On Tuesday 14 June, the Senate debated with Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Adriaansen (EZK) a temporary law that, after all, will make the National Growth Fund a budget fund. This means that the fund is less distant from politics. On Tuesday 21 June, the House will vote on the bill and a proposal put forward by Senator Vendrik on the coherence between the government’s various investment funds.
This law regulates, among other things, the purpose of the fund, the nature of the expenses and income and which ministers manage the fund. The proposal is also the legal basis for the advisory committee, which assesses investment proposals and has an evaluation provision.
At the end of 2020, the Senate already discussed the bill establishing the National Growth Fund with the then Minister Hoekstra (Finance) and then Minister Wiebes (Economic Affairs and Climate). The then Rutte III cabinet would use the fund to set aside 20 billion euros over the next five years to increase prosperity. At the time, the government had deliberately chosen to distance the fund from politics, but at the same time let it fall under parliamentary control. In early January 2021, the Senate approved that bill.
A proposal has been submitted. The proposal from Vendrik et al. asks the government to review the entire fund landscape and develop opportunities to strengthen the efficient use of public resources, while considering options for pooling funds. The Minister thought it was a little too fast to look at merging now, because the funds have only just started. She promised that the government will be critical of the effectiveness and efficiency of the funds. Because she understood the proposal as an encouragement, she gave the proposal ‘the verdict of the chamber’.
Wide prosperity leading
Senator Vendrik (GroenLinks), who also spoke on behalf of the PvdA, said it was still not clear to him what the fund’s focus is on how and when these public funds should be used. According to GroenLinks and PvdA, broad prosperity should be the guiding principle of all government policy, including this fund. Not only energy conversion is sustainable policy, but also, for example, social (labor market) conversion. Vendrik is not yet convinced of the government’s chosen elaboration of the fund’s objective: to promote sustainable earning capacity.
Total waste of money
According to Senator Van Strien (PVV), it seems that the usefulness of the fund still needs to be invented. The fund seems to focus explicitly on investments in projects of public interest, but without a return target. How to reduce the gross domestic product of the future, says Van Strien. And that, he says, contradicts the verdict of increasing GDP in the long run. This fund creates jobs in the government. He wanted to know how many people are (will) be involved in the fund. PVV is not hot against this total waste of money.
Is fund the right tool?
Senator Van Apeldoorn (SP) asked whether the investments really benefit the collective and thus the general prosperity. According to SP, it is not a bad idea at all for the state to lend money for such investments, but the question is whether the growth fund is the right means for it. Van Apeldoorn asked the minister if the proceeds would remain publicly available. He also wanted to know how this fund compares to the other investment funds. Is there not too much overlap, Van Apeldoorn concluded.
green prison bag
Senator Otten (Fractie-Otten) was still surprised that the first debate on the Growth Fund at the end of December 2020 was so hasty. According to him, the green snatch bag of 20 billion should and would come. He asked the Minister who is the ultimate responsible: herself or the Minister of Finance? It appears from the written answer that both are ultimately responsible. Otten asked how the minister thinks it will work in practice. Finally, he asked what the exact status of the current applications is and what the conditions for granting are.
Growth is greedy
According to Senator Nicolaï (PvdD), a policy aimed at ‘growth, growth, growth’ leads to ‘grab, grab’. Why should projects that increase sustainability but not directly earning capacity not be eligible, he asked the minister. The basic principle of the Fund is that the Cabinet will not honor applications that have received a negative opinion from the Advisory Committee. Members of the Advisory Committee thus have a great deal of influence. Nicolaï asked the minister if she could promise that the Folketing would help to prepare the profile for the members.
Answer Minister Adriaansens
Minister Adriaansen’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) said that projects funded by the fund must contribute to the Netherlands’ structural earning capacity in a sustainable way. Regarding the contribution to general prosperity in all policies, the Minister said that the government is working on a good definition in different places.
Sustainable earning capacity is increased when the conditions are met, and the advisory committee also takes this into account, says Adriaansens. In particular, the Advisory Committee seeks to assess the sustainable effects of the project as accurately as possible in terms of quality. The cabinet is speaking with one voice, the minister concluded, even though there are two fund managers.