Due diligence legislation: unclear legislative process leads to confusion

Despite various calls and efforts in recent years from, among others, international organisations, civil society and politicians, to develop due diligence legislation, the subject has only recently become a hot topic. The media is full of opinions and contributions from both supporters and opponents. What is striking here is that there seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about such legislation. This does not always help the dialogue on the importance and development of due diligence legislation. While where it is crucial that companies, politicians, scientists and civil society work together to find a clear solution that is in everyone’s interest.

Confusion is fuelled by the fact that in the Netherlands there are currently three parallel legislative processes for due diligence, each with a different interpretation: an initiative bill by MPs, a cabinet bill and EU legislation. This blog seeks to shed light on what these processes entail.

 

Due diligence legislation in a nutshell

The essence of such legislation is that companies exercise due diligence and take measures to identify, prevent and address potential human rights and environmental risks in their international operations and supply chains. Several international guidelines exist for this purpose, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2011, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) introduced guidelines for international companies to be transparent about their value chain. These guidelines provide guidance on how to deal with issues such as chain responsibility, transparency and reporting, corruption, human rights, child labour, exploitation, animal welfare and the environment. These guidelines have become the international standards framework for corporate responsibility. The Netherlands and 37 other countries are members of the OECD and thus subscribe to these guidelines.

 

Quibbles: law or no law?

There have been many discussions in the House of Representatives between proponents and opponents about the need for due diligence legislation, its scope and implications. In the Netherlands, for instance, initiatives and sectoral cooperation in the form of covenants have existed for some time. In recent years, therefore, the legal enshrinement has been the main point of debate, especially its content.

What is particularly striking in this debate is that it is dominated by the question of whether it is wise to proactively develop national legislation or, on the contrary, to fully commit to the development of EU legislation. Partly due to a protracted debate on this, MPs were already developing an initiative bill for national legislation in early 2021. This is also central to the revived debate between proponents and critics, where more and more parties are voicing their opinions.

Supporters of due diligence legislation want legislation in line with the OECD Guidelines and argue that companies have a responsibility to ensure that their actions do not contribute to violations of human and environmental rights, and that due diligence is an important tool to hold companies accountable for their actions. They also argue that due diligence legislation is important to create a level playing field for business and to stop frontrunners from being disadvantaged. EU legislation is preferable but takes too long, they say. Therefore, until such legislation is in place, national legislation offers a solution.

 

Critics argue that legislation could negatively affect the position and competitiveness of business on the international playing field where legislation would not apply to foreign parties, therefore due diligence legislation should at least be regulated at EU level. There are also fears of a patchwork of different legislation, unclearly worded regulations resulting in all possible legal consequences and fears of a paper reality that diverts resources from important business activities and actual impact.

 

The Achilles heel of the EU

The Dutch cabinet is in favour of due diligence legislation at EU level and in recent years, under the leadership of the ministry of Foreign Affairs and under the supervision of then ministers for foreign trade and development cooperation (BHOS) Sigrid Kaag, Tom de Bruijn and current minister Liesje Schreinemacher, has pushed for swift development of this. After yet another delay in the publication of a EU directive, patience with Brussels ran out and it was decided – due to considerable pressure from the House of Representatives – to develop national legislation in parallel with EU legislation. This to be prepared for rapid implementation and to simulate the development of EU legislation by setting the right example. In doing so, the cabinet aims for such legislation to be effective, clear and enforceable. Accordingly, the Rutte IV coalition agreement stipulated that the Netherlands is committed to EU due diligence legislation and will introduce national legislation that takes into account a level playing field with neighbouring countries and implementation of these EU regulations.

Finally, in February 2022, the European Commission published a proposal for the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), which mandates the application of due diligence for large companies operating in the EU market. Last December 2022, the Council adopted a watered-down version, which, among other things, no longer holds civic liability and limited the scope of the proposal. Interestingly, the Netherlands voted against this compromise because it fell short of the Dutch commitment. Nevertheless, the cabinet remains committed to EU legislation. Currently, the European Parliament is considering the proposal and trialogues (negotiations between the Commission, Parliament and EU member states) are likely to start in May 2023, where another fierce discussion is expected. The Commission’s ambition is to reach an agreement before the 2024 elections, this because after that the European Parliament might have a very different composition with different thoughts on due diligence legislation.

