17 big firms dominate when it comes to meetings with ministers

Who will occupy hte prime minister's 'torentje' office? Photo: DutchNews.nl
Photo: DutchNews.nl

Some 17 big firms have ‘disproportionate access’ to members of the Dutch cabinet, accounting for a third of all appointments with ministers, an investigation into lobbying in the Netherlands by the NGO Open State Foundation has shown.

Almost half of the ministerial meetings in the period between November 2017 to November last year involved businesses or business lobby groups, the researchers found. In total 17 big firms, including Ahold, Air France-KLM, Facebook and KPN, took up almost 30% of the ministerial agenda space.

Ministers are supposed to register meetings in the public ministerial online diary but an earlier investigation by Greco, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body, showed that contacts by phone were not covered.

Former finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who was interviewed for the Open State investigation, said he believes all contacts should be reported to increase transparency and suggested that, based on his experience, access to government members was probably greater still.

Not all physical meetings are being reported either, the paper said. The ministry for agriculture LNV only shows 10 meetings, almost on a par with the defence and education ministries. ‘That cannot be right because the LNV is being overrun by lobbyists from agricultural organisations, the food industries and the green lobby,’ Dijsselbloem is quoted as saying.

Dijsselbloem also criticised the so-called ‘revolving door constructions’ whereby former cabinet members take up lobbying activities. The best known example of this is finance minister Gerrit Zalm who left politics in 2007 to work for DSB bank and ABN Amro. ‘In those cases you don’t need an organisation to do your lobbying for you, all you need is an ex-minister,’ Dijsselbloem said.

With this amount of influence, it was not surprising the much criticised plan to abolish dividend tax made its way back on the political agenda, the NRC suggests.

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