Dutch PM won't rush purchasing power measures; Finance Min sees various options
Prime Minister Mark Rutte won't reward the impatience of the opposition in parliament by hastily promising additional purchasing power measures. He gave them “no no and no yes” but wants to take the time to “seriously look at proposals from the left-wing parties in particular.”
Rutte sees particular promise in a PvdA and GroenLinks proposal to give people who receive healthcare benefits a once-off 500 euros extra this summer. “That could still happen this year,” he thinks, “We do not reject that, but there are technical aspects to it.”
The Prime Minister doesn’t think it’s necessary to decide before the summer. The municipalities have only just started to pay out the 800 euros in income support for low-income households the Cabinet promised earlier this year. He estimates that the worst need is now alleviated. “That probably won’t be enough either,” the Prime Minister admitted. More needs to be done “but you don’t necessarily have to do it tomorrow.”
Rutte is not trying to “kick things forward,” he stressed. But the Cabinet wants to carefully determine whether the opposition’s proposals are feasible and whether there is a financial cover for them. The Cabinet does not want to make any promises it can’t keep. The opposition reacted strongly to the Prime Minister’s words. Many parties want the Cabinet to intervene now and ensure that households’ financial pain is alleviated.
Rute did give a definite answer to one proposal by the left-wing opposition. “A rent freeze is no longer possible,” Rutte said.
Minister Sigrid Kaag of Finance said she sees several possibilities to support low-income households more this year. The energy allowance municipalities are paying out to the poorest families can probably be increased, Kaag said. The Cabinet is also looking at an additional benefit through, for example, the Social Insurance Bank.
Kaag also mentioned the proposal by GroenLinks and PvdA to give recipients of healthcare benefits a little extra. However, for feasibility reasons, she suggested instead using the housing allowance. According to her, seven out of ten families facing financial trouble live in rented houses.
Another option is to increase the budget for special assistance. This arrangement reimburses people for necessary costs they can’t afford. Other existing funds for poverty alleviation could also be used as an instrument for extra income support.
Finally, the Cabinet is considering asking energy companies for leniency with people who cannot pay their bills. An appeal could be made to the social responsibility of these companies, said Kaag.
The Minister stressed that the Cabinet hasn’t decided on any of these measures yet. Two hard conditions are always feasibility and financial coverage, she stressed. There are also drawbacks to almost all options.
During the debate, PVV leader Geers Wilders accused VVD faction leader Sophie Hermans of being Rutte's "assistant bag carrier." "You do not come up with one idea about what you would like to do with the purchasing power of people. You only have questions for the Prime Minister," Wilders said.
The comment made Hermans visibly emotional. "I notice that it affects me, I don't know if you care," Hermans responded to Wilders, visibly swallowing tears. "I stand here as faction leader of the VVD to do the right things for the Netherlands. We can differ in that regard. We can differ in opinions. I think it's great to conduct the debate on the content, but not on the person. Please: on the content and not the person."
Hermans, the daughter of former Minister Loek Hermans and the former personal assistant of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, also addressed this topic at a VVD congress on Saturday. She said: "There are people who think I am here because I am the daughter of Loek Hermans. There are people who think I am here because I was Mark Rutte's political assistant. But I am here because I am myself. I am Sophie Hermans."
Reporting by ANP