1970s until approximately ten years ago.

(Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg, some rights reserved)

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April 7, 2013

Anti-monarchal society almost doubles in size

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 4:23 pm

One of the two Dutch republican societies has seen an increase in membership from 1200 to 2000 since January, AD writes.

The Nieuw Republikeins Genootschap (New Republican Society) wants to replace the Dutch hereditary monarchy by a republic with an elected head of state. It was founded in 1998 in response to the existing Republikeins Genootschap which only admits new members through co-option and which believes that merely existing is enough to bring about the republic.

The society expects that the large increase in members is due to the ‘hype’ surrounding the abdication of Queen Beatrix and the ascension to the throne of her son Willem Alexander on 30 April.

According to TNS Nipo the monarchy continues to enjoy strong support among the Dutch. In 2011 a whopping 87% of the population supported the monarchy, 4 percentage points down from 1961, but 6 percentage points up from 2003.

The Netherlands was a republic from 1581 until 1806 at which point Napoleon Bonaparte made his brother king of the country. After Napoleon was defeted at Waterloo in 1815, Willem Frederik of Orange-Nassau became King Willem I of the Netherlands. Since then the country has been a monarchy.

(Photo: statue of William the Silent, he who both led the Dutch revolution that started the republic and who started the house of Orange-Nassau.)

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March 30, 2013

Court limits serial letter writer to 10 letters a month

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 9:36 am

Mustafa Karasahin of Dordrecht was told by the court last week that he had to limit the amount of letters he sends to the city of Dordrecht to ten a month for the next two years.

Called a slumlord by Binnenlands Bestuur (huisjesmelker, literally ‘house milker’), Karasahin apparently sent the city of Dordrecht 2,247 letters over the past years. The city estimated that it would have to spend 400,000 euro a year to reply to Karashin’s letters, complaints and freedom of information requests if he kept at it. It had to employ four civil servants just to deal with Karasahin’s past missives, according to Radio Rijnmond.

The judge ruled in favour of the city because Karashin indicated his letter writing campaign was intended as a form of harassment.

Deputy Mayor Piet Sleeking of Dordrecht sees the court’s decision as a good starting point for further reducing civil liberties. Maybe parliament should get involved, he feels, and think about “when using a right becomes abusing a right”.

Karasahin owns 40 buildings which he apparently lets to migrant workers. He has started letting others write his letters for him.

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