Conflicts of interest become an issue as the senate gets political

senateThe current 75 members of the senate have voted 675 times on pieces of legislation in which they were involved via outside interests, the Volkskrant reports on Monday.

Critics say that now the political role of the senate is becoming more important, potential partisanship threatens to become ‘a major democratic problem’.

The senate’s official role is to carefully examine and review legislation passed by the lower house of parliament. But the ruling coalition does not have a majority in the upper house, which has led it to form alliances with other parties to ensure measures get passed.

The senate has also rejected, or threatened to reject, more controversial legislation, such as the government’s plans to give health insurance companies more control over treatment choices.

Town and provincial councillors are banned from voting on issues in which they have a vested interested. But no such requirement exists for senators.

The outside involvement in the senate ranges from a senator with a side job at a pension fund voting on pension legislation to specific issues.


For example, D66 senator Thom de Graaf, who is also chairman of the higher education college (hbo) association, recently voted against a lower salary cap for the public sector.

He has dismissed any claims of conflict of interest as ‘rubbish’, pointing out that he was toeing the party line.

The job of senator is a part-time function with a salary of €24,000 a year and senators are encouraged to have outside interests to widen their knowledge and involvement.

Dual role

However, the increasingly politicised role senators now have is perceived by some as a problem. Leiden professor Tom Barkhuysen told the Volkskrant it is essential to avoid any talk of conflicts of interest.

VVD senator Frank de Grave was most active in voting on issues in which he is personally involved. De Grave is chairman of the medical specialists’ organisation and pension giant PGGM. De Grave told the Volkskrant he always voted according to the party line.

The Volkskrant also points out that two years ago Christian Democrat senator Elco Brinkman was part of the alliance to reform the Dutch housing sector in his role as chairman of the construction sector organisation Bouwend Nederland. However, when the issue was debated in the senate, he followed the CDA line and voted against.

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