If it is up to the VVD, the new cabinet will soon have ‘tens’ billions to spend, which we as a country will have to borrow to solve ‘major problems’. But there is still little enthusiasm in the House of Representatives about the plan to ‘play Sinterklaas’.
It leaked subtly last week, via sources in The Hague, of course, that a plan is circulating among the parties in the formation to invest ‘tens of billions’ in ‘solving major problems’.
The idea behind that plan is that the Netherlands can currently borrow at extremely low interest rates, which means that billions can easily be put on the table. It was a ‘school of thought’ that was already on the formation table and today one of the fathers of that idea appears to be – unsurprisingly – the VVD.
Because in a debate about next year’s budget, VVD Member of Parliament Eelco Heinen underlined his support for such a ‘National Recovery-Transition Fund’. The new cabinet should ‘pull the wallet’ for ‘building a new energy infrastructure’. For investing in ‘overdue maintenance’, such as bridges and roads. Just like for reducing CO2 and nitrogen emissions and making homes more affordable.
A dollop of money to spend, who could be against that? Well, enthusiasm is not overflowing in the House of Representatives. Even the ChristenUnie, now joining the formation with VVD, CDA and D66, is not yet clapping.
The point is that it concerns ‘incidental money’, as it is called in the jargon in The Hague. In other words: we only spend that money once, not every year for a few consecutive years. Long-term investments put pressure on the national debt for longer, something the VVD is apprehensive about. Or the business community should be taxed more heavily, which PvdA and GroenLinks want, but the liberals prefer to avoid that.
But, says Pieter Grinwis (ChristenUnie): ,,The problems we want to tackle are multi-year. Nitrogen, declining educational quality, you cannot solve that in one go. Take the insulation of homes, for example, something that will take more years. The market is not going to react to incidental money, that is not going to trigger trade or innovation.”
However, the VVD then puts the brakes on again. “I just want to make sure that we go spend all together”, says Heinen. Heinen believes that financing must be found for structural cost items. “You can’t let that bill add up indefinitely.”
But if the VVD wants to give the plan wings in the formation, it will still have to lobby the ChristenUnie. And if it wants to get a majority in the Senate for the plans, through the PvdA and GroenLinks, a lot of talking still needs to be done. “We also have to tackle structural problems with structural money,” says Bart Snels of GroenLinks: “The aim of the VVD is now to play for Sinterklaas, but not to look at structural problems. I say: you should look at that.”
What also plays a role in the background – and fuels skepticism about the money-spending plan – is what happened to the so-called Wopke-Wiebes fund. That pot of money of 20 billion, which the government previously made good use of as an investment fund, has hardly been used. Those billions (already borrowed) had to subsidize innovative projects and, moreover, stimulate economic growth. But of the 3.4 billion euros that will be available next year, the government expects to be able to spend less than 216 million euros.
Reason: according to a committee that distributes the money, the plans that municipalities, provinces and private parties submitted for spending were simply below par. As a result, much of the money remains on the shelf.
So Henk Nijboer (PvdA) scoffs at the intention to start borrowing money again: “We are not even getting the money from the Wopke-Wiebesfonds now.”
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