Friday, November 14, 2008

Dutch integration minister quits as party withdraws support

Dutch integration and housing minister Ella Vogelaar (58) resigned on Thursday night after the Labour party leadership said it had lost confidence in her.

Vogelaar’s position has been difficult for some time but the final straw was her decision not to go ahead with plans to set up a separate register listing the names of Antillean youths who are considered to be trouble-makers.
Last week she survived a vote of no-confidence over her handling of financial problems surrounding a 200 million euro investment in a cruise ship by the Rotterdam housing corporation Woonbron.
Officially, Labour says it withdrew support for its minister because of her failure to achieve results. But Vogelaar told a news conference she did not agree with this criticism and does not share the party leadership’s stance on a number of issues, leaving her with no option but to quit.
And she criticised Labour’s position on the question of integration, saying that the party does not have a clear standpoint that is accepted by all its members. The emphasis on "getting tough" is not the answer, she said.

Last year Vogelaar provoked the anger of the right-wing by suggesting that in two hundreds years time, the Netherlands may have a Christian, Jewish and Islamic tradition. More recently, Vogelaar contradicted Labour leader Wouter Bos when he urged politicians not to be afraid of polarisation in the debate over integration.

Commenting on the resignation, Bos said that despite all her efforts, Vogelaar "found herself in a situation where she was unable to give effective leadership and drive through solutions for one of the biggest questions facing Dutch society: how do we ensure that people with different cultures, religions and ethnic backgrounds can live together peacefully?"

Amsterdam lawyer Eberhard van der Laan has been named as her successor. Van der Laan (53) was a city councillor for the Labour party in Amsterdam in the 1990s. He is joint founder of the independent Amsterdam law firm Kennedy van der Laan.

Lazy Europeans

Some argue that Europe’s life-style compares to America’s like slow food to McDonald’s. The cosy and relaxed lifestyles of the Europeans indeed sound appealing. But it’s not that Europeans simply enjoy more leisure than Americans do. It’s the high tax burden of the typical welfare state that forces Europeans to do all kinds of low-skilled jobs themselves.
Since European governments, like the Dutch government, take 50 to 55 cents of every euro earned, it is more efficient to forgo a day’s earnings to weed the garden or paint the walls than to hire somebody else, who would charge 20 euro per hour or more to do it.
Nothing would be wrong with people spending a nice day working in the garden if western Europe did not have such a large supply of low-skilled workers, mostly first and second generation immigrants. In the Netherlands, 65 percent of the young adults (age 20-34) with Turkish and Moroccan backgrounds have no high school diplomas. Their Dutch language skills are poor or non-existent. According to one government report, 79 percent of (first and second generation) Turkish and Moroccan women are unfit for the Dutch labour market. In New York City, on the other hand, 65 percent of first-generation female immigrants have a paid job.
In the Netherlands, non-western immigrants (age 15-65 years) are three times more likely to live on public assistance than other people in that age group. At the same time, hiring a nanny is too expensive, if one can be found. This discourages highly educated women from pursuing a successful career.
You see more incongruities of this sort in the Netherlands. There are long lines at the checkout because hiring cashiers is too costly. For a simple manicure one has to make an appointment two weeks in advance. And even on a sunny day in early spring, some outdoor cafes in Amsterdam remain closed for lack of personnel.
Paying high social benefits to the out-of-work increases the tax burden on professional incomes, which encourages high-skilled workers to take more time off. The leisure trap, which may seem cosy to some, keeps both the best educated and the least educated out of the workplace. As a result, most Western European immigrants are forced to spend their lives in subsidised isolation. We have seen some of the sobering consequences with the rioting in Paris banlieues and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

Heleen Mees (1968) lives and works as a consultant in New York City. She became a columnist NRC Handelsblad (in Dutch) after voicing criticism about the low number of Dutch women pursuing high-powered careers.

Day opening - November 14


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