If only Auntie Neelie wasn't angry

1 December 2009

If only Auntie Neelie wasn't angry

The Dutch defence industry is enormously important. At least in the eyes of the government. In reality the employment provided by this branch of sport goes somewhat against this image.

By Krista van Velzen

The government does not grant financial support, not even to the war industry. That's not allowed by Auntie Neelie, Dutch European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, and doesn't always, in addition, meet with the approval of the electorate. That's why it was decided to 'lend' more than €800 million to a group of firms seeking to hitch a ride on the imminent purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Should the government, with a bag of taxpayers' money in its hands, decide to go ahead with the JSF, these firms stand to pull in some orders. The taxpayers' money would then be returned in full.

At any rate, that was what Premier Jan Peter Balkenende promised.

And if Jan Peter's promise wasn't already firm enough, then remember that it was the demand of Labour Party parliamentary chair Mariette Hamer that this aircraft would cost the taxpayer not a cent more than would 'buying off the shelf', buying a plane that is already fully developed and on the market.

Quite apart from the question of whether the Netherlands can make a contribution to peace by investing millions in a plane when no enemy can be found to use it on, we surely shouldn't be throwing scarce taxpayers' money about as if it were so many stale crackers?

Today I received a letter from the Minister of Economic Affairs concerning this 800 million. She really did want to ask for the money back from these warlords. She had even made a proposal as to how that must be accomplished. Really and truly. On behalf of the entire cabinet she had presented the bill, in the form of a demand that the firms in question hand over ten percent of their receipts to the state. On the nail.

But then the warlords grew angry. And she didn't dare proceed on her own. So she decided to call in a referee. And this referee would be the one to decide how it would go. And it wouldn't be her responsibility any more. A year went by and this referee chatted and gossiped, and then he decided on the golden mean.

The actual amount which the state will get will be less than five percent, despite the fact that it would take, in fact, ten percent for taxpayers to get their money back. And now Madam the Minister for Economic Affairs is faced with the task of explaining that to the people, explaining just where that money has gone. And above all, that it has not gone in state aids to an industry. Because if that were the case, Auntie Neelie would be angry...

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