Economic support and masks face stern criticism in parliament

Ridderhof, Parliament, The Hague
The Ridderzaal at night, in the Binnenhof parliamentary complex in The Hague. Sept. 26, 2015mandritoiuDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Recent decisions by the Dutch cabinet, including the mandatory use of face masks on public transport and Wednesday's new economic support package, were met with sharp criticism as MPs offered their feedback in a parliamentary debate on Wednesday afternoon.

The newest economic relief measures are set to pump an additional 13 billion euros into the Dutch economy in order to attempt to support entrepreneurs facing financial ruin due to the Covid-19 crisis. The current package of emergency measures, which was set to expire on June 1, will be extended by three months, Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced.

Face masks questioned on public transport amid broad support for reopening

While both the coalition parties and their counterparts in opposition announced broad support for the government's phased plan to reopen the economy from June 1, some MPs voiced their concern for the mandatory use of face masks on public transport.

The concerns came over the rule that medical face masks are not to be worn amid shortages, with the RIVM stipulating that only the non-medical variety will be allowed to be used. According to FvD leader Thierry Baudet and PvdA head Lodewijk Asscher, the rules are therefore counterintuitive.

"You will soon be fined if you do not take off the mask when you get on the train. And you are also finable if you take it off and don't immediately put on your old sock," Asscher contested.

Baudet took the sentiment further, decrying the use of face masks entirely. "At first fact masks did not help, then they did, but a certified mask will soon not be allowed in public transport. Anyone who takes off their certified mask and exchanges it for a coffee filter will be fined. Bizarre," chided the FvD leader.

Far-right PVV leader Geert Wilders also expressed his disapproval at the mouth masks, but argued further that the 1.5 meter social distancing guidelines themselves ought to be abandoned altogether. "This 'new normal' is exaggerated, we need to regain more freedoms," he said.

Financial support, lack of worker protections brought into question

From the outset of the debate, the government's newly-announced economic support package faced criticism from MPs, with the left-wing parties GroenLinks, PvdA and SP widely disavowing the fact that the cabinet no longer requires companies to retain employees in exchange for financial support in the 10-billion euro extention of the NOW support package.

According to Asscher, the move is likely to cause a significant number of new layoffs due to its limited its scope. GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver agreed, adding that the government's relation with trade unions is likely to turn sour as a result of the proposed measures.

Both parties went on to assert their belief that fining employers for laying off their workers should not to be scrapped. SP leader Lilian Marijnissen and PVV leader Geert Wilders agreed, with the latter calling the move "a gigantic blunder from the cabinet". 

However, Rutte's colleague in the parliament, VVD party chairman Klaas Dijkhoff, believes that the cabinet is making a justified choice in this regard, stating his belief that many companies will run into unforeseen problems should they be forced to hold onto their employees under the threat of a fine.

"It is antisocial to pretend that companies now really want to get rid of their people. Companies must be able to prepare for a different future." Dijkhoff said.

Animal contamination

Aside from the economic and political issues, some MPs also brought up public health concerns in relation to zoonotic Covid-19 infections in the Netherlands, with both D66 and the PvdD expressing concern at the fact that a mink in a mink farm may have transmitted the coronavirus to a human.

"Mink farms may have to close earlier than January 1, 2024 as agreed now," stated D66 MP Rob Jetten, expressing further concern that Dutch abattoirs may become sources for outbreaks of coronavirus.