Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19

Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands reads out his annual speech from the throne in the Grote Kerk in The Hague, September 15 (Rijksoverheid)

The Netherlands’ ruling center-right coalition unveiled an expansionary budget on Tuesday, when King Willem-Alexander read out his annual speech from the throne to set out the government’s priorities for the next fiscal year.

Whereas the Dutch government, then also led by Mark Rutte, raised taxes and cut public spending during the last economic crisis to keep its budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling, it now argues against austerity and is borrowing the equivalent of 7.2 percent of GDP (down from an earlier estimate of 8.7 percent).

Rutte argues the savings made in previous years allow the government to avoid cuts this time.

The Dutch economy is projected to shrink 5 percent this year as a result of COVID-19 and grow 3.5 percent next year, when unemployment would reach 545,000, or almost 6 percent. Debt as a share of GDP is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent. Read more “Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19”

Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte arrives in Brussels for a meeting with other European leaders, February 12, 2015 (European Council)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has taken a hard line in Brussels on the conditions of coronavirus aid to Southern Europe, but at home his government has abandoned austerity without controversy.

During the last economic crisis, Rutte, who has led the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy since 2006, raised taxes and cut public spending to keep the Netherlands’ budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling.

Now, when the economic contraction caused by COVID-19 is even more severe, he is borrowing €56 billion, or 7.2 percent of GDP. Debt as a share of economic output is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent.

Statism is back in a country that is (or used to be) considered a champion of liberalization and free trade.

Rutte’s competitors spy an opportunity. Read more “Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism”

Dutch Caribbean Islands on the Brink

Willemstad Curaçao
View of Otrobanda from across the Saint Anna Bay in Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock/Flavio Vallenari)

Time is running out for the autonomous Dutch islands in the Caribbean to do a deal with their former colonizer.

Coronavirus has brought tourism, the mainstay of the island economies, close to a standstill. Tax revenue has dried up while unemployment has soared. Without support from the European Netherlands, the governments of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten will run out of money in weeks.

The Dutch are willing to help, but only if the islands accept temporary Dutch administrators to manage reforms. For most of the Caribbean politicians, this goes too far. Read more “Dutch Caribbean Islands on the Brink”

Dutch Extend COVID Aid for Businesses

The Hague Netherlands
Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague (iStock/Fotolupa)

The Dutch government has extended support for companies and self-employed workers struggling as a result of COVID-19 until July 2021, although some policies are becoming less generous.

The thinking, reports the national broadcaster NOS, is that firms shouldn’t be subsidized if they aren’t viable long term and workers in sectors with job losses should be coaxed into reskilling.

The measures will cost almost €39 billion this year. The Dutch economy is projected to shrink 6.4 percent. Read more “Dutch Extend COVID Aid for Businesses”

Politicians Break Deadlock on Curaçao

Willemstad Curaçao
Aerial view of Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock/Texpan)

Weeks of political deadlock on Curaçao have been broken with the swearing-in of Shaheen Elhage as lawmaker. He succeeds William Millerson, who died in June.

Millerson’s death had reduced the government to ten out of 21 seats in the island’s legislature. Opposition parties refused to attend Elhage’s inauguration, denying the ruling parties a quorum. They are unhappy with cuts and reforms the government is enacting to qualify for financial support from the Netherlands.

One opposition lawmaker, Marilyn Moses, did attend parliament on Monday.

The other nine, seven of whom want independence from the Netherlands, still didn’t show. Read more “Politicians Break Deadlock on Curaçao”

Contrast in the Dutch Caribbean

Oranjestad Aruba
Facade of the Royal Plaza Mall in Oranjestad, Aruba, February 10, 2015 (Thomas Hawk)

The government of the Aruba, a Dutch island in the Caribbean, has presented a five-point plan to restructure its tourism-dependent economy, which has been decimated by COVID-19.

Meanwhile on neighboring Curaçao, pro-independence parties are boycotting the inauguration of a pro-government lawmaker, bringing politics on the island to a standstill.

The two islands, and Sint Maarten, are autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and have yet to approve Dutch terms for financial support to cope with the effects of coronavirus. Read more “Contrast in the Dutch Caribbean”

What Rutte Wants

Angela Merkel Ursula von der Leyen Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron watch Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte walk into a European Council meeting in Brussels, July 18 (European Council)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has become the bête noire of EU integrationists for refusing to sign off on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund that largely consists of debt-financed grants.

Rutte is not alone. The leaders of Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are also withholding support, which is why EU leaders are still holed up in Brussels after four days of talks.

But the Netherlands has the largest economy among this “frugal five” and Rutte doesn’t mind taking the heat.

Why? Read more “What Rutte Wants”

De Jonge Narrowly Wins Leadership of Dutch Christian Democrats

Hugo de Jonge
Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge attends a meeting of European conservative party leaders in Brussels, June 20, 2019 (EPP)

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge has won an unexpectedly close election for the leadership of the Netherlands’ ruling Christian Democratic party.

De Jonge, a centrist who was backed by the party establishment, won 50.7 percent support against 49.3 for backbencher Pieter Omtzigt, a difference of 258 votes.

The Christian Democrats are the second-largest party in Mark Rutte’s government with nineteen out of 150 seats in parliament. Recent surveys give them 9 to 11 percent support, not enough to become the largest party but enough to play a role in the formation of the next government.

The Christian Democrats have been in all but three of the last fifteen Dutch governments. Read more “De Jonge Narrowly Wins Leadership of Dutch Christian Democrats”

Italy Should Heed Dutch Advice

Giuseppe Conte Mark Rutte
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is received by his Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, in The Hague, July 10 (Palazzo Chigi)

The Dutch government is criticized in the international media for resisting EU grants (it prefers loans conditions on reforms) to help pay for the economic recovery in coronavirus-struck Southern Europe. But the critics are oddly incurious about the Netherlands’ motives.

An editorial in Monday’s Financial Times is typical. It accuses Prime Minister Mark Rutte of singlehandedly putting the EU economy at risk, but it resorts to stereotype and innuendo to explain why he’s unwilling to sign off on a €750 billion recovery fund: the Dutch are stingy and Rutte is worried about losing voters to the Euroskeptic right. (He’s never been more popular.)

Mr Rutte pays lip service to the idea of a stronger, geopolitical Europe but is unwilling to accept the price tag that comes with it, especially with national elections looming next year.

I single out the Financial Times because it should know better. There have been worse opinion columns in the Italian and Spanish press.

At least the Financial Times hints at the need for “productivity-enhancing reforms” in Italy and Spain, which have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. But it doesn’t say which reforms or why.

In an opinion column for EUobserver, I do. Read more “Italy Should Heed Dutch Advice”

Dutch Backbencher Mounts Strong Challenge to Presumptive Party Leader

Pieter Omtzigt
Dutch Christian Democratic lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt speaks in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, January 27, 2017 (Council of Europe/Cathérine Monfils)

Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge faces unexpected competition from parliamentary backbencher Pieter Omtzigt in his bid for the leadership of the ruling Christian Democratic party.

Omtzigt won nearly 40 percent support from the party’s 40,000 members in a first voting round against 49 percent for De Jonge.

Monica Keijzer, the undersecretary for economic affairs and climate policy, and the only woman in the race, was eliminated after winning 11 percent.

A second voting round concludes on Wednesday. Read more “Dutch Backbencher Mounts Strong Challenge to Presumptive Party Leader”