Financial ruin for the Netherlands’ biggest housing corporation. Dutch drugs policy takes a beating. Horror and dismay amid Egyptian unrest. And ice and snow bring excitement and tragedy. Welcome to today’s Dutch dailies.
Reviewed Dutch dailies
Financial fiasco threatens Dutch housing market
Today’s papers are fretting about the knock-on effect of a financial fiasco at the Netherlands’ biggest housing corporation, Vestia.
To bolster its financial position the organisation invested in derivatives – “a satanic invention” according to de Volkskrant’s columnist – gambling on a rise in interest rates with disastrous results.
Now that interest rates are at a historic low, Trouw warns that the “Vestia crisis is a danger to the housing market”, as the country’s five other corporations are officially obliged to pitch in and help the lame duck out. The paper predicts the market could fall into “a very deep hole indeed”.
AD focuses on Vestia’s former director Erik Staal, dubbing him “the sun king who overplayed his hand”. “Insiders hold him largely responsible for the financial calamity at the company [...] he was the arrogant director of an arrogant corporation.”
But de Volkskrant points the finger at Marcel de Vries, “Vestia’s billion dollar man” in charge of Treasury and Control. The paper depicts him as “the guy who brought the country’s biggest housing corporation to the edge of the abyss”.
A banker tells the paper “he wanted to play ball with the big boys, but if you do that you need to remember you could end up losing your ball altogether.”
Court slams Dutch drugs policy
Dutch policy on soft drugs has been slammed as “unclear and internally conflicted” by a court in The Hague. As De Telegraaf reports, the judges severely reprimanded the public prosecutors and local government for “mounting a crusade” against Checkpoint, once the biggest coffeeshop in the Netherlands until it was closed down in 2008.
Initially, the authorities seemed happy to facilitate the business, which we are told attracted thousands of customers a day, employed around 100 staff and boasted an estimated turnover of 26 million euros. They even put up road signs so customers could find the place more easily.
But the tide turned in 2007, when the authorities branded the coffeeshop a criminal organisation and demanded tough jail terms for the owner and a number of employees.
De Volkskrant takes up the story, reporting that the court has now ruled this U-turn unacceptable. Judges say the authorities effectively turned a blind eye to how the coffeeshop was run, as there was clearly no way it could have served so many customers within the limits of the law. Evidence, they argue, that “government policy on soft drugs as a whole is inconsistent and unenforceable”.
Egypt: anger and suspicion in the wake of football violence
All today’s papers try to make sense of the unrest in Egypt following Wednesday’s football riots, which claimed at least 74 lives and left over 1,000 injured.
Trouw expresses the widespread opinion that this was no ordinary football violence. It presents the views of many Egyptians who “see the hand of the generals in this explosion of violence, while others see the hand of Israel or the US”.
AD finds a Dutch angle on the story and speaks to footballer Hossam Ghaly. He now plays for Al-Ahly – one of the clubs involved in Wednesday’s fateful match – but used to play for Rotterdam team Feyenoord. He describes the carnage as “the worst possible nightmare” and admits “I feared for my life”.
Nrc.next quotes another football player as saying “people are dying here and no one has lifted a finger [...] are our lives worth so little?”
Icy conditions bring excitement and tragedy
With temperatures well below zero, we can expect skating stories galore from the Dutch papers in the days to come. It really is a national obsession. But although the country’s myriad ponds, lakes, canals and ditches have frozen over, experts are warning that the ice is still too thin for carefree skating.
According to nrc.next, the ice is still the province of “daredevils ... many of them pensioners who don’t have to beg the boss for time off work”. Be that as it may, the paper sighs contentedly: “The sun is shining and the ice is as smooth as glass [...] it doesn’t get any better than this.”
De Telegraaf reports that up north in Friesland all this ice-inspired excitement is eclipsing all other concerns: “You don’t hear anyone complaining about the economic crisis anymore!”
But there’s also a darker side to the cold. De Volkskrant notes that a 43-year-old homeless man has become the first casualty of the Dutch winter. He broke into a garden shed to shelter from the wind, fell asleep and never woke up.
The subzero temperatures are also heightening the concern surrounding ten-year old Michael van Dijk, a young boy missing since Wednesday afternoon. AD reports that “the police have been searching for two days in the freezing cold”.
A full media alert has failed to produce any leads and the paper says the family have even accepted the help of a psychic to try and trace Michael. She had little comfort to offer, suggesting that the boy had fallen through the ice and that his body could be found in the water near his home.
Suddenly it’s hard not to see all those picturesque photos of icy expanses gleaming in the sunshine in a very different light ...