Rutte does U-turn and pledges to release documents on dividend tax

Prime minister Mark Rutte has promised to publish all memos relating to the government's controversial plan to scrap dividend tax. Rutte had previously said the documents would not be made public because it would breach the confidentiality of coalition talks and make it harder to form governments in future. The proposal to abolish dividend tax for foreign investors was included in the new government's coalition agreement in November even though none of the four parties in the cabinet had mentioned it in their election manifestos. It is expected to cost the state €1.4 billion a year once it is implemented in 2020. For months ministers insisted the negotiators had received no memos on the subject from third parties. But when two academics filed a freedom of information request to see the documents, the finance ministry replied that releasing them would 'breach the confidentiality of the negotiations' - thus confirming their existence. Rutte insisted at his press conference on Friday that he had no memory of seeing any such document. But on Monday morning he told reporters: 'Having considered the matter we have decided it would be good to make a exception on this occasion on the confidentiality of the documents. 'But as a one-off measure, because we believe that if we did this on other issues it would make it impossible to form governments in the Netherlands.' Personal memos Rutte said two personal memorandums sent to economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, which came to light in the Telegraaf newspaper on Monday, would also be made public, as well as any relevant documents sent to other departments. Labour party leader Lodewijk Asscher accused Rutte of lying about the existence of the documents and demanded a full explanation from ministers of the conflicting reports. 'I don't have another explanation for memos that first didn't exist, then there was no an active memory of them, then they were on the side table and then maybe were or were not on the finance negotiators' desk. Different ministers with different versions of the truth: it's a mess,' he told NOS. Shell and Unilever Opposition parties have claimed that scrapping dividend tax is an economically unproductive measure and that the government bowed to threats from multinational companies such as Shell and Unilever to move their headquarters out of the Netherlands. In March Unilever announced it was closing its joint headquarters in London and basing its operations solely in Rotterdam. Rutte said the decision was 'very good news' but denied that it made scrapping dividend tax unnecessary. 'We want to bring as many head offices as possible to the Netherlands,' he said.  More >

Milieudefense joins gas-fired homes debate

Environmental campaign group Milieudefensie has become the third organisation to publish its plans for reducing the Netherlands' reliance on gas by 2030. The lobby group says that without concerted action, just 20% of homes in the Netherlands will be gas free by 2030. However, that can be boosted to 80% if the government implements a broad strategy and tackles the cost, the organisation says. The government's target is to ensure one in four Dutch homes no longer relies on gas by 2030 and that all homes should be gas free by 2050. Milieudefensie's proposals include introducing lower property taxes for housing which is properly insulated and gas-free, and bringing in local authority grants to help people on low incomes prepare their homes to turn off the gas taps. Work should also begin now on developing a network of underground pipes to deliver excess heat produced by industry and geothermal heat to private homes. To pay for the changes, everyone should have to pay a carbon-dioxide tax, Milieudefensie says. Money raised by the tax should be put into a special fund to help pay for the transition. 'Housing corporations, banks, domestic appliance sellers, grid operators - everyone should work together,' campaign leader Jorien de Lege said. 'The Netherlands has to overcome its gas addiction.' Lobby groups Milieudefensie is now the third lobby group in the Netherlands to publish its plans to cut gas usage as the Groningen gas fields are wound down. Earlier this month, the construction sector lobby group said no more new homes should be connected to the gas network from next year. At the moment builders can still opt for gas which the association says is tempting because homes relying on heat pumps for energy are significantly more expensive to build. NVB Bouw advocates a ban on gas and a transition scheme for builders who already have projects in the pipeline. Expense And in March, a consortium of lobby groups, including plumbers, manufacturers, green groups and several energy firms proposed stopping the sale of traditional gas fired central heating by 2021. Instead, home owners should be required to install heat pumps or hybrid systems when old central heating boilers need replacing, the organisations say. That plan has been heavily criticised because of the cost of installing heat pumps, which are not suitable for older houses and take up a large amount of room. Traditional boilers cost around €2,000 but electricity-powered heat pumps will set home owners back some €9,000. Hybrid boilers, with a small gas system for very cold days, cost around €6,000.  More >

FvD says it will end Leefbaar alliance

The right-wing populist party Forum voor Democratie has said it will break its alliance with the Rotterdam populists of Leefbaar if it helps remove obstacles to the formation of a new coalition to run the port city. The actual terms of the alliance between Leefbaar and FvD have always been rather vague - apart from some joint campaigning in the run up to the local elections -  but the FVD says it will end the relationship the moment a new city administration is installed. Leefbaar emerged as the biggest party after the local elections in March but three of the other biggest parties – D66, GroenLinks and the PvdA – have all refused to work together with the party because of its alliance with FvD. All three made the decision not to work with Leefbaar after FvD leader Thierry Baudet refused to condemn comments made by one of its candidates about race and IQ. The VVD, by contrast, insists that Leefbaar, as the big winner, is part of a broad city administration. Talks on forming a new coalition have now hit an impasse, with neither position able to produce majority support on the 45-seat council. Rotterdam is currently run by a combination of Leefbaar, D66 and the Christian Democrats. Leefbaar has not yet commented on the FvD suggestion.  More >

Cost of shutting off Groningen gas mounts

Economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes is embroiled in a dispute with Shell and ExxonMobil about the bill for closing the gas taps in Groningen, broadcaster NOS said on Friday. The dispute revolves around a potential billion euro claim facing the Dutch state from the oil giants, NOS says. It bases its claim on documents obtained using freedom of information legislation. If the plans goes ahead to close off the Groningen fields by 2030, some €50bn to €125bn worth of gas will remain underground. And documents from 2016 show the oil companies will make a claim against the Dutch state for lost income, the broadcaster said. In addition, says NOS, the two sides are in dispute about the cost of shoring up houses hit by subsidence because of the gas extraction. Estimates of that bill range from €1bn to €30bn and the cost is supposed to be shared by the state and the oil companies. The finance ministry is also grappling with the effect of closing off the gas tap and finance ministry Wopke Hoekstra has said that ministries will have to hand over any windfalls to compensate for the cuts in gas income. The Dutch state is also a shareholder in gas wholesale group GasTerra and will have to find €3bn to allow it to meet its contractual obligations, NOS said. In addition, industry and private households face a major bill for converting equipment and heating systems to deal with gas from other sources.  More >