 

An initiative from the Dutch House of Representatives

Despite the fact that the Dutch cabinet is working on its own bill, these preparations were temporarily halted in November 2022 when MPs Stieneke van der Graaf (Christen Unie – Christian Union), Jasper van Dijk (SP – Socialist Party), Joris Thijssen (PvdA – Labour Party), Tom van der Lee (GroenLinks – Green Party), Marieke Koekkoek (Volt Netherlands) and Alexander Hammelburg (D66 – Liberal Democrats) tabled an initiative proposal. According to the initiators, the development of both national and EU legislation is taking too long. The initiative bill has been worked on for a long time by the political groups and is partly based on advice from the Council of State (RvS) and the Commission’s proposal. The question is whether there will be a majority for the initiative in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. For instance, the House of Representative was divided during the parliamentary roundtable discussion (18/1) organised recently, which was preceded by a considerable media storm in which supporters and opponents stirred. Minister Schreinemacher is currently in talks with the initiators to explore options for possible synergy and a widely supported cabinet proposal. More information on this is expected by summer.

 

Cabinet plays crucial role in decision-making and constructive dialogue

The discussion that has recently flared up in the Netherlands revolves mainly around the MPs initiative bill. This while, at the same time, discussions on EU legislation are currently still ongoing and the cabinet is expected to publish its own bill this summer. Each of these bills has its own unique characteristics and challenges, and it is therefore important to understand it in the right context. The debate around due diligence legislation therefore underscores the importance of and need for clear and unambiguous legislation.

Although on the late side, it is positive that more politicians, companies and other organisations seem to have woken up and are feeding the discussion. Therefore, in the coming period, interest representation can play an important role in creating support and mutual understanding. The cabinet, and minister Schreinemacher in particular, has a crucial role to play in connecting politicians, business, academics and civil society to not only reach agreement on which direction due diligence legislation is going, but also to ensure constructive dialogue. A good starting point for this was the international conference on due diligence organised by minister Schreinemacher (23/1), which brought together, among others, European Commissioner Didier Reynders (responsible for the due diligence dossier), MEP Lara Wolters (rapporteur for the dossier), representatives of neighbouring countries and the business community to exchange views.

Although there is much debate about the potential impact of such legislation, it is clear that there is a growing need for corporate responsibility and transparency to ensure a fair and sustainable future for all of us. Whether through a MPs initiative, the Dutch cabinet or Brussels, legislation will follow.

 

Public Matters informs and advises companies and organisations on, among other things, due diligence legislation and similar (international) legislation for business activities. Check our website for more information or contact us to see how we can support you.

Engage the business community for a truly successful Mental Prevention Agreement

More and more people are struggling with mental stress or illness. The COVID crisis has only intensified this. The numbers don’t lie: 1.8 million Dutch people face depression, anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drugs every year. Some 840,000 young people experience mental challenges and/or complaints and 1.3 million workers experienced burnout or burnout symptoms in 2019. State secretary Van Ooijen (Prevention) shared these alarming figures last summer in his parliamentary letter on the approach ‘Mental health: a collective good’. The letter also revealed that adults with mental problems are more likely to have physical complaints, are less able to take care of their children and have fewer (good) social contacts. Among other things, loneliness leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and death. Previous research also shows that with stable mental health, life expectancy is 15 to 20 years longer than people with poor mental health.

The Ministry of Health Welfare and Sports is now working with civil society partners to develop the National Mental Prevention Agreement. Our call: draw lessons from the previously concluded National Prevention Agreement to combat substance abuse and directly involve the business community as well as several civil society organizations in its implementation. After all, committed people who care about mental health work here too. Indeed, these organizations are crucial to making the National Mental Prevention Agreement a success. By identifying worrisome behavior in time and sharing observations with healthcare institutions, a lot of problems can be prevented.

How it all started

In early 2021, the House of Representatives passed a motion by MPs Carla Dik-Faber (Christen Unie / Christian Union) and Antje Diertens (D66 / Liberal Democrats) requesting the cabinet to explore the possibilities of a National Mental Health Prevention Agreement. This is how it all started. The motion was prompted by the observation that 840,000 young adults in the Netherlands have a mental illness. At the time, then state secretary Blokhuis (Prevention) was already working on the National Prevention Agreement to reduce smoking, obesity and problematic alcohol use.

