Ten questions for Dutch Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer
The radical left, EU-critical Socialist Party, which led the campaigns against the country’s adoption of the euro and against the European Constitution, is riding so high in the polls that there is even talk of it joining a coalition government after the general elections on September 12th. How does a party which until recently was on the far left fringe of Dutch politics and remains by some distance the furthest left party in the Netherlands’ parliament convince a cautious and culturally conservative nation that it can best defend the people’s interests. Ten questions for the party’s leader, Emile Roemer.
1 What does the SP want?
We want to improve the opportunities offered by our beautiful, rich country. But the problems to be addressed are great. It is possible, however, to build a better Netherlands in a social fashion.
2 Why have the problems become so enormous?
The government has left far too much up to the financial markets, corporations and management, which think more about short term profits and bonuses than they do about the general interest. This must change. New confidence must be established, which is why we called our election manifesto ‘New Confidence’. We consider it important to protect that which belongs to us all, such as health care and education and other community facilities and services. We offer certainty in this time of crisis, giving people who have lost their faith in politics the prospect of a better Netherlands. Because we have to do this together.
3 Yet cuts are necessary, aren’t they?
You can’t continually spend more than is coming in. That’s true, and that’s why I’m in favour of economies. We’ll make cuts in incredibly expensive bureaucracy and superfluous management. We will make savings in regard to the high prices of medicines. We’ll tackle the highest income earners and tax fraud. We won’t be buying bomber planes when we haven’t got any enemies. And we’ll send less money to the European Union. But cuts which are too deep or too rapid are disastrous for the economy and for employment, while misdirected cuts cost society dear.
4 What are the cuts that you object to?
Increasing the ‘own risk’ element in public health insurance, which next year will be €350. This will cause division and is bad for those suffering illness and for the treasury, because putting off health care always ends up costing more. Or take the raising of the pensionable age, from 2013, a decision hurried through Parliament just before the summer recess. Hundreds of thousands of people will be affected by this as early as next year, losing a month of their pension rights. If this forces them to work for longer it will be even harder for people under 65 who are unemployed to find a job. And then there’s the increase in VAT. This will cost smaller firms a great deal of effort and thus both workers’ jobs and state revenue. And people on lower incomes pay just the same amount as people on high incomes. That doesn’t help the economy, so it should not be happening.
5 How did we get into this crisis?
This crisis is no natural disaster but the result of bad political decisions. Banks and investors were gambling with money, usually other people’s. When this went wrong, governments moved to save the banks and the public had to pay. So we have to exercise more surveillance over the financial markets, so that our money is secure. And we have to help the economy to get going again. Because of the economy’s stagnation, tax revenues are falling and the government wants cutbacks everywhere. Prime Minister Mark Rutte, if he is given the chance to do so, will cut another €7 billion off health care spending and €9 billion from social security. But that will only exacerbate the crisis and lead to a social demolition job. So we want to do things differently.
6 And – how can we get out of it?
We want to help the economy to get going again by additional investments. In housing, energy conservation, a clean environment, better public transport. And in accessible health care and high-quality education. The less illness we suffer, the better, for us and for the economy. And every euro that you put into sound education pays. I know that from my own experience as a teacher. So we will ensure the supply of builders, nurses, care assistants, engineers, doctors and researchers that we so badly and urgently need
7 What should Europe be doing, and what should it not do?
The Netherlands isn’t an island, so it would be prudent to make agreements with other countries regarding how we can exercise control on the out-of-control financial sector. We can’t do this successfully on our own. But that’s quite different from Brussels playing the boss when it comes to such matters as our health care, pensions and social security, which we can do for ourselves.
8 What is the situation regarding the euro?
Many people at the time were against the introduction of the euro, the SP amongst them. If we’d been listened to, then we’d have a great deal fewer problems now. We always said that it’s not about money but about people. That’s completely valid now. Pouring ever more billions into countries and banks with no prospect of improvement is madness. And we also don’t want to stumble blindly towards a European superstate in which financial markets come before the people’s interests and democracy dwindles away. Politicians must listen much more closely to the public, including what they have to say about European cooperation. We want to cooperate in pursuit of a safe, peaceful, prosperous, social and democratic Europe. For everyone.
9 How difficult or easy will it be to participate in government in the present situation?
Not easy. There is a great deal to be done and a great deal that needs to be got rid of. We’ll be asking everyone to help, but fairly. So we will protect the minimum wage, and rights against dismissal, and those on the lowest incomes. And we are in favour of a higher rate of tax for those on the highest incomes. In order to help small businesses, we’ll increase taxes on major corporations. We’ll guarantee mortgage relief up to €350,000, but we won’t be subsidising mansions any longer. Health care premiums will be linked to incomes, and in this way we will preserve what’s important to everyone, divide the burden fairly and gradually put the national budget in good order. If we get the chance, we’ll grasp it.
10 What is the essential choice on 12th September?
Your choice is in any event extremely important. After 12th September, will we be a liberal or social country? Will we continue cutting, or build a better Netherlands? We stand for a social route out of the crisis. And we’re ready. If you vote SP on 12th September SP, you’ll be helping us towards a better Netherlands.