Electric wagons are unsafe, road ban remains in force (update)

The electric wagons known as Stints which hundreds of daycare centres use to ferry children around are not safe enough to be on the public roads, the TNO research institute says in a new report. The institute was commissioned to look into stint safety by transport minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen following September's fatal crash in which a wagon ploughed into a train, killing four children. Van Nieuwenhuizen immediately banned the wagons from the roads. The TNO report says the wagons can only be allowed back into traffic after modifications have been carried out. In particular, there are problems with the braking system, the report said. The minister told a news conference on Thursday she realises that the ban has caused problems for users but that 'safety has priority'. She will hold talks with the child care sector about the difficulties they now face next week. 2011 Stints made their debuts on the Dutch roads in 2011 via legislation covering 'special scooters' - a new category of road transport introduced to cover Segways. MPs and ministers were keen to encourage new forms of transport and did not introduce extra safety measures so as not to dent innovation. Two road safety organisations checked the electric wagons in 2011 and both said they had doubts about their safety, broadcaster NOS said on Thursday afternoon. Nevertheless, both ministers and parliament decided to set their objections aside and press ahead with the introduction. MPs have described Thursday's findings as shocking. 'Public safety is paramount but that seems not to have been the case over the past few years,' Socialist MP Cem Lacin told NOS. 'An unsafe vehicle has bee used on the roads for years.' Some 3,500 wagons are thought to have been in use prior to the ban. As well as daycare centres, they were used by several delivery companies, including PostNL.  More >

Ajax draw 3-3 against Bayern Munich

A late equaliser from Nicolás Tagliafico helped Amsterdam football club Ajax to a 3-3 home draw against Bayern Munich in their final match of the Champions League group stage. A win would have put the Amsterdammers on top of group E, who now end the group stage on 12 points from six matches. 'We've just played against one of Europe's top teams, and in the next round we will come up against another one,' Ajax coach Erik ten Hag said after the game. 'If we learn from the mistakes we made, and also work out how to put together good passages of play more frequently, then we have a chance. 'This team is incredibly hungry and ambitious. They went all out from the first whistle tonight.' Striker Dušan Tadić, who scored the two other goals, said Ajax deserve to be in the competition. 'Everyone should give a lot of respect for this Ajax,' he told the Uefa website. WHAT. A. GAME! Still proud…😘#UCL #ajabay pic.twitter.com/MlW2VCGKRv — AFC Ajax (English) (@AFCAjax_EN) December 12, 2018 The draw for the round of 16 takes place on Monday. As number two in the group, Ajax will face Borussia Dortmund, FC Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, FC Porto, Manchester City, Real Madrid or Juventus. The first legs take place on February 12 and 13, the returns a week later.  More >

Feast of shooting stars on Thursday

Clear weather is promising a spectacular view of thousands of shooting stars on Thursday night and the first part of Friday evening. This year, the peak of the Geminids meteor shower coincides with a waxing crescent moon so the meteors should be easily visible. The Geminids, named after the star sign Gemini, are not stars but meteors comprised of dust and debris. When these hit the atmosphere they burn up, resulting in the ‘shooting star’ phenomenon. The Geminid meteor shower will peak at around a hundred shooting stars an hour during the next two nights. Astronomer Arnold Tukker from the Cosmos observatory in Overijssel says star gazers must find a place with a minimum of artificial light. ‘Get yourself a lounger so you can lie down comfortably and wear warm clothing. Give your eyes 15 minutes to get used to the dark and you are sure to see them - even if you only go out for an hour or so. At the observatory we see people who have never seen a shooting star before. It is a magical experience,' he told the Volkskrant. Some observatories open their doors to the public. Look here for an observatory near you.  More >

Minister launches anti-fake news campaign

The Dutch cabinet will launch an online campaign to make people aware of  disinformation next February and is to carry out research into the impact of fake news during elections, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren has confirmed. Elections for the members of the 12 regional councils take place on March 20 and the European parliamentary elections follow in late May. An earlier report by the Rathenau Insitute shows that disinformation has not had a 'major negative impact' on Dutch society because of 'the strong media system, the variety of news on offer and high trust in the media,' the home affairs ministry statement said. The new research will begin in early 2019 and focus on analysing the use of social media during the election period and the way messages are swapped between media, politicians and citizens. At the same time, the government will launch an online campaign to make citizens 'more aware of the phenomenon... and their own responsibilities in recognising it,' the ministry said. 'The protection of freedom of speech and independent journalism are primary in this. We are not talking about pointing out disinformation in individual news items.'  More >

Dutch university grows bananas

Researchers from Wageningen University are this week harvesting the first Dutch bananas which will be offered to restaurants and hospitals in the region as a 'regional product'. The aim of the experiment, which marks the 100th anniversary of the university, is to investigate whether new ways of cultivation will help stamp out soil-borne fungal diseases which threaten banana production throughout the world. Taking the banana trees out of the soil and growing them on stone wool appears to have been very successful, says Gert Kema, professor of tropical plant pathology at the university. 'The banana plants grow very well on coco peat and stone wool substrate with only the application of a nutrient solution,' Kema said on the university website. 'The Dutch banana does not need disease control, which makes cultivation more sustainable than in traditional production areas.' Ripening There are 60 plants in the Wageningen greenhouse. 'One of the things that we have learned is that the plant density is too high at the moment,' Kema said. 'We are going to adjust that, so that we will have more light and the bunches will be able to ripen faster in future experiments.' Once the Wageningen bananas have been harvested they will be moved to a ripening centre operated by banana giant Chiquita, which is involved in the project. New breeds 'We are on the way to developing sustainable banana cultivation with new breeds of bananas that are resistant to diseases and that are grown in healthy soils in a responsible social climate,' Kema says. The research group is also planning a trial in the Philippines to see how precision cultivation works under ideal conditions. Bananas are a staple food for more than 400 million people in the tropics, the fourth most consumed food crop, the most consumed non-cereal staple food, and the most consumed fruit in the world, Wageningen says.   More >