In the summer of 2021, young people with mental vulnerability sounded the alarm in The Hague. A long list of organisations that are involved in mental health

Team Geestkracht, together with MIND, Young in Prison, Stichting SAMAH, Labyrint-In Perspectief, Stichting Zwerfjongeren Nederland, Nationale Jeugdraad, Stichting ExpEx, @ease and JongPIT) presented a petition to the House of Representatives. In doing so, the young people called on MPs and the future cabinet (caretaker government) to start working on a National Prevention Agreement on Mental Health.

In a response to the petition, state secretary Blokhuis stated that he endorsed the importance of mental health and will present an exploration in the fall.

Various parties, such as healthcare, education, patient and scientific organizations, entered discussions and two meetings were organized to explore with these organizations the possibilities and preconditions of a National Mental Health Prevention Agreement. The House of Representatives was informed of that exploration in mid-October 2021.

Saving healthcare costs

Investing in prevention of mental health problems would save a lot of healthcare costs. The coalition agreement, concluded by the Fourth Rutte cabinet led by prime minister Mark Rutte at the end of 2021, therefore included the ambition to broaden the existing National Prevention Agreement to include mental health. The ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport commissioned the an independent research centre in the field of mental health and addiction (Trimbos-institute), the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and the the Association of GGD’s (Regional Public Health Services) and GHOR-(Regional Medical Emergency Preparedness and Planning) (GGD GHOR) to investigate the savings in healthcare costs. That study, published in late April, showed that the savings in healthcare costs could be substantial. If the mental health of 1 million adult Dutch people improves by five per cent, it could save 144 million euros.

Broad-based agreement

On June 10th, state secretary Van Ooijen (Prevention), minister Helder (Long-term healthcare and Sports), minister Dijkgraaf (Education, Culture and Science), minister Wiersma (Primary and Secondary Education), state secretary Uslu (Culture and Media), minister Van Gennip (Social Affairs and Employment) and minister Schouten (Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions) sent their approach ‘Mental health: a collective good’ to the House of Representatives. The aim of the cabinet is to make mental health negotiable and provide tools to promote people’s mental health and prevent or timely identify complaints.

According to the ministers, the approach is not yet completely set in stone. There is room for new ideas and initiatives emerging from civil society and the target groups. In their approach, the concluded that they will remain in close consultation and cooperation with the target groups and other parties involved in the coming period to see what is additionally needed. That it will be a widely supported agreement is shown not only by the cooperation of the various ministries. Indeed, there is cooperation with various parties, from municipalities to experts and from various knowledge institutes to employer and employee organizations. The House of Representatives will soon receive a letter about the progress, and will be informed annually thereafter.

A successful Mental Prevention Agreement

Paying enough attention to mental health helps reduce risks of both physical and mental health problems. A widely supported agreement is crucial for a successful Mental Prevention Agreement. Sufficient involvement of various health, youth, and civil society organizations, as well as various companies, is therefore essential to get mental health higher on the political agenda. In a parliamentary letter from October 2022, the minister indicates that discussions have been held with various healthcare, education, patient and scientific organizations, but the business community is missing. This while businesses (think of employers, broadcasters, gambling operators, etc.) can play a role in moving from treating symptoms to addressing underlying causes.

In any case, for many of the actions, it takes time before they show a possible effect. So let us draw lessons from the earlier National Prevention Agreement: the 2020 targets in which legislation was announced have all been met. In contrast, targets that had to be achieved in larger partnerships, or where many components depend on each other, were more often not (yet) achieved. After all, it takes time to set up such partnerships and make them work, while mental health collaboration can raise awareness and impact.

How can effective stakeholder management contribute to achieving a successful Mental Prevention Agreement? For organizations with an interest in this agreement, three rules applied in recent months:

  1. Being there early is useful. Many civil society organizations were involved in drafting the Mental Prevention Agreement from the moment it was mooted in the House of Representatives. This ensures an emphatic stamp on the final agreement.
  2. Informing the House of Representatives with experts by experience is effective. In this case, the House of Representatives was the driver of a Mental Prevention Agreement. By talking to MPs about the experiences of young people, among others, organizations ensured that the interests of young people were placed higher on the political agenda. Organizations such as MIND, Young in Prison, Stichting SAMAH, Labyrint-In Perspectief, Stichting Zwerfjongeren Nederland, National Youth Council, Stichting ExpEx, @ease and JongPIT thus influenced the political debates.
  3. Moreover: working together in a broader coalition pays off. There are countless organizations that want to influence policy, and neither MPs nor officials have time to engage with all kinds of individual organizations. The fact that a coalition engages in the conversation increases the chances of ideas being adopted.

