Connections between businesses and politics: banks and Shell dominate

Website Follow the Money has analysed the «revolving door» between politics and businesses in the Netherlands, adding that the examples discussed are far from exhaustive. I’ve expanded the list of connections between businesses and politics by checking the resumes of close to 700 politicians – government members and members of parliament – who have been active in Dutch politics after 2001.

The list is headed by the Rabobank: 32 politicians have (had) a position there. This score can perhaps partly be explained by the fact that Rabobank is a cooperative of local banks, each with their own advisory board; so many people have positions there. Number two is Royal Dutch Shell, the largest Dutch company (of course, it’s partly British).

From the list, it can be concluded that financial institutions play a central role in the connections between businesses and politics. The phenomenon is not politically neutral: almost three-quarters of the politicians who have (had) positions with the three largest banks are (or have been) affiliated to the conservative parties CDA and VVD.

One of them is former finance minister Gerrit Zalm (VVD). After his political career, he first moved to DSB Bank and then became chairman of the board of ABN Amro (for controversies, see the FTM article as well as this analysis by de Correspondent). Another example is Joop Wijn (CDA) who started at ABN Amro and subsequently served as minister and state secretary at the finance and economic affairs departments. After that, he had a management position at Rabobank and currently he’s on the executive board of ABN Amro.

Financial institutions aside, an interesting case is airline KLM, now part of Air France-KLM, which appears to have played a bit of an emancipatory role. Over the past years, as many as four former KLM stewardesses have obtained a position in national politics: Fransje Roscam Abbing-Bos (VVD, Senate); Gonny van Oudenallen (various parties, Lower House); Ing Yoe Tan (PvdA, Senate) and Kathleen Ferrier (CDA, Lower House).

Method

I’ve created a list of Dutch companies using information from Wikipedia and Elsevier / Bureau van Dijk. I’ve checked these companies against resumes from the (very useful) website Parlement.com. Here’s the Python script I used to download the resumes and to analyse them. The results had to be cleaned up manually. For example, former MP Wijnand Duyvendak, who’s been in charge of the Friends of the Earth Schiphol campaign, should not be counted as having had a position with Schiphol. To be on the safe side, I also didn’t count positions on the pension board or the board of a foundation of a company.

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King’s Day associations lose tax exempt status

Don’t ask me why, but Oranjeverenigingen (Orange Associations - most focus on organising festivities on King’s Day) seem to be struggling with the new transparency rules of the tax authority.

Recently, new rules have been introduced for organisations that want to receive tax-exempt donations. Among other things, they must have a website and publish the compensation their board members receive. As a consequence of these new rules, over two thousand organisations have had their «anbi status» withdrawn, broadcaster NOS reported.

The tax authority has published a dataset on organisations that have or used to have the anbi status. It appears that especially Oranjeverenigingen have been affected. Six percent of all organisations had their anbi status withdrawn, but this happened to 75% of organisations with «oranje» in their name. Obviously, it’s a bit risky to draw conclusions from this as long as the explanation of the phenomenon is unclear.

Method

Data from the tax authority are here, and here’s the R script I analysed the data with. I also checked this for other terms that occur frequently (organisations with the Dutch word for «first aid», «christian», «jehova», «education», «amsterdam», «third world aid shop» or «museum» in their names), but they don’t show the same pattern.

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Belkin quits. How loyal are sponsors of cycling teams?

Last year, Belkin became the title sponsor of the former Rabobank cycling team, but today it announced that it will end its sponsorship by the end of the year. Various commentators have expressed concern over the lack of continuity in sponsoring. Which raises the question: is it normal for a sponsor to quit after such a short period? And is this becoming worse?

Some sponsors leave after one or two years, while others remain loyal for ten years or more (Française des Jeux, Lampre, Lotto, Quick Step).

The graph above shows the sponsor turnover of UCI Pro Tour teams (the share of sponsors that would quit the subsequent year). Turnover is about 25%, which suggests that a normal sponsorship duration should be about four years. So Belkin’s loyalty is not impressive by those standards.

While the sponsorship duration fluctuates, there doesn’t appear to be a trend of sponsors becoming more or less loyal.

Method

I retrieved sponsor names from team names of UCI Pro Tour teams listed by Cycling News. Due to variations in spelling (Française des Jeux, FDJ, FDJ.fr), the data needed some cleaning up. If you want to check them: here’s a list of sponsors and the years in which I think they were active.

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Cyclists should have priority here

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Some crossings make you wonder: isn’t it weird that cyclists don’t have priority here. This occurs in Amsterdam, but more often in the country. There are different variants, but often there’s a bend in the cycle path just before a crossing. The cycle path is no longer part of the main road and cyclists are confronted with give way road markings. You have to give way to everybody: motorists coming from behind who turn right, oncoming traffic turning left and traffic from the right.

