THE NETHERLANDS. Parliament will hold its first public session since the recess on Tuesday, as MPs return to a packed agenda in the run up to both the budget and the end of the year.
The major issue facing MPs this week is the debate with foreign minister Stef Blok following comments he made in closed meeting about multicultural societies and Suriname. Despite apologies from Blok, the impact of the comments continues to rumble on, and former diplomats told television programme Nieuwsuur on Monday night that Blok had damaged the reputation of the Netherlands in international debate.
Blok has also been criticized by cabinet partners for awarding a major Dutch human rights prize to the former head of the UN’s refugee organisation, despite the way he reacted to a child abuse scandal in the Central African Republic.
VVD MPs Blok is not the only VVD member in trouble. MP Wybren van Haga is also facing tough questions about property rental company Sjopperdepop which has broken Amsterdam’s tough rules on renting homes to more than two adults who are not related.
Despite claiming to have distanced himself from the firm, it transpired this summer than he is still an active manager. But the VVD can’t force him to step down, because the coalition only has a one-seat majority, leaving prime minister Mark Rutte with a difficult problem.
The VVD also needs to find three more VVD MPs following the departure of Han ten Broeke, who has admitted to having an ‘unequal’ relationship with a party worker, Jeanine Hennis who is going to the UN and Malik Azmani, who hopes to lead the VVD’s campaign for next March’s European parliamentary elections.
There are five other major issues currently facing Rutte’s third government:
1 The controversial plan to abolish the dividend tax, a move which will benefit foreign firms and investors and will cost the treasury €2bn a year. Even if the dividend tax plan passes through the lower house of parliament, it could run into trouble in the upper house (senate) next year. Provincial council elections take place in March, and the provinces then go on to elect the 75 members of the senate. But the current four party coalition government is not doing well in the polls and could lose its senate majority.
2 The 2019 budget will be presented to parliament on September 18. Ministers have said everyone will benefit because of cuts in income tax and more money is also being allocated to defence, education and healthcare.
3 The rise in the lower rate of value added tax (btw) from 6% to 9%. ING economists have estimated this will cost the average family €300 a year as food, books and theatre tickets cost more.
4 Economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes has said he wants far-reaching measures to reduce the use of natural gas and combat climate change to be in place by the end of the year.
5 Tax minister Menno Snel has said he will not retreat on plans to cut the 30% expat ruling from eight to five years, nor will he introduce a transition period for current beneficiaries, despite protests from Dutch and international companies, MPs and expats themselves.
Elsevier magazine singled out several other controversial issues on the table for the coming parliamentary session
More details of planned changes to the legislation on integration
- Legislation to bring in a minimum price for CO2 during electricity generation and a ban on the use of coal to generate electricity
- A tax on airline tickets, generating €200m a year More involvement of victims in the criminal justice system
- A universal unemployment benefit premium system, rather than the differentiated tariffs at present
- Pension reform
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