Press Review Thursday 25 March 2010

RNW archive

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De Telegraaf reports that the planned withdrawal of Dutch forces from the Afghan province of Uruzgan will take longer than expected and cost twice as much as estimated.

In a letter to parliament, the caretaker Defence Minister Eimert van Middelkoop says it will not be possible to complete the withdrawal in December 2010 as originally agreed. The minister says it’s not exactly clear how long the operation will take and expects that a number of Dutch soldiers “will still be active in Uruzgan during the first months of 2011”.
The operation will also be twice as expensive. The minister had originally earmarked 115 million euros for the withdrawal, but now says actual costs will be about 229 million euros. The money will be spent on transport for the troops and equipment, maintenance and repairs and the deployment of the unit – between 800 and 1400 strong - in charge of the withdrawal.  
At this moment, the ministry is drawing up an inventory of what will be taken home and what will be handed over or sold to the country which takes over command in Uruzgan on 1 August. The ministry would like to sell off the thousands of containers – some of them armoured – it has currently in use in Uruzgan, but the United States, the country most likely to take over in Uruzgan in August, has hinted it will not pay for anything left behind by the Dutch troops because the Netherlands – oh, the shame of it! - is so far the only NATO member state to withdraw. The four Dutch F-16s and Apache helicopters will stay in Afghanistan until the end of the withdrawal operation.
Sea eagles making a come-back in the Netherlands
De Volkskrant reports that the sea eagle, Europe’s largest bird of prey, is making a comeback in the Netherlands. For the fifth consecutive years a pair of sea eagles have laid eggs at a nest in the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, but couples are now also nesting in the Lauwersmeer in the northeast of the country and in the Zwarte Meer nature reserve in Flevoland.
For many years, sea eagles – because of their wingspan of 2.5 metres also known as the ‘ flying door’ - were threatened with extinction throughout Europe, but programmes to reduce the use of agricultural pesticides helped the species recover.
Ruben Kluit of Natuurmonumenten (Society for the Preservation of Nature Monuments in the Netherlands) regards the latest developments as “The crown on our efforts to create large scale, resilient nature in the Netherlands. The sea eagle is a top predator. They are at the top of the food chain. They need a huge area to survive. We now have a few of these areas in the Netherlands”. Mr Kluit says it is far from certain that the eagles’ nesting efforts in the Lauwersmeer and Zwarte Meer will be successful. “Young eagle couples fail more often than they succeed”. Natuurmonumenten has taken additional measures to protect the nests and keep sightseers at a large distance.
Dutch Catholics leaving church in droves
Okay, maybe not droves, but AD writes that “Catholics turning their backs on church – expanding abuse scandal leads to 550 opt-outs”. According to the newspaper, there is growing criticism of the Catholic Church, which has led to 550 people formally leaving the church just in the past three weeks.
In addition, Cardinal Simonis in an interview earlier this week used the German phrase “Wir haben es nicht gewusst” – We did not know about it - to make clear the church leadership had no idea sexual abuse was so widespread among the clergy. Unfortunately, this phrase was often used by Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials who claimed to have no knowledge of the Holocaust and so became synonymous with lying. The cardinal said: “It’s an highly-charged phrase, but it’s true”.
Even so, it seems strange that the cardinal would use a phrase which to most people suggests that the person using it is lying. Not surprisingly, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation called the cardinal’s remarks “foolish and ill-considered”. In a reaction, Cardinal Simonis said he did not regret his words: “I wanted to say it before anyone else did. I’m not losing any sleep over this”.
The Netherlands has nearly 4.3 million people baptised as Catholics. About three million of them still consider themselves Catholics. It is not clear from which group the opt-outs have come.
So far, over 1100 reports of abuse have been filed with the Catholic abuse helpline Hulp en Recht (Assistance and Justice), and a commission led by former minister Wim Deetman has been appointed to launch an independent investigation. The results are expected to prompt even more people to leave the Catholic Church. 
Christian democrats in trouble
De Volkskrant writes that the Christian democrat party CDA led by caretaker Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende is “Unable to stifle unrest” within its power base in the provinces. Reconciliatory talks and calls to safeguard unity have failed to end discussions about the controversial nomination of Mr Balkenende as party leader in the upcoming parliamentary elections. This is, after all, the fourth cabinet led by Mr Balkenende to have fallen apart before completing its term of office. He has also not improved his popularity by warning that if he does not become prime minister again after the next election, he will leave politics.
Earlier this week, the caretaker prime minister met with Christian Democrat MP Annie Schreijer-Plerik who earlier had openly questioned his leadership. After the meeting, a statement was released which said the air had been cleared and the MP would join Mr Balkenende on the campaign trail in the coming weeks. At the weekend, regional party leaders called for an end to the discussions about the prime minister’s leadership.
However, on Wednesday, the chair of the party’s youth organisations in the southern province of Brabant said: “It’s all very well to say that you have to be united, but it’s no use if there’s nothing to be united about”. And a recent survey showed that a substantial number of CDA members on local councils also question the prime minister’s leadership.
According to de Volkskrant, one of the issues facing the CDA is a lack of suitable candidates to stem the advance of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the south of the country in the last European elections. Many CDA members are not sure whether the current leadership can turn the tide. However, there seem to be few alternatives. The popular caretaker Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings has announced he will leave politics, and the same goes for the leader of the parliamentary party Pieter van Geel and caretaker Economic Affairs Minister Maria van der Hoeven. Deputy Interior Minister Ank Bijleveld and MP Ger Koopmans are seen as likely candidates for the number two and three positions on the CDA’s list of candidates for the parliamentary elections.
Spring is here
AD has a photograph of a red-and-white cow jumping for joy when it was allowed back in the meadow after spending the winter indoors. The cows at the organic farm in the town of Delfgauw had to wait a little longer than usual because the grass needed more time to recover from the unusually cold winter.
One in five of all Dutch cows never leave their stables, but organic farms are legally required to put their cows out to pasture. Dutch animal rights’ organisation Wakker Dier (Smart Animal) says cows kept in meadows are less prone to a number of infections and are also more fertile. Their milk reportedly contains 60 percent more omega-3 fatty acids compared to milk produced by industrial farms.