Arnold Merkies’s Maiden Speech: 'A social way out of the crisis is possible’

8 October 2012

Arnold Merkies’s Maiden Speech: 'A social way out of the crisis is possible’

Newly-elected SP Member of Parliament Arnold Merkies, formerly an advisor to the party’s parliamentary team, gave his maiden speech to Parliament on Wednesday, during the debate on next year’s budget. Insisting that there is ‘a social way out of the crisis,’ Merkies said that ‘the bill should not be sent to the sick, the poor and the old’ and drew attention to the existence of sustainable alternatives for tackling the crisis. ‘Because something that you demolish isn’t quickly brought back again.’

Arnold Merkies adressing Parliament

Below are extracts from his speech:

Merkies began by saying that during the six years that he had worked at the national parliament ‘a great deal has happened: ‘the credit crisis, the eurocrisis. But at the same time you can say that during that period a great deal has not happened. I only need to point to the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report, which came out last week, in which it is stated that five years after the beginning of the financial crisis, the global financial sector remains little changed. The system, they say, is still always much too complex and banks can easily dodge the new rules. My first question to the Minister is whether he would endorse these observations.

‘In presenting the budget memorandum the minister said: “In recent years the crisis would not go away. The raging economic headwind continued to force the waters high against the dikes, but the dikes have held.” Yet again this reference to a natural disaster. In the budget memorandum itself it also speaks of “the persistently high waters afflicting the dikes.” It’s the easiest way to shuffle off responsibility. Let me repeat it just once more and for the umpteenth time: this is no natural disaster. The financial system and the way in which we organise our economy are devised by ourselves. So you can raise or strengthen the dikes as much as you want, it won’t help when you don’t change a thing about the system itself.

‘You can, whenever a policy turns out to be not so fine as you had predicted, present yourself as a victim of external factors. You can also ask how independent we are of external factors. Of course, we are an open economy, but should we gamble on constantly increasing the size of our banking sector, because our financial centre must compete with London and Dubai? We have a banking sector 4.5 times greater than our economy. Not only are the banks themselves too big to fail, so is the sector as a whole. In the budget memorandum the government recognises that this dependence on the financial markets makes the Netherlands vulnerable. “Financial markets are increasingly taking the measure of governments,” it also says here. Is the minister actually surprised about this or had he seen it coming?

‘Is the minister of the opinion, as are we, that speculation must be subject to restraint in order to prevent new bubbles? What plans does he have in store for this? Does the minister agree with our view, furthermore, that getting into debt should be discouraged? We have, after all, already had for far too long an economy built on debts.’

The SP’s new parliamentary finance and economics spokesman goes on to criticise the newly-established Liberal-Labour coalition government’s plans, finding some positive points but many more which are negative: changes to the way in which individuals pay a contribution to the costs of treatment under the health care system, chopping and changing the rules in regard to pensions and to older workers, and the way in which the Labour Party had agreed to things which it had refused to endorse in the agreement drawn up for the interim period following the fall of the previous Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition in the spring.

‘Where is the resistance to the destructive austerity policies applied to the economy as a result of the 3 per cent norm, or to the raising of VAT? Do we still have the Labour Party on our side in the fight against this tax which leads in the end to higher prices in the shops, which puts a brake on spending and thus on the economy? In other countries too, in Spain, Greece and Italy, there are problems whenever we increase VAT, as it means they can export less to us. We have in turn problems if they increase their VAT. Is it not time that agreements were made at European level to put a stop to all these VAT increases? Otherwise we will only slow each other’s economies. And finally, VAT is not progressive and works as a kind of poll tax, via which rich and poor pay the same amount. The same goes, of course, for the enormous increase in the insurance tax. Is this not taking the solidarity out of the tax system?

‘On top of all of these tax increases come the spending cuts. The government says the same in the budget memorandum. “In an economic decline, such as we are now experiencing, the effects of spending cuts can be worse for the economy than in normal times.” The Central Planning Bureau has also warned, in its macro-economic investigations, of the consequences of rapid cuts. How can it then nevertheless be the case, I ask the minister, that every year the government is once again surprised by the disappointing figures? Next year the government will again be unpleasantly surprised and the year after that too, if it fails to step back, in cooperation with other European countries, from its harsh austerity policies, policies which also failed to work in the 1930s.

‘Nor does the unprecedented increase in the number of bankruptcies speak favourably of the policy pursued. How does the minister explain this increase, which puts the Netherlands globally in third place after Portugal and Greece?

‘And then I have had said nothing about the social consequences.’ These, he said, include a further widening of the gap between the best- and worst-paid, which after Poland is the widest in Europe. Iceland had experienced a surprisingly rapid recovery on the basis of its decision to lay the burden of the bankers’ losses on to the debtors themselves rather than on to the shoulders of the taxpayer, or undermining the social welfare state, a conclusion reached also by the IMF itself. As a result ‘unemployment has in the last year fallen from 9.3 per cent to 4.8 per cent, while unemployment in other countries, including the Netherlands, is rising’

‘A social way out of the crisis is thus possible. That way the costs need not be imposed on the sick, the poor and the old. These are political choices. The costs of health care will rise, so we are allowing people who are ill to pay more. That’s bizarre. You and I, people sufficiently healthy to be able to work, people who have the good fortune to enjoy good health, we must all pay the costs, not the people who have the misfortune to become ill. Is this not a question of civilisation?’

Merkies goes on to argue that ‘a social way out of the crisis’ provides a real alternative to the closure of libraries and other cultural institutions, such as orchestras and theatres. Lose your cultural heritage, he warned, and you won’t find it so easy to get it back.

‘A social way out of the crisis is possible,’ he concluded, ‘by offering people protection in these uncertain times, not by demolishing it’ as the government was doing with its weakening of rights on dismissal. Could the minister assert that this was not simply necessary in order to keep Brussels happy?

‘To close: a sustainable way out of the crisis is possible. Yes, that costs money. And no, the advantages cannot be well expressed in money and are therefore somewhat underestimated by economists and financial specialists. By immediately scrapping green investments, the recently affianced couple that want just as immediately to form a coalition got off to a bad start.’

He wanted, he said, to use the debate on the budget to underline his point: that ‘what you once demolish, you can’t easily get back.’

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