I just returned from a short trip to Holland and Flanders (Dutch-speaking Belgium). My visit was mainly to keep up my Dutch language, but also to take a look possibilities for freelancing for the press in those countries, after Amsterdam-based International Features Agency's tip-off that new consumer magazine titles are opening in those countries, and the health of the Press in those countries is not quite as dire as in the UK.
As is often the case while abroad, there are stories in the local press that never make it into the increasingly poorly resourced UK newspapers. Two such stories that particularly caught my interest were:
The Netherlands as of December 2011 had a youth unemployment rate estimated at somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 13. A commentator in progressive daily De Volkskrant (literally "the people's paper") attributed this to strict Dutch employment laws, including a "mountain" of paperwork needed to dismiss somebody from a job. So far, the centre-right Christian Democrats haven't been able to dismantle these regulations (they'd like to!) The article ended with a plea for other countries to adopt the Netherlands' successful "polder model" labour market, noting that whenever countries such as the US in particular liberalised their labour laws ostensibly to save the economy, massive unemployment and longer working hours for less money inevitably followed. (The "polder" is the flat, reclaimed land that characterises Holland.)
The article also noted that Dutch people work on average 32 hours a week - the lowest in Europe. My look around the centre of the town of Nijmegen revealed numerous little independent outlets for "funshopping" which would have gone under years ago in the UK. Could it be that the Dutch, with fewer hours at work, simply have moretime to go out and buy stuff, thereby keeping the economy afloat?
I was, however, told by my hosts that another Volkskrant article, a survey of Holland's biggest companies, showed that they were all planning to make massive lay-offs next year, bringing Holland into line with the rest of disastrous Europe.
Meanwhile in Belgium, the Flemish-languageDe Standaard daily newspaper reports that extra security guards are being deployed to stand guard over the rhinos in the country's Plackendael safari park. The already insane international trade in rhino horn as an aphrodisiac used in traditional Chinese medicine has gone absolutely bonkers, with rhino horns fetching five- or even six-figure sums in US dollars. And it's not just living safari park rhinos that have become the target for rhino horn dealers - there has been a surge in items containing rhino horn from antiques shops and stately home collections.