Forget Amsterdam – spend a weekend in the Hague

I love Amsterdam. I go every year for the galleries, the opera, the beer, the genever, the rijsttaffel, the brown cafés and, well, the fun. I’ve had many a fine time there, sometimes with and sometimes without dear Mrs Ray. It’s a top place.  I was cut to the quick, then, on hearing recently that the good burghers of Amsterdam had asked any British tourists in search of a ‘messy night’ to stay away. Admittedly, this controversial campaign is aimed chiefly at 18- to 35-year-olds on stag parties, rather than senior railcard-holders like me. But any drunk and disorderly behaviour risks a hefty fine and a criminal record – and since

The Netherlands is growing tired of lockdown restrictions

On Wednesday at De Kleine Komedie, the oldest theatre in Amsterdam, the sound of comics on stage will be interspersed with the snips of scissors. Unable to open as a theatre due to the coronavirus restrictions, the comic actor Diederik Ebbinge is defiantly converting the venue into a hairdressers for the day with customers able to watch live acts while they get their hair cut. Fellow comedian Sanne Wallis De Vries is asking theatres up and down the country to sign up and join their haircut theatre scheme on the same day. In the latest phase of the Dutch lockdown, announced at a press conference on Friday night, from today gyms,

The scandal that collapsed the Dutch government

The Netherlands has a reputation as one of the sensible, efficient countries of Europe. Asked to predict which government was most likely to collapse in the face of a national scandal, many EU watchers would not have bet on Mark Rutte’s government. But while the political fallout has been extraordinary — Rutte cycled to the palace earlier today to tender his entire cabinet’s resignation to the king — the scandal that preceded it has a curiously Dutch feel. Their failure? Mismanagement of the country’s complex child benefit system. Thousands of parents have been driven to financial ruin. A parliamentary committee looking into the tax office fiasco last month labelled it an ‘unprecedented

Europe gripped by a fifth wave

How quickly things change. Just a month ago many EU countries were being praised for keeping some Covid restrictions in place, in many cases operating vaccine passport systems. By contrast, Britain was being attacked for removing most Covid restrictions in July. The UK suffering elevated infection rates ever since, leading to predictions that we could be back in lockdown by Christmas. Now, many EU governments are panicking as infection rates soar — and protesters have taken to the streets to oppose new lockdowns and, in the case of Austria, compulsory vaccinations from next February. What is the situation in the worst-affected countries? Austria Current number of people recorded as infected: 144,442 —

Is climate change to blame for Germany’s flooding?

Greta Thunberg has declared the floods in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to be the product of man-made climate change, adding ‘We’re at the very beginning of a climate and ecological emergency, and extreme weather events will only become more and more frequent.’ Well, that’s sorted out that one, then. We hardly need Angela Merkel or the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, to confirm it for us. Nor, indeed, do we need to hear from Michael Mann – aka Mr Hockey Stick – to tell us that the floods are the living embodiment of what climate scientists have been warning us about for decades. It was climate change

The shooting of a journalist – and the dark world of Dutch organised crime

In an attack that has rocked the Netherlands, a leading Dutch crime reporter is fighting for his life in hospital after being shot in broad daylight. Last night, at around 7.30 p.m., the investigative crime journalist Peter R De Vries was shot five times on a busy street in central Amsterdam after leaving a television studio where he was recording a talk-show. The horror on the face of the Amsterdam mayor was visible at a hastily-organised 11 p.m. press conference to discuss the attack, while tributes for De Vries flooded in from everyone from Dutch king Willem-Alexander to caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Rutte called the shooting ‘an attack on

The impact of lockdown on education

Just how damaging has lockdown been to children’s education? An Oxford University study has tried to quantify it by analysing data from Dutch schoolchildren — who, unlike in Britain where exams were cancelled, took tests shortly before and shortly after the first lockdown last spring. The level of parental education was a big predictor of falling performance If any country’s children had managed to get through lockdown with their education unscathed, suggest the authors, it ought to be those in the Netherlands. There, schools were closed for a relatively short period — eight weeks — and the penetration of broadband in homes is higher than in any other country. Yet

Wilders loses ground as Rutte wins again in the Dutch election

Despite a childcare benefits scandal that led to the resignation of the government en masse, much-criticised delays in its vaccination programme and national riots over a coronavirus curfew, the status quo will remain largely intact after a general election in the Netherlands. With nearly nine in ten votes counted, it looks almost certain that ‘caretaker’ prime minister Mark Rutte will be building a new coalition government and leading the country for a fourth time. His People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is expected to win another two seats, taking his total to 35 out of the 150 places in the lower house. Other big winners of the election are the

Will the Netherlands’ gender quota experiment work?

Quotas are unpopular, especially in the liberal Netherlands. But next week its parliament is expected to impose a quota system to ensure major businesses employ more women at the highest levels. A law is being tabled in parliament which would force listed companies to have at least a third of women (or, indeed, a third of men) on their supervisory boards. Another 5,000 Dutch companies will need to come up with ‘appropriate and ambitious’ measures for increasing female leadership. Meanwhile a government website now showcases board-ready Topvrouwen (top women) to take up these posts. And, in a real departure from the norm, there will be sanctions: if a listed company

Netherlands’ Covid crackdown blamed on ‘English variant’

It is more than two centuries since the last Anglo-Dutch war, but our neighbours across the North Sea are once again fearful of an English invasion. Last night, the Dutch parliament voted for an unprecedented restriction on personal freedoms, a curfew between 9pm and 4.30am, because of fears that the new B117 variant of the coronavirus discovered in the UK, will flood the Netherlands. While infection levels seem to be creeping down to around 5,400 a day, after a spike over the Christmas break, the Dutch public health institute reckons that ten per cent of new cases are what they variously (and carelessly) call the ‘British’, the ‘English’ or, ‘the