For practically every company, the Mental Prevention Agreement is important. Consider, for instance, ensuring a safe working environment. Make sure you are involved in its implementation. Speak out if you have ideas or suggestions to improve the agreement. Now is the time!

Sweden as EU president: taking over the crisis baton

The past French and Czech presidencies were marked by crisis after crisis, something that will not change for the Swedes. The invasion of Ukraine has been the overarching theme in the European Union, combined with the ensuing refugee influx from and direct aid to Ukraine. This crisis has had major impacts on European energy supplies. On the one hand, there is concern about massively increased gas and electricity prices; on the other, as a result the transition to green energy sources has gained momentum. In this blog, colleagues Valérie Mendes de León and Rosan Speek look ahead to Sweden’s EU presidency next semester and what priorities Sweden will be working on.

Brussels has not been the only one to see major changes in recent months, Sweden itself has had a political landslide. Whereas Scandinavian countries are known as progressive and left-wing, Sweden has had a (centre-)right minority government with tacit support from the radical right since October. The cabinet has not been so right-wing since the 1980s, with the notable exception of 1991-1994 and 2006-2014. During the presentation of their work programme, the Swedes received criticism that their right-wing government would water down ambitious EU plans, especially concerning sustainability. To this, brand-new Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson responded diplomatically: “The aim of the government is to ensure that the EU can agree, so that we can get things done, that is the job of the presidency”.

Priorities and expectations

During the presentation of Sweden’s work programme, a number of topics were identified as priorities. At the forefront are still the crises which the EU has faced in the last year: the Ukraine crisis, the highest inflation since World War II, the energy crisis and the climate crisis. The Swedes will take over from the Czechs as “crisis president”, with energy supplies remaining top priority in the upcoming cold winter months. In addition, Prime Minister Kristersson mentioned the following topics to guide their programme: security, resilience, prosperity, rule of law and democratic values. Their work programme then elaborates on the priorities, three of which we will highlight below: energy, trade and digital.

Energy

Energy as a broad topic is one of the four top priorities of the Swedish presidency. This is not only about supply, but also about the (green) transition. Over the past six months, several measures and transitions have already (necessarily) found their way through the Czech presidency. For instance, at the very end of their presidency, the Czech Republic managed to strike a deal on the reform of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the creation of a Social Climate Fund (SCF). A deal was also reached in the EU Energy Council on a temporary gas price cap, with far-reaching European cooperation between member states. This prompts curiosity about how Sweden will follow this up, especially with winter approaching.

For Sweden, besides the gas price cap and sufficient energy supply, the “Fit-for-55” package will be central. In its implementation, it is important that the EU can achieve its climate neutrality target by 2050. The presidency will continue to push forward the trilogue negotiations on the Renewable Energy Directive and Energy Efficiency Directive proposals. The Swedish presidency’s programme states that the implementation of the “Fit-for-55” package requires a regulatory framework, which they will work on. It is important that the EU continues to have high ambitions, but also takes into account that member states are in different positions to help achieve its 2030 energy targets.

Trade

On the trade front, the Swedes are experiencing tension both internally and externally. The European Union is necessarily focusing its full attention on the current supply problems caused by the war in Ukraine. In recent months, supplies of essential raw materials and essential food items such as oil and grain declined sharply. The Swedes see it as their task to nevertheless increase the economic resilience of the single European market.

Sweden is characterized by their liberal trade agenda, something that is being challenged by protectionist US investments and increasing power of the Chinese market. The European Union will have to invest in European industry in these already expensive times to keep Europe competitive with the United States. President Biden recently introduced the Inflation Reduction Act with $369 billion in state subsidies and tax breaks for US industry. As a counter, Europe is discussing safeguards for its own industries to protect them from this outside pressure. There is also a new impetus to continue investing in European industry and manufacturing due to the current supply issues.

