Netherlands needs better political culture: Council of Europe after childcare allowance scandal
The Council of Europe fiercely criticized the Netherlands' political and official culture in which information is withheld from parliament, and parliamentarians are hindered in their work by pressure from their parties in a yet unpublished report on the childcare allowance scandal. RTL Nieuws and Trouw got a look at the report and wrote about it on Tuesday.
Dutch parliament asked the Venice Committee of the Council of Europe to investigate the functioning of legal protection in the Netherlands following the childcare allowance scandal. Thousands of parents were left with severe financial problems after falsely being labeled fraudsters and having to pay back their childcare allowance.
The report referred to critical parliamentarians pressured by their parties to remain quiet about this scandal. According to RTL, this happened to then CDA parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt, SP parliamentarian Renske Leijten, and former VVD MP Helma Lodders. "It should be seen as acceptable and actually normal that MPs from coalition parties represent parliament as an institution and that participating in parliamentary scrutiny is not an act of disloyalty," the report stated.
The Committee was also critical of parliament's role in the discussion of legislation. It recommended including "harshness clauses" in new legislation so that the government can compensate citizens if it turns out they were dealt with too harshly. The Committee said that basic principles of good governance must also be incorporated into new legislation, which means that they must be reasonable and fair. And when introducing new laws, the government and parliament must analyze the quality of legislation more closely and map out the risks it poses to citizens.
The Committee said that the Netherlands must closely examine any decision-making based on artificial intelligence (AI), such as risk selection in the fight against fraud, also paying attention to this when developing new systems based on AI. For example, the Tax Authority scrapped its risk classification model for Allowances last year because of its "discriminatory" effect in the childcare allowance scandal - parents were designated as high-risk for fraud based on their dual nationality.
The Dutch courts should annually report to the government and parliament about problems in implementing legislation so that abuses are identified sooner. And Article 20 of the Constitution, which currently states that judges are not allowed to review legislation against the Constitution, should be examined. According to the Council, the addition of constitutional review may help, but other possibilities for improving citizens' legal protection through constitutional amendments also need to be examined.