The country’s culture of “looking the other way” has created a free-for-all, according to some who believe its time to turn the clock back.
  
In recent decades, authorities have permitted prostitution, the sale of cannabis and drug usage. Now, the municipal authorities realise they may have overdone it.
   
In an attempt to reverse the trend Rotterdam mayor Ivo Opstelten has vowed to lock up or cure the city's 700 hard-core drug addicts.
   
The new city council has slashed the number of "coffee shops" which sell soft drugs from 300 to 60 and aims to reduce the number further. Even Amsterdam itself is working to shut erotic bars and clubs.

Toughening up
   
Stricter law enforcement is welcomed by voters who are now electing new rightist parties to run town halls.
   
One resident of Amsterdam’s central Niewmarkt area, Libben Reeskamp, said: "Things have improved a bit. A drug pusher across the street has at last been arrested and his house has been boarded up. In the old days he would have been back in a week."   

Having already restricted the sale of postcards showing explicit nudity, Amsterdam's mayor, Job Cohen, is aiming to limit all-night opening hours for brothels.
   
He hopes it will reduce harassment from brawling Britons who drink through the night before heading home on cheap flights, said Marjan Jonker of the prostitute interest group, De Rode Draad.
   
Police power
   
Until last year, police officers were allowed to frisk only the people they arrested. Now, following a pilot scheme in Rotterdam, anyone walking the Dutch streets can be searched at any time. 
   

"Is the mood in the country shifting to become more puritanical? Yes, I think so"

Fons van Westerloo,
SBS TV manager

Begging, which ceased to be an offence many years ago, has been reinstated as a punishable felony by authorities in bigger cities.
   
"Beggars were becoming aggressive, and we were powerless. Something needed to be done," explained an Amsterdam police spokesman.
   
Puritanism

In another sign of the turning tide, commercial television broadcaster SBS - which operates three Dutch channels - said in June that it would stop showing explicit sex, the feature which defined its launch a decade ago.
   
"It was getting out of hand," said SBS manager Fons van Westerloo. "Is the mood in the country shifting to become more puritanical? Yes, I think so. We've decided to take our responsibility."

Siep de Haan, who organises the annual Gay Pride parade, says: "City Hall is terrified about Amsterdam's image of sex and drugs and rock and roll."
   
Soon to be introduced is a compulsory identity card, seen as an inevitable aid to keep on top of crime.

Looking to blame

And behind the calls for more law and order is a growing tendency to blame crime on ethnic minorities.
   
Just a few years ago, the police refused to register the ethnic origins of criminal suspects.

But after a series of attacks in which black youths killed white people, the mayors of several Dutch cities have started to single out specific groups from North Africa and the Caribbean. 

This has fuelled tensions with immigrant groups. Moroccans rioted in Amsterdam this month when police shot dead a youth who had a knife.