Digital

Unlike their predecessor’s prioritization, digital policy is fairly low on the Swedes’ working agenda. This may be because many big digital policies have been already developed in the past year, think of the DMA, DSA, Data Act and AI Act. The topics that do get mentioned are quite vaguely outlined and are mainly shaped by the war in Ukraine (such as cybersecurity and the regulation of political advertisements). Nonetheless, there are indeed big topics on the agenda over the next six months: trilogues are expected on eGovernance, the Data Act and the AI Act, but progress is also planned on telecoms and ePrivacy. One of the more complex files in the coming six months is the ‘Regulation for the prevention and protection of online child sexual abuse material’. Member states take divergent positions on this, with the Swedish presidency acting as an ‘honest broker’.

Conclusion

Ahead of the handover from Prague to Stockholm, experts have raised concerns about the Swedish government’s right-wing domestic political influence on the work of the next EU presidency. Given the trend of radical right-wing parties in governments across Europe, this presidency will serve as an example of how this could play out. The challenging dossiers on the above priorities are just a fraction of all the issues that will be under review over the next six months. Curious about what this presidency means for your organization? Let’s get in touch.

PM Academy programme

At Public Matters, we consider growth and development of our employees important, which is why we invest in personal coaching, development and internal knowledge sharing. We do this with PM Academy, a learning and development programme for employees. At the PM Academy, we offer training courses – given by colleagues and external experts. In addition, the personal coaching of colleagues focuses on other areas in which they want to develop.

 

What is it?

Consultants at Public Matters work on large societal challenges. PM Academy sees to it that internal knowledge sharing is consciously facilitated, especially in a team in which more digital collaboration takes place after the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Public Matters wants to make skills and knowledge from different sectors available to colleagues from outside the office. We do this by inviting colleagues and inspiring speakers to talk about their work or passion. This could, for example, be a journalist or (former) MP who talks about contact with politicians and lobbyists.

Working at Public Matters is the way for young PA talent to further develop through learning on the job. In a team of driven, creative and result-oriented consultants, we work in the heart of political The Hague and Brussels. But we also believe it is important to accelerate the development of knowledge and skills alongside your daily work. Young talents at Public Matters get the chance to develop in many different ways.

PM Academy is thus a way of increasing team knowledge & development in a structured way. Learning together = enjoying work together.

 

How does it work?

Twice a month we organise a session. The programme tries to take into account the different functions and experiences of colleagues as much as possible. For instance, a fixed selection of different training courses is part of the onboarding process. In addition, the programme focuses on developing i) skills (e.g. PowerPoint), ii) sector content knowledge (e.g. energy or healthcare), and iii) professional Public Affairs knowledge.

Night of the Lobbyist: time for a new lobbying culture?

The second Night of the Lobbyist took place on 10 November 2022: the evening where lobbyists, academics, students and policymakers exchanged views on the lobbying profession. The evening was opened by Joris Luyendijk, where he reflected on lobby culture from his book ‘The Man with the Seven Ticks’ (De Zeven Vinkjes). After the opening, two series of partial sessions took place, in which colleague Valérie Mendes de León also spoke.

 

In the sub-session ‘Time for a new lobbying culture’, Valérie spoke with Professor of Public Affairs Caelestra Braun (Leiden University), NJR president Kimberley Snijders and Joram Schollaardt, Public Affairs at the Netherlands Society for the Protection of Birds. The session opened with the question ‘What makes you a new lobbyist?’ After considering what old and new lobby would mean, the panel came to the answer that a combination of multiple perspectives characterises the new generation of lobbyists. For colleague Valérie, this means bringing her experiences as a public affairs working group member at the Young Climate Movement (Jonge Klimaatbeweging) into her work at Public Matters – and vice versa. The multiplicity of perspectives and voices provided refreshing insights.

 

The panel then engaged the audience in a discussion about what this new lobbying culture means then: is there really a new lobbying culture? Haven’t resources just changed? Or do changes in the political landscape mean that lobbyists are now needed more than usual? These questions and more passed in review. In the end, Caelesta proposed the seven ticks of the new lobbying culture: more transparency, collaboration, pro bono lobbying, citizen lobbying, intolerance of lobbying against the public welfare, long-term vision and guts.