80% of foreign investment is moved on

A vast proportion of foreign investment in the Netherlands leaves the country again through shell firms, according to new research by the national statistics office CBS. Last year, €4,587bn was brought into the Netherlands by what it called 'special financial entities' but 80% of that left again, the CBS said. Some 14,000 shell companies, or letterbox firms, are located in the Netherlands. Four in five carry out no economic activities and are used, in the main, to avoid tax, the CBS said. Last year, €3,665bn left the Netherlands, of which just over half was invested outside the EU.  Asia and Oceania topped the list of destinations - mainly India, Hong Kong, China, Australia and New Zealand. Last year, University of Amsterdam researchers said the Netherlands is the biggest conduit to offshore tax havens in the world, with almost a quarter of fiscal constructions having a Dutch link. ‘Only five big countries act as conduit-OFCs,’ the researchers from Corpnet said in a new report. ‘Together these five conduits channel 47% of corporate offshore investment from tax havens, according to the data we analysed.’ The two biggest conduits by far are the Netherlands (23%) and the United Kingdom (14%), followed by Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%). Industry The cabinet is cracking down on the shell company industry in the Netherlands in line with international and EU agreements. From next year, companies applying for a ruling will have to have ‘substantial economic activities’ in the Netherlands, rather than just a letter box. In addition, the amount of money flowing through the company must be in line with its activities in the Netherlands. ‘For example, it would not be logical if a distribution centre with a workforce of 100 was busy managing billions of euros in loans,’ the finance ministry said in November. All international rulings will be checked in advance by a special panel of experts and rulings will only run for a maximum of five years.  More >

Up to 50 soldiers sacked for drugs use

Defence ministry figures obtained by the Telegraaf show between 30 and 50 military personnel are fired each year because of drugs use. The paper says 31 members of the armed forces lost their jobs in 2017. A spokesman for the ministry told the paper the estimated long term average is between 30 and 50 sackings but that exact figures for earlier years are unavailable. The real number of drug users in the army is probably much higher as one in 10 of the population struggle with an addiction of some sort, according to addiction expert Dick Trubendorffer . ‘There is no reason to think it will be any different in the army,' he told the paper. In total the Dutch army, which takes a zero tolerance approach to hard drugs, employs some 40,000 people.  More >

Schiphol to stop valet parking

Schiphol's airport authority and local council Haarlemmermeer are to ban valet services from using the airport drop-off and pick-up points from next year. They say the move is necessary to combat the unregulated growth in valet companies, who arrange to pick up travellers' cars at the airport departure deck and take them somewhere else for safe keeping, until the passenger returns. 'The number of cars using the terminal roads is getting out of hand,' a council spokeswoman told the Telegraaf. 'We've had jams and a number of serious incidents, so we want to put an end to it.' Some 20 valet parking companies operate at Schiphol and they are furious about the plan. 'We are being tackled so that Schiphol can keep exclusive rights with its P6 valet parking service,' Karim Boukhidous of VIP Parking told the paper. 'This is unfair competition and an abuse of power. Furthermore, we are needed because of the shortage of parking places.' The council said that it is not banning all valet parking, just services based on the public roads. Companies are free to make agreements with Schiphol airport about operating safely, with a customer service counter in the car park, she said.  More >

Hudson's Bay struggles in the Netherlands

The owners of the Hudson's Bay department store group are 'extremely concerned' about the major investments the company is making in the Netherlands and the disappointing earnings, the Telegraaf said on Thursday. The paper bases its claims on internal documents which show the company has lost more than €80m in the Netherlands this year. The Telegraaf says staff layoffs are one of the options being considered. At the end of last year, the company changed its strategy in the Netherlands to bring in cheaper product lines and in February plans to open a total of 20 department stores were scrapped. Hudson's Bay currently operates 13 stores in the Netherlands. Many of these are located in premises which were used by the V&D department store chain before it went bust. The first store opened in September 2017.   More >

Buddha claim is inadmissable, court says

A group of Chinese villagers who had gone to court in the Netherlands in their battle to prove they are the rightful owners of a golden Buddha have been told by the judge their case is inadmissable. The court said that the committees from the villages of Tangchun and Dong Pu are not legal entities and so cannot take legal proceedings. The court did not rule on the ownership of the Buddha, which which contains the mummified body of a monk. The villagers say the 1.2 metre high Buddha was stolen from them 22 years ago. Oscar van Overeem, said to be the owner of the statue, told the court earlier this year that he no longer owns it and that he does not know the identity of its new owner. Van Overeem told the court he had swapped the Buddha with another collector in a paper-free deal because he was 'fed up' with the legal wrangles surrounding it. News programme Questions about the 1,000 year old Buddha’s ownership arose when it was the star item in a show at the Hungarian natural history museum in Budapest in 2015. Pictures of the Buddha were shown on a Chinese news programme, leading villagers in Yangchun to claim it had been stolen from their temple in 1995. The statue contains the mummified body of a monk, who the villagers claim is local man Zhanggong Zushi. But Van Overeem disputes their claim, saying the Buddha he owned did not have a hole on its left hand or signs of a break on the neck.  More >