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Dutch report
by Euro Reporter
2012-05-19 08:36:36
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Foreign minister endorses talk of Alberta oilsands discrimination by EU

The Netherlands foreign minister says he favours an evidence-based discussion on whether Alberta's oilsands are being discriminated against under the European Union's proposed fuel-quality directive. Earlier this year, Canada picked up a key ally when the Netherlands, with France and Britain, abstained from a key vote that delayed Europe's fuel-quality directive until next year — a directive the Harper government views as discriminatory, and has vigorously lobbied against across Europe. "We think that it's important to be serious about oilsands, no doubt about that. At the same time, we are open to discussions about the threat of discriminatory practices and we are also ... very much leaning towards evidence-based analysis," Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said in an interview Friday.

Canada has lobbied hard for two years to block the EU's fuel-quality directive, which it says would unfairly label oilsands crude as dirty oil. The directive would assign greenhouse-gas emission values to different sources of fuel, and Canada fears oilsands crude would be categorized 23-per-cent higher than conventional oil. Canada sells very little oil to Europe, but is worried about the precedent such a label would set. Rosenthal deflected attempts to pin down where his government stands on the oilsands. But he sent sympathetic signals toward Canada.

It's no secret that the Netherlands' own Royal Dutch Shell is investing in the Alberta oil fields, as are the major oil companies of Britain and France. "I don't feel able to go into the specifics of this, but I do know that part of the discussion is about the threat of discriminatory outcomes of the implementation of such a directive," said Rosenthal, who was in Ottawa for discussions with Harper cabinet ministers ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago on the weekend. "If we abstain in the voting process, it's because we think it's necessary to abstain. We don't talk about lobbies because lobbies from one side will be countered and neutralized by lobbies from the other side." Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who has led Ottawa's campaign against the directive, has said repeatedly that Canada is being unfairly discriminated against. He has argued that oilsands crude produces similar, or in some cases, lower greenhouse-gas emissions than some of the EU's sources of oil imports.


Dutch farmers: a lesson in applied intelligence

What does the UK Border Agency's chief executive, Rob Whiteman, have in common with Dutch farmers? The answer lays in that most basic commodity, manure. Since Whiteman took over the top job at the agency last year, there has been almost constant controversy about staffing levels for border checks and whether a risk-based approach is more effective, as Brodie Clark, former head of the Border Force, continues to maintain.

Whiteman might benefit from studying how a specialist Dutch public sector team tackled its own enforcement problem: the problem of too much manure. Use of manure in the Netherlands' intensive farming system is strictly regulated to avoid environmental damage. But until recently, many Dutch farmers were evading the law, which was costing the country millions in EU fines. One answer would have been to increase the number of inspectors on the ground. But that approach would have been too expensive and, more importantly, not efficient, according to Kees Kloet, who manages a team of specialist data analysts in the Dutch ministry of economic affairs.

So rather than increasing the number of inspectors, Kloet increased the number of analysts in his team, who used specialist software to pick up patterns that would provide the environment inspectors with high quality information about farmers breaking the EU rules. By cross-checking data about things like transport, storage and feed against the number of animals officially reported, it was possible to pick up on likely infringements of the law. Initial results were, however, disappointing. "There was some improvement, but it wasn't huge," acknowledged Kloet, speaking to public and private sector leaders at a recent conference in Amsterdam on the use of business intelligence software. What really made the difference to tracking down illegal use of manure was putting existing statistics together with geo-based systems. "There's nothing as interesting as a map," explained Kloet. More accurate tracking of the movement of animals and manure proved a winning combination that was vital in helping the Netherlands avoid swingeing EU fines. "The Netherlands get 1.1bn Euros a year in EU subsidies. We're pretty good at keeping track, but it we get it wrong, we pay millions in fines," he said.


Lawmaker to turn to court in bid to stop country from ratifying Europe bailout fund

Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders says he will file a lawsuit to block the Netherlands from ratifying the permanent European bailout fund. Wilders, leader of the Netherlands’ third-largest political party, forced the collapse of the all-conservative government last month by walking out of austerity talks he said would hurt the economy to satisfy European budgetary rules.

The Netherlands is in a mild recession. After Wilders’ walkout, new national elections have been scheduled for September. Wilders, known as an anti-Islam populist, but now campaigning also as a European sceptic, has called for the euro’s abolishment. The Netherlands’ caretaker Cabinet said Wednesday it plans to ratify the treaty creating the bailout fund, but Wilders said in a statement the treaty surrenders significant sovereign fiscal control and should only be approved after elections.

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