 

With many new ideas and conversation material, the group left the room, on to the next Night of the Lobbyist.

Public Matters wins FD Gazellen entrepreneur award!

Public Matters has been elected as a FD Gazelle! Awarded for the 19th time by the Financieel Dagblad, the FD Gazellen Awards are one of the most prestigious awards for the fastest growing companies in the Netherlands. To win this award companies must meet certain selected criteria, in recognition of their rapid, successful growth.

Public Matters’ growth is mainly due to our fantastic Team. From our offices in The Hague and Brussels, our 32 expert and results-driven colleagues work hard to make a difference for our clients, providing public affairs and strategic communications support.

Our growth is due to other factors as well. More then ever, organizations seem aware of the importance of communicating effectively with governments and other stakeholders – which became even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, governments often play a leading role in developments such as the eenergy transition and digitalization – making advocacy towards governments a priority for many organizations. As this requires specific expertise, Public Matters is often asked to provide support.

‘This is of course a fantastic token of appreciation. It’s our ambition to continue our growth by raising the bar even higher. The further development of our Team and our international focus play a key role in this,’ says Bas Batelaan (Managing Partner).

Public Matters welcomes two new colleagues

In early October, Public Matters welcomed two new colleagues: Dauphine Sulzer joins as Account Executive and Jacob Cloo as Consultant.

 

About Dauphine

Dauphine obtained her master’s degree in European Policy at the University of Amsterdam and wrote her thesis on lobbying around European climate policy. For the past two years, Dauphine gained experience in the Public Affairs profession as a research intern and junior consultant. At Public Matters, Dauphine will focus mainly on healthcare and tech.

 

About Jacob

In recent years, Jacob worked both in Brussels and The Hague in Public Affairs and strategic communications for pharmaceutical and MedTech organisations. Before that, Jacob obtained his master’s degree in European Union Studies from Leiden University. At Public Matters, Jacob will focus on sustainability and healthcare.

 

Welcome Dauphine and Jacob, we wish you the best of luck!

The Integrated Healthcare Agreement – where do we go from here?

After almost 6 months of negotiations, which ultimately came down to the last few days, an agreement on the Integrated Healthcare Agreement (IZA) was reached on 16 September 2022. It is the first time that the cabinet has concluded a (general) agreement with (almost) all parties involved with curative care. No fewer than thirteen of the fourteen parties ultimately signed, except for the general practitioners (LHV). Although their support is decisive for the success of the agreement, this decision does not mean that the impact of the agreement is limited.

 

Appropriate care

The Integrated Healthcare Agreement is set to run for four years. During this period it will gradually work toward appropriate use of care, with the goal of organizing care closer to (where possible) and with more time for the patient. Healthcare parties are committed to more regional cooperation, strengthening primary care, focusing on prevention and better working conditions for healthcare professionals. All this is driven by the idea of better managing and absorbing the increasing demand for care.

 

Bittersweet ending

Although these concerns about the future of healthcare are being voiced sector-wide, parties also want to be able to trust each other on the perspective offered. For the time being, concrete (financial) guarantees seem to be lacking in many areas. The outcome was thus bittersweet: the agreement was reached, but without the general practitioners. A “pity,” according to Health Ministers Helder and Kuipers, given their crucial role in the implementation of the agreement.

 

The agreement threatens to become part of a previously observed trend, which is that the healthcare debate tends to focus on general themes rather than pay close attention to the details. This threatens to overlook the “how” question. Only with concrete commitments can the agreement actually be enforced. However, partly in view of the consensus reached on the content, it would be a shame not to take the agreement seriously. There is undoubtedly still much to be done in terms of implementation, and with the momentum generated in the final phase of the negotiations there are plenty of opportunities to continue working on this in the coming period. Stakeholders, in that regard, have actually benefited from the resulting friction for three reasons:

 

1. Opportunities for signatories?

Thirteen out of fourteen parties who have managed to unite their individual interests and express confidence in an integrated approach. That in itself is quite an achievement, since previous agreements were concluded by individual sectors. Broad support for the content is ultimately the first step towards continuing the conversation about implementation. And this is happening: The parties have agreed to continue speaking every three months. The importance of these follow-up talks is emphasized by the lack of the LHV’s signature. It holds up a mirror to health insurers and the cabinet: now it’s time to come up with concrete guarantees. And with expected effect, after all: it is clearly in everyone’s interest not to let the agreement turn into a failure. Because what does that say about the future of healthcare?

