Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Year, New Holland


Christmas and New Years Day are over but my golden Christmas tree is still up.

Hey baby, we have to take down the tree today.” Dutchman told me after he finished ironing his clothes.

I turned around slightly miffed, “What? No!!!

It’s our practice here in Holland to take down the tree a day after New Years.” explains the Dutchman quite amused by my aroused annoyance.

The hell with it, I’m not Dutch!” I exclaimed. “No questions asked. We are keeping this for another week.

The Dutchman, in a derisive manner, laughed behind my back. He thinks its ridiculous but I’m the queen in this home so my decision stands. I invested so much time and effort in putting this tree up, so I better stretch my pleasure days of seeing it on display.

ANYWAY...

It’s another new year, its 2006 and along with it are new rules implemented in this already heavily regulated flatland. Maybe after reading this, well just maybe, you will feel relieved and grateful that you live someplace else.

Here are some of the interesting NEW POLICIES enforced by 1 January 2006 in the Netherlands:

Crime and Justice

Careful, I’m watching you...

The police and the justice department have now been given vested rights to solicit personal information [without any warrant or subpoena], on cases and people related to a crime, from society organizations and businesses. Information such as your social security number, bank account number, your financial activities, insurance policy number, credit card, heck even your department store air miles number can now be freely traced and checked by the authorities, that is if they find you suspicious enough. Hmm, privacy these days have become a misnomer. Is big brother watching me all the time?

Discrimination against an individual who has body and psychological abnormalities will become punishable by law. This is an interesting new policy because I have always thought that the Netherlands is a disabled-friendly country. In fact I have seen quite a number of blind people going to work on their own using public transport. Amazing, they seem to know what they are doing without seeing things. Then I realized a couple of years back that those rugged protruding designs in the streets by the stop light and in the floors of the train stations and tram/bus stops were actually there to aid blind people. Hah, so cool!

The jail term on crime sentences will increase, and the maximum approved verdict by law will still be life sentence. Let me also add that there is no death sentence in Europe. European countries and most people here are shall I call, tender hearted [though the other side of the globe would say sissies], who are very keen on human rights and equality. Conversely, this sentiment has been rapidly changing due to the ongoing war on terrorism and other related misdemeanors. Here in Europe it is normal for people who have killed, to walk out of the prison cell on parole custody program after 5-12 years. The maximum jail term for serious cases as imposed by the courts in the Netherlands is 20 years and with good behavior, this term can be shortened to 10 or 12 years. I guess, not anymore now. I say, BETTER!

Public Health

My current health insurer.

A flat health insurance program has been introduced and the division between Ziekenfonds [public health insurance for people who earn less than € 33K annual salary] and Particulier [private health insurance for people who earn over € 33K annual salary] no longer exist. In the new health insurance law, there will be a basis insurance guideline, set by the government for every insured individual and insurer to follow. Health premiums in a way will increase for everyone and we are looking at the amount of € 150 - € 250 per month per individual [depending on additional riders] which is in fact double of what private health insurance holders used to pay. The consolation on this new arrangement is that: a. for low incomers, they get a tax refund and b. all children 18 years old and below are entitled to FREE health insurance. So if you have kids, and I mean a lot of kids, then you will surely benefit from this new policy. But helaas, not us! I already paid a lot for my premiums last year and it seems that I will be paying more. Ugh.

There will be no more asking of a verwijsbrief [standard referral letter] from the huisarts [general doctor/practitioner] in order to go to a Physical Therapist. Like I have said in my previous entries, the Dutch prefer everything to be structured and controlled. As a consequence, a patient’s medical record is centrally kept and accessed and any action that a patient must do [unless it’s a matter of life and death], must first be consulted to his or her general practitioner, otherwise, no specialist or medical personnel will entertain that person’s request. The rule is to always refer you back to your general practitioner as he or she in a way is the decision maker, though ultimately its the patient. Yeah, bureaucracy exists in this small country and the Dutch will argue that it has valid and logical reasons why. With the new law, the physical therapists become autonomous, just like the dentists. In reality, these are the only two medical professions in this country that can assist patients without going through the general practitioner.

Land, Traffic, Mobility

The NS is headquartered in Utrecht.

The Dutch NS - Nationale Spoorwegen [National Railways] increased the train ticket tariffs for about 3%. Ah, nothing surprising really. They increase every damn single year. In fact they remind me of the tax department, very reliable and efficient in €€€ matters. By the way, public transport is expensive in this country that’s why companies subsidize employee transportation costs. If one has a car [not leased from the company], then they pay the gasoline and incidentally, Holland holds the most expensive petrol tariff title in the world. A monthly train pass for a 70 kilometer distance travel within its pertinent zone radius would cost around € 350 - € 400 [without discount].

With this new European law enforced in Brussels, all businesses, manufacturers and producers of anything that has something to do with food must be registered and subjected to “Hygiene Rules”. There have been continuing hygiene standards in Holland but with this new rule, quality and safety are traced back to the supply chain process on a European-wide level, hopefully bringing excellence and cooperation up on a higher notch.

We know that drinking while driving is dangerous, but in this country, the rules of the game have become as tight as trying to pop that cork out of the champagne bottle. The current 0,5 promille alcohol limit while driving in traffic has been made stricter to 0,2 promille. This means that by even drinking 1 glass of beer you will reach the 0,2 promille borderline, which is therefore punishable by law. So let us say, you had 1 glass of beer and you got flagged down by a police? Curse be on you! There is no breaking away because these police are armed with high tech gadgets that can monitor the 1 glass of beer = 0,2 promille in your breath. So when in Holland, control yourself, don’t drink, not even 1 glass, if you drive. Better yet take the train.

Taxi chauffeurs must now have a valid “Chauffeurs Pass” before allowed to drive a taxi. In order to get this permit, they must first pass an exam given by the traffic and water ministry. A taxi chauffeur caught driving a taxi without the pass will have to personally pay a € 170 penalty and an additional € 260 penalty for the taxi company. This new rule was enforced to improve quality of service by taxi chauffeurs and protect unsuspecting customers, especially the tourists.

Education

Schools are now tasked by law to proactively help children with foreign backgrounds in learning and integrating into the country. Schools that fall below reported expectations might endanger of losing any subsidy given by the government.

Work and Society

The CWI logo, very orange, truly Dutch. Orange is the Dutch national color.

The WAO - Wet op de Arbeidsongeschiktheidsverzekering [€ 100 if you can pronounce this, haha] means Work Disability Law, will now fall under the responsibility of the CWI [Centrum voor Werk en Inkomen], in short, Center for Income and Work. The biggest change is the re-assessment of the disability conditions of all WAO recipient individuals. If the re-assessment results of an individual fall under the 80% disability mark, they lose the full disability benefit and must return actively or part time to work. This setback in policy was made to counteract the many abusers floating in the social benefits system. Well done.

Childcare will become a bit cheaper. Well, about time really. The expensive child care scheme in this country partly explains why so many university degree Dutch mothers have resigned to become glorified homemakers or take part time 2x a week jobs.

The BPM car tax will now be dependent on the type of gasoline used. Owners using energy labels [ref: A & B] that burn fast, may get a maximum discount of € 1000, while the ones that use energy labels [ref: D, E, F & G] that burn slow will pay a maximum € 540 additional tax. *Sigh*, there is no escaping in this country. In reality, this tax policy [not only this] is very Dutch in representation. The tax department is always the grand winner in the end as they always find creative ways of squeezing out that thing you are conspicuously hiding.


Welcome to 2006 Holland!

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