Netherlands

Coalition talks to focus on supporting economically vulnerable

The entrance to the parliamentary complex. Photo: DutchNews.nl

The next phase of the preliminary talks to form a new Dutch government will focus on the public finances, with a warning not to forget the economically vulnerable.

Negotiator Herman Tjeenk Willink is meeting Mariëtte Hamer, chair of the Social-Economic Council (SER), which represents employers, employees and independent experts.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on jobs is likely to dominate the discussions, NOS reported. Hamer is expected to call for more support for people who are struggling to find work, including some freelancers and those whose opportunities are limited by disability.

The government has provided support for people who lose their jobs or are unable to work because of coronavirus restrictions, but there are concerns about those who were already marginalised before the pandemic began.

Tjeenk Willink was appointed last week to replace the parliamentary ‘scouts’, D66 home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren and VVD senate leader Annemarie Jorritsma, who resigned after briefing notes from their talks with party leaders were accidentally exposed to the media.

The Labour party (PvdA) veteran said he wanted to take a different approach, identifying the key issues first with the help of non-partisan experts, before consulting the party leaders. On Thursday he will meet caretaker finance minister Wopke Hoekstra, social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees and economic affairs minister Bas van ‘t Wout.

Benefits scandal

On Tuesday Kim Putters, head of the socio-cultural planning agency SCP, said the new cabinet should prioritise restoring trust in politics in the wake of the child benefits scandal that prompted the last government’s resignation.

‘People’s trust in the political system is under pressure,’ said Putters, adding that politicians needed to show that they were ‘taking people’s concerns seriously’.

His words were echoed by national ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen, who warned in 2017 that the tax office’s overzealous pursuit of families suspected of defrauding the child benefit system was causing serious hardship and injustice.

Van Zutphen said: ‘When I speak to people they don’t distinguish much between the political world, a government agency or a department. To the ordinary citizen it’s all the government, and they’re the ones who have to change their behaviour.’

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