 

2. Opportunities in the House of Representatives?

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives can also make its voice heard, and it has several opportunities to do so in the coming period. For example, next Thursday, September 29, the Commission will discuss the long-awaited cabinet response to the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) report “Choosing Sustainable Care. People Resources and Social Support”, followed by another separate Commission debate on the Integrated Healthcare Agreement on October 12. A week later, the House will debate on the recently presented healthcare budget for 2023. MPs will have the opportunity to sharpen the financial picture and discuss how for example the 300 million euros for stimulating cooperation within curative care, as was announced on Budget Day, will be spent.

 

3. Opportunities for advocates?

At the same time, the attention to the Integrated Healthcare Agreement, be it positive or negative, offers parties who were not directly involved in the negotiations a relevant cause to make their objections known and to clarify how certain developments may be at odds with the agreements made. Take for example the recent closures of emergency rooms or groups of patients who may be left out in the cold due to changes in the basic package. This way, they keep the signatories on their toes where promises to patients and care providers and the needs of practice may clash. And only then the transformation to appropriate care will truly be characterized by an integrated approach.

 

Conclusion

Time will have to tell whether the cooperation on paper will be able to take shape in practice. This not only requires a discussion about financially securing the agreements made, but ultimately also about how an integrated approach fits within the current healthcare system. The past has shown that cooperation across healthcare domains is not always easy. The agreement is a step in the right direction to enable parties to realize this cooperation. All the more important to get serious about its further implementation.

UPDATE DUTCH POLITICS: Government in crisis mode on Budget Day

On Budget Day (known as ‘Prinsjesdag’), the third Tuesday of September, the Dutch government announces its plans and ambitions for the coming year. Traditionally, the King is first to present the plans in his annual King’s Speech (‘Troonrede’).

This year’s budget discussions in the run-up to Budget Day were unconventional. As the budget plan is usually finalized well before its presentation, the cabinet now continued negotiations until Budget Day – mostly focusing on measures to mitigate the sky-high energy prices. Due to the complexity of the relations between the 4 different parties in the governing coalition these negotations took longer than wanted.

After yesterday’s presentation of the government budget for 2023 by the Minister of Finance (Ms. Sigrid Kaag), a cycle of parliamentary debates, lasting until the beginning of December will follow. The budgets of all ministries must be approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate by 1 January 2023.

A key element of this year’s King’s Speech was the current distrust (towards politics) and feelings of uncertainty in Dutch society. Referring to how the Netherlands tackled historic crises, such as the reconstruction of the Netherlands after World War II, the King advocated for gradually regaining trust and hope – through collaboration. In this light, the King emphasized the important role of governmental organisations, such as the tax authority.

Highlights of the King’s Speech & Government budget 2023:

  • The economic outlook for 2023 is uncertain, mostly due to rising energy and commodity prices. However, the economy is expected to grow by 4.6% in 2022, and by 1.5% in 2023.
  • The government is counting on €366.4 billion in revenues and €395 billion in expenditures, yielding a budget deficit of €28.6 billion.
  • National debt will decrease from 49.8% of GDP to 49.5% percent of GDP, amounting to €500 billion.
  • Inflation is at a historic high (13.6% – August 2022 compared to August 2021).
  • Unemployment is at a historic low (3.8%) – which is related to the relatively low average number of working hours (32.1 hours/week) – which is the lowest in the EU.
  • To protect purchasing power, an exceptionally large package of €17.2 billion (of which €5 billion is structural) is presented. Part of this package are measures that specifically support vulnerable groups and middle-income earners.
  • To shield consumers from surging energy prices, a temporary price cap on gas and electricity – from 1 January 2023 onwards – will be introduced. In addition, for the extension of the reduction of the excise duty on fuel an amount of €1.2 billion is reserved.
  • The revenue of gas companies in the Netherlands – which is related to the high energy prices – will be heavily taxed, raising €2.8 billion in 2023 and 2024.
  • The CO2-tax for industry will be changed – by amending the reduction factor.
  • The lower corporate income tax rates will be increased and the threshold will be narrowed.
  • The 30%-ruling (wage tax) for expats will be limited. The cabinet proposes to impose a maximum to the ruling as of 2024 (the so-called Balkenende-norm or the Wet normering topinkomens (WNT)-norm, which is EUR 216.000 in 2022, but is expected to increase in 2024).
  • The cabinet has reserved additional budgets for education and equal opportunities (€2.8 billion), housing and infrastructure (€7.5 billion), the future of rural areas (€24 billion) and climate change (€35 billion) in the coming years.
  • Following the coalition agreement €3 billion is invested in defense (of which €1.9 billion in 2023). In addition, the government added €2 billion in the context of the war in Ukraine – which means that the Netherlands will meet the NATO standard of 2% in 2024 – 2025.

