Keeping parliament in the dark about Air France-KLM shares a "judgement call", Dutch FM says

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Not informing the Tweede Kamer about the government purchasing shares in Air France-KLM was a "judgment call", Minister Wopke Hoekstra of Finance said in a debate on the matter on Tuesday. He considered all variants of parliamentary involvement in the purchase. "Considering all the pluses and minuses, this was the most ideal, but an ideal outcome does not exist", he said, NOS reports.

Last week Hoekstra announced that the Dutch government purchased a significant interest in Air France-KLM. The Netherlands now has an interest of 14 percent in the airline combination, the same as France. The purchase cost the state 744 million euros. ABN Amro secretly carried out this transaction on behalf of the government. Hoekstra informed the financial spokespersons of the parties in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, a week before the purchase. But they had to sign a confidentiality agreement and they were not allowed to inform their party leaders. 

The Tweede Kamer is largely pleased that the Netherlands now has a participating role in Air France-KLM, but the opposition parties are critical about how parliament was involved in the purchase, they made clear during the debate with Hoekstra and Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen of Infrastructure. 

According to Hoekstra, there could be no full disclosure, because it involved price-sensitive information that could have jeopardized the purchase and the company. "It was a judgment call", Hoekstra said. "We did it very carefully, and I stand by it." The Ministers decided to tell the financial spokespersons, because they are best acquainted with the file and therefore best able to give an opinion, he said.

PvdA parliamentarian Henk Nijboer called the course of affairs "quite problematic", according to the broadcaster. He wanted to be informed beforehand and regrets that this was not done. By not informing the Tweede Kamer, the government violated the Tweede Kamer's budget rights, he said. "There were quite a lot of mistakes in this procedure and I blame the government for that."

"Did the Tweede Kamer have the option to reject the purchase", SP parliamentarian Mahir Alkaya wanted to know, pointing to the budget rights Nijboer referred to. This gives parliamentarians the right to approve or reject the state's expenses. "I understand the purchase, but I do not know if I can support the government's working method."

The government's goal in purchasing the shares was to be able to directly influence developments at Air France-KLM. The secrecy around the purchase caused some political fallout with France. Hoekstra said it made him uncomfortable that he could not inform the French in advance. "France is an important ally for the Netherlands. We have to continue working on a good relationship."

Hoekstra met with French Economic Minister Bruno Le Maire last week, to smooth ruffled feathers. In a joint press conference after the meeting, the two ministers stressed their common interest in making Air France-KLM "the best aviation company in the world"

 

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