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7/2 Spreading tourism proceeds with difficulty

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6/2 Zuideramstel opens new office on Sabbath

5/2 The truth about integration

4/2 Wilders has little support on Amsterdam

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31/1 Wooden rowing boats to disappear from Amstel

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20/1 Cleaners welcome new Schiphol director

18/1 Palestine at the Jewish Historical Museum

18/1 What is the right size for a district?

17/1 PvdA Oost against fewer districts

16/1 Committee: 7 districts by 2010

15/1 Soldiers may attend Afghanistan debate after all

15/1 Bait bike leads to arrest

14/1 Youth for Christ to republish vacancies

13/1 Paintings of the Zuidas

13/1 New Youth for Christ contoversy

11/1 Social cohesion initiative raises eyebrows

10/1 Fewer districts in 2010

10/1 Zuidas: People feel that we are losers

9/1 Fun on the ice - but not for all

9/1 Supermarket coupon fraud thwarted

9/1 I Amsterdam must remain exclusive

8/1 Use term Apartheid in every discussion

8/1 No city kiosk in Amsterdam yet

7/1 Snow

7/1 Fatima Elatik to run Zeeburg

7/1 Municipal managers to return to shop floor

4/1 Police: take photo of strange people

3/1 Gaza protest criticises politicians

1/1 Thousands to protest against attacks on Gaza

1/1 Mustapha Laboui leaves district council


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‘Create a deregulated boom town’

10 August 2006 – The Netherlands must create a rule-free zone in order to achieve the economic success of cities such as Dubai and Singapore. This was argued by Mike Ackermans, former editor in chief of FEM Business magazine, in yesterday’s NRC Handelsblad. Last month, he named Amsterdam as the place where such a zone should be created, but for now this appears to be wishful thinking.

Ackermans wants a zone without minimum wage, detailed health and safety regulations, zoning plans, environmental permits, employment protection and collective agreements. There should be general rules with regard to welfare and environmental protection, and companies that break these rules must be punished severely. In cities such as Dubai, such an approach yields an economic growth of up to twenty percent per year.

FEM Business has launched a campaign to promote the idea in the Netherlands. Mayor Alexander Sakkers wants a zone in Eindhoven, Commissioner Hans Alders wants careful experiments in the Groningen Province and Akzo Nobel CEO Hans Wijers wants to create a rule-free zone in one of Amsterdam’s districts.

Employers’ organisation VNO-NCW is enthusiastic as well. This does not apply to the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV): “We think that such a zone in the Netherlands is a bad idea”, FEM Business quoted a spokesperson as saying. “Experiences elsewhere are very negative. Take China. The labour conditions are bad, people work seven days a week”. According to Ackermans, this criticism shows the ‘conservatism of the trade union movement in the Netherlands’.

Economic Affairs State Secretary Karien van Gennip has her doubts as well. She has recently reached an agreement with the Technical Universities to create opportunity zones for starting businesses, but here it regards providing support rather than deregulation.

Further, at the end of last year the so-called Rotterdam Act was passed. Large cities may turn disadvantaged neighbourhoods into ‘opportunity zones’ where businesses do not have to pay property taxes. In Amsterdam, twenty neighbourhoods might qualify, including the Kolenkit, the Diamantbuurt, the Indische buurt, Banne Buiksloot and Osdorp-Midden.

It is unclear whether this would make a difference. University of Amsterdam’s Jan Rath four years ago summed up the experiences with similar projects in the USA and the UK: “While numerous studies found evidence of employment growth, this growth could largely be explained by (‘administrative’) company relocations”.

According to Rath, the disappointing results can be explained by the fact that deregulation remained limited. “For obvious reasons, laws and regulations regarding environmental protection, health and safety, child labour and the minimum wage were not relaxed”. For Ackermans, it is far from obvious that such regulations be left unchanged. His inspiration comes not from the Anglo-Saxon countries, but from Asia, Central America, India and the Middle East.

Critics point to appalling labour conditions and other abuses in these countries’ rule-free zones. According to Ackermans, however, exploitation in the Netherlands will not be much of a problem, if only because employees here have the right to organise.

Another criticism is that rule-free zones with their low taxes prey on the rest of society. The surrounding area is drained of employment and companies in the rule-free zone are artificially kept alive by hidden subsidies. Meanwhile, the government looses out on tax income, which means that public services are eroded.

Recently, Alderman Lodewijk Asscher presented his plans to turn Amsterdam into an economic ‘top city’. These plans are all about city marketing and supporting businesses, and contain no references whatsoever to rule-free zones. All in all, it seems unlikely that Ackermans’ plans will be seriously considered in the capital any time soon.


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