The full King’s speech (in English) can be viewed through this link.

What to expect from the European Commission this year? Takeaways of the SOTEU 2022

On Wednesday, Ursula Von der Leyen delivered the annual State of the Union Adress in the European Parliament. In her hour-long speech, she outlined an elaborate range of projects and initiatives that will be the focus of the European Commission for the coming year. The speech was gripped by the influence of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, highlighted even more by the Commissioners’ clothes – all dressed in yellow and blue.

Strong Words

Most apparent of this year’s State of the Union were the strong and definitive statements of the President of the European Commission. Some analysts described the speech as a ‘real war time speech’, symbolized by the presence of Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska whose name was addressed several times in the European Parliament. Not only did Von der Leyen explicitly show solidarity with Ukraine and other neighboring countries, she also directly referenced the closing of the research center of the VU Amsterdam in the context of the atrocities against the Uyghur population in China.

Energy

Von der Leyen did not mince her words about Putin having started the EU energy crisis, even before the invasion in Ukraine with Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas supplier, reducing gas supply to the EU. She was proud about the EU already succeeding in reducing its dependency on Russian gas and will continue to do so. As expected, she called for not just temporary solutions to the energy crisis but a permanent paradigm shift.

Short-term

In the short-term the EU will focus on keeping energy affordable for the many households and businesses that rely on it. In this context, Von der Leyen introduced a price cap on the revenue of companies that generate electricity with low costs and asked fossil fuel business for a solidarity contribution, which would be distributed across society. Also, households and businesses have been addressed to reduce electricity consumption by 10% during peak hours. The implementation timeline of these measures remains unclear and is hard determine considering the different structures of the electricity market in EU countries.

Long-term

In the long-term the EU will focus on renewable energy production as stipulated in the Green Deal. In this light, Von der Leyen introduced a Task Force to investigate how we can have reasonably lower prices for gas. Referring to the Commission’s REPowerEU proposal that aims to produce both 10 million tons of domestic renewable hydrogen production and 10 million tons of H2 imports by 2030, Von der Leyen raised specific attention to hydrogen and introduced the European Hydrogen Bank. This Bank will use money from the Innovation Fund to contribute 3 billion euros to construct a hydrogen economy. A sign that the European Commission is committed to develop an EU hydrogen market, possibly alongside investments done via the IPCEI instrument.

Securing critical resources

With the current energy crisis, comes investment. Von der Leyen highlighted the importance of Next Generation EU called for investments both in sustainability and to invest sustainably and. Also, the question of access to raw materials was elaborately discussed. The President went as far as to say that access to raw materials such as lithium and rare earths would become more important than oil and gas. Therefore, the EU would need to avoid becoming independent to one country which the EU currently aims to realize by the Global Gateway plan. Also, Von der Leyen announced the upcoming Critical Raw Materials Act, that would hopefully follow the “success of the Chips Act”, of which the legislative process is still ongoing.

Health

While health policy is generally not one of the competences of the EU under the Treaties, this year’s SOTEU made references to the EU’s efforts in the field, a sign of the Commission’s ambitions to become more important here. Von der Leyen praised the initiative of two production facilities for vaccines in Africa and discussed similar initiatives in Latin America. Beyond the references to Covid-19, she specifically addressed the mental health challenges a large portion of the EU population is facing. She introduced a new initiative on Mental Health, which will focus on the accessibility, affordability, and appropriateness of support.

Von der Leyen closed the speech with a long-awaited call for a new European Convention, which was met with a loud applause.