Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte addresses parliament in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has tendered his government’s resignation to King Willem-Alexander.

With only two months to go before elections, and the government remaining in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis in the Netherlands, the resignation is largely symbolic.

But smaller parties in Rutte’s coalition felt they had to take responsibility for what an inquiry described as an “unprecedented injustice” in the tax service, which wrongly accused more than 20,000 families of fraud.

Lodewijk Asscher, who was the responsible minister in charge of social affairs in the last government, stepped down as leader of the now-opposition Labor Party on Thursday. Read more “Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal”

Biden Plans $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Program

United States Capitol
Workers drape a flag from the facade of the United States Capitol in Washington DC for Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, January 9 (Victoria Pickering)

Joe Biden is planning to ask Congress for $1.9 trillion in the first weeks of his presidency to cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Matthew Yglesias and Punchbowl News, a new Capitol Hill-focused newsletter, have the details:

  • $400 billion for health, including $50 billion for testing, $30 billion for protective gear and $20 billion for vaccinations.
  • Hire 100,000 public health workers.
  • A mandatory paid sick leave program.
  • $1,400 cheques to all Americans on top of the $600 cheques sent in December.
  • Extend federal unemployment benefits at $400 per week.
  • Extend the eviction moratorium.
  • $30 billion in rental assistance.
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  • Raise the child tax credit to as much $3,600 per year for families with young children.
  • $350 billion in financial relief for local, tribal and state governments. Read more “Biden Plans $1.9 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Program”

German Christian Democrats to Elect Merkel’s Successor

Friedrich Merz
Friedrich Merz, then chairman of the Supervisory Board of BlackRock Germany, attends a bankers conference in Berlin, April 5, 2017 (Bankenverband)

1,001 party delegates will elect the next leader of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in a digital congress on Saturday.

The winner will succeed Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the defense minister, who succeeded Angela Merkel in 2018. Merkel stepped down as party leader, but not chancellor, that year.

Kramp-Karrenbauer quit two years later. She never approached Merkel’s popularity in the polls, nor her authority in the party.

Merkel’s approval rating is approaching 90 percent, but she is not seeking a fifth term. Whoever is elected CDU leader on Saturday will be the party’s presumptive chancellor candidate for the election in September (the Christian Democrats are polling at 35-37 percent), but that is not a given. Read more “German Christian Democrats to Elect Merkel’s Successor”

Is the Republican Dam Breaking?

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump attends a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)
  • Liz Cheney, the number-three Republican in the House of Representatives, will vote to impeach Donald Trump for inciting an attack on the United States Capitol to overturn the election of Joe Biden.
  • So will Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse of Washington; Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio; John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor; Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran; and Peter Meijer and Fred Upton of Michigan.
  • Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan and Phil Scott, the Republican governors of Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont, support impeachment.
  • So does Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. Read more “Is the Republican Dam Breaking?”

Aruba, Curaçao Agree to Terms of Dutch Coronavirus Aid

Oranjestad Aruba
Aerial view of Oranjestad, Aruba (iStock/Darryl Brooks)

Aruba and Curaçao have agreed to liberalize their economies in order to qualify for continued financial support from the European Netherlands, without which the islands would almost certainly go bankrupt.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought tourism, on which the islands depend, close to a standstill.

Sint Maarten, the third autonomous Dutch island in the Caribbean, has yet to meet the terms of Dutch aid, which include cutting public-sector salaries by 12.5 to 25 percent. Read more “Aruba, Curaçao Agree to Terms of Dutch Coronavirus Aid”

Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes

Geert Wilders Thierry Baudet Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions from far-right politicians Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet in parliament in The Hague, November 27, 2019 (ANP)

Sorry for the lack of new posts in recent weeks. I’ve moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona and finding and furnishing an apartment has taken up most of my time.

Good news was awaiting me here, though. Forum for Democracy, a Putin-friendly, far-right upstart that only a year ago looked like a credible challenger to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party, is on the verge of collapse. Thierry Baudet, the party’s co-founder and leader, has stepped down.

Baudet — one of the few Donald Trump admirers in Dutch politics — broke with other party leaders to defend Forum’s youth wing, which for the second time this year was revealed to be a hotbed of far-right extremism. Het Parool of Amsterdam reported this weekend that multiple members had shared neo-Nazi content in the movement’s WhatsApp group.

In May, the party ejected three members for sharing similar content.

Baudet has winked at the alt-right with calls to defend “boreal” (northern) civilization from cosmopolitan liberal elites, who would “dilute” Dutch society by allowing immigration.

He claimed on Monday that the youth wing had been the victim of a “trial by media”. Read more “Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes”

Spain Proposes Major Tax Increases to Fund 2021 Budget

Pedro Sánchez
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez addresses Congress in Madrid, July 17, 2018 (La Moncloa)

Spain’s left-wing government has proposed raising public spending by 10 percent next year to cope with the effects of coronavirus. If approved — the ruling parties do not have a stable majority in Congress — it would be the biggest budget in Spanish history.

Health spending would rise 150 percent, or €3.1 billion. In addition, €2.4 billion would be set aside to prop up primary care and buy vaccines. Another €700 million, drawn from the EU’s €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund, would go to elderly care.

Spain qualifies for around €70 billion in EU grants and €70 billion in loans. It is not expected to make use of the loans, given that it can still borrow affordably on its own.

To pay for the extra spending, the coalition government also plans to raise taxes. Read more “Spain Proposes Major Tax Increases to Fund 2021 Budget”

Caribbean, European Netherlands Close In on Bailout Deal

Eugene Rhuggenaath Raymond Knops
Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao and Dutch state secretary Raymond Knops answer questions from reporters in The Hague, June 14, 2019 (ANP/Lex van Lieshout)

Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are closing in on a deal with the European Netherlands for hundreds of millions of euros in support to cope with the impact of COVID-19.

The sticking point in negotiations has been the Netherlands’ insistence that Dutch officials would carry out and monitor economic reforms on which the bailout is conditioned; a demand Caribbean leaders argue is incompatible with their autonomy.

Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao, the largest of the three self-governing islands, told lawmakers this week that a compromise is at hand.

The Dutch supervisors would remain, but any decisions they take that affect spending and taxes would need to be ratified by the island legislatures.

The government of Curaçao would also be consulted on the appointment of one of the three supervisors.

Antilliaans Dagblad reports that a majority of lawmakers on Curaçao could agree to those terms.

But Raymond Knops, the Dutch state secretary for the interior, sounded less optimistic on Tuesday, when he told parliamentarians in The Hague that the three islands are currently unable to “bear” their autonomy. Read more “Caribbean, European Netherlands Close In on Bailout Deal”

Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways

Palazzo Balbi Venice Italy
View of the Palazzo Balbi, the residence of the regional president of Veneto, in Venice, Italy, April 1, 2013 (Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Moroder)

Italians elected new regional councils and governors in the Aosta Valley, Apulia, Campania, Liguria, Marche, Tuscany and Veneto on Sunday and Monday.

They also voted in a referendum to reduce the number of lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies from 630 to 400 and in the Senate from 315 to 200.

The right has gained control of one more region — Marche — but the center-left Democrats held their own in the regions they governed.

The populist Five Star Movement, which shares power with the Democrats nationally, underperformed everywhere. Read more “Italian Regional Elections: Results and Takeaways”

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”