Often, you have to give way to rather secondary roads. For example, the exit to a tiny car park along the Oostvaardersdijk in Almere (photo above). Or the entrance of a government building at the Amsterdamseweg in Velsen-Zuid, where motorists who get priority subsequently have to stop at a gate anyway.

As a cyclist, you end up with a tricky crossing. You have to pay attention to traffic from behind, oncoming traffic and traffic from the right. The sense of insecurity mixes with indignation at the fact that apparently, people have specifically diverted the cycle path just to rob cyclists of their priority. Why are they doing this?

I put this question – in somewhat more neutral terms – to a number of road maintenance authorities, with illustrations from Velsen-Zuid, Watergang, Monnickendam, Weesp, Almere and Muiden. Their answers reveal that there are two reasons for bending cycle paths. First, this creates a space for motorists coming from the right where they can wait before entering or crossing the main road (this is a reason for bending the cycle path, but in itself not a reason to rob cyclists of their priority). Second, it’s about bicycle safety. In the words of the spokesperson of the Province of Noord-Holland:

For reasons of bicycle safety, we at the province often choose not to let cyclists have priority, especially outside the built-up area. It’s the same thing as with roundabouts: you may have priority as a cyclist, but whether you’ll be given priority is a different matter. And with roundabouts, it’s been shown that cyclists who have priority are more often involved in accidents, simply because they’re not given priority.

It’s good to know that the safety of cyclists is high on the agenda. But bending the cycle path and robbing cyclists of their priority – I’m not convinced that’s the right solution. In fact, it’s a bit twisted to reward motorists for not paying attention to cyclists who have priority. There have to be better ways to make them pay attention to cyclists and to slow them down.

As I said, such situations occur mainly in the country. You can point to situations in Amsterdam where cyclists should have priority, but mostly these don’t concern cycle paths along main roads that have been bended. However, there is a slightly similar situation opposite the entrance of the Westerpark.

The original Dutch version of this article appeared in the OEK (pdf). More examples here.

Rise in Dutch cycling accidents, but Strava probably not to blame

The number of wielrenners (cyclists on racing bikes) treated at Dutch emergency departments has doubled since 2010, according to a study published today. Among a range of possible explanations the authors mention the popularity of apps like Strava:

The increasing popularity of smartphone apps like Strava, which let you keep track of cycling records for certain tracks and compare them with others, can lead to dangerous situations.

Like I said, this is just one of many possible explanations discussed in the report and the authors are by no means suggesting that Strava is a key factor causing cycling accidents. That said, the idea that Strava may have played a role doesn’t seem to be a priori absurd.

Strava was launched in 2009, but when did it become popular in the Netherlands? I couldn’t find any direct data on this, but Google trends is a plausible indicator.

The Google data are pretty clear: interest in Strava didn’t take off until February 2012 in the Netherlands (interestingly, the search volume index is highest in Limburg and Gelderland, which are also the main regions with hills in the Netherlands). As an extra check, I looked at messages at the Fiets.nl forum pages (you need to login in order to be able to search the forum) containing the search term ‘strava’. There were 10 messages prior to 1 February 2012 and 1,843 after that date, which seems to confirm the Google pattern.

By contrast, the number of wielrenners at emergency departments saw its biggest increase between 2010 and 2011. The number was stable at about 2,000 prior to 2011, but rose to 3,700 in 2011 and 4,200 in 2012. So it seems Strava was largely unknown in the Netherlands at the time when the largest increase in cycling accidents happened.

The reason for the study was a media storm last year about supposed irresponsible behaviour of wielrenners towards ‘normal’ cyclists. Car lobby club ANWB even suggested wielrenners should stay at home on sunny days.

In a survey among wielrenners, 45% said wielrenners do not sufficiently adjust their speed and 51% said wielrenners often ride in (too) wide groups. An analysis of 2,849 injury-causing accidents involving two cyclists revealed that in 24 cases a ‘normal’ cyclist got injured as a result of a collision with a wielrenner. So while many wielrenners agree that (some) wielrenners behave irresponsibly, this doesn’t seem to be a major cause of injuries among other cyclists.

Wielrenners themselves have about 2.2 injuries per 100,000 hours of activity. This is much lower than the number for all sports combined (7.1). However, 23% of wielrenners who go to the emergency department have to be treated in hospital, compared to 6% for all sports. So in terms of serious injuries, wielrennen doesn’t seem to be much safer or unsafer than other sports.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the rise in accidents involving wielrenners, the authors of the report suggest the capacity of cycle paths is no longer sufficient given the rising number of cyclists, including a rise in cycling among people above 55. One of their recommendations is to create more ‘cycling highways’ for fast cyclists.

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