MPs want changes to referendum campaign grant after ‘major abuse’

Ukraine Netherlands Sign Flags ConceptMPs are demanding that the rules for referendum campaign subsidies are tightened up after ‘major abuse’ of grants for the April vote on the EU’s treaty with Ukraine, the Telegraaf reported.

The paper says some of the claims for cash were ‘shocking’ and that the rules for subsidies were easy to get around. It bases its claim on an analysis of 20 out of the 80 claims which were published following a freedom of information court order.

The referendum committee said in September that it had handed out €1.6m in subsidies for ‘activities to stimulate debate’ about the referendum.

Swan and suits

In total, 98 subsidies were handed out to private individuals. Of those 38 were checked by auditors and 10 were either reduced or clawed back in their entirety. All of the 42 private sector subsidies were reduced, of which 18 were cut substantially and three were reduced to zero.

The most controversial of the ‘no’ campaigns – nearly €41,500 for the production of toilet rolls with anti-Ukraine slogans – was cut by just €600. By contrast, the Stichting Forum Maatschappelijk Debat Nederland discussion forum had to repay their entire advance of €34,325.60 after the website attracted just one comment, broadcaster RTLZ said.

Among the other grants which the referendum committee rejected were €1,818 for damages to a campaign minibus after it hit a swan, submitted by the freedom and law association Vereniging Vrede en Recht and €340 for a new suit submitted by Forza! Haarlemmermeer.

Blank cheque

Almost half the corporate and political group grants were clawed back or cut because contracts were given to friends and family of the people requesting the cash, RTL Z said.

For example, Wageningen University professor Bernd van der Meulen was paid €7,800 to write two academic articles by the Instituut voor Agrarisch Recht, even though he is a member of the institute’s supervisory board, the Telegraaf reported.

‘This shows that handing out subsidies like this is equivalent to a blank cheque,’ VVD parliamentarian Joost Taverne told the Telegraaf.

‘This has been an expensive lesson which should never be repeated,’ Socialist MP Harry van Bommel said.

The referendum committee, said earlier it sees no reason for ‘fundamental changes’ to the current system. However, the hourly rate for experts paid for from referendum committee budgets should be limited to €35 per hour, the committee said in a statement.