photo: John Samson

The Hague – The patience of the members of the Senate are being tested. State Secretary Van Ark (Social Affairs) and State Secretary Knops (Kingdom Relations) did not manage to convince the senators on Tuesday as to why the social minimum has not yet been established.

The members of the commission are considering whether they should recall the State Secretaries next week. In that case, they would have to report to the main hall of the Senate for a debate with all the senators. From a political standpoint this would put some pressure on the coalition, seeing as the senators can enter motion into the Senate.

In 2016 a motion was entered into the Senate, demanding that the minimum amount of funds needed to survive on the islands be determined. The report has been completed, but the social minimum has yet to be determined.

Senators visibly annoyed
After three rounds of questioning, the tension was high under the senators. ChristenUnie Senator Peter Ester called the meeting an ‘embarrassing affair’ that didn’t clear anything up. Senator Kees Kok (PVV) was ‘surprised by the language’ and ‘unclear statements’ used by the State Secretaries.

GroenLinks Senator Ruard Ganzevoort intervened when Van Ark postulated that the scientists who wrote the report ‘did not see a possibility at the moment’ to determine the social minimum. “That is just not true”, according to Ganzevoort . “The scientists said that it was up to the politicians.”

8 years and counting
“It seems so easy: why don’t we just choose an amount? But there’s more to it than meets the eyes”, according to Van Ark. The coalition finds the manners of living (incomes, housing costs, and costs of living) very different on the individual islands and the ‘mini-economies’ unpredictable. The social minimum might only be established after an evaluation to be completed in 2020.

“I listened very carefully, but I just don’t get it”, reacts VVD Senator Frank van Kappen. “We were able to determine the social minimum for 17 million people in the Netherlands, all of them with different incomes and living arrangements.”

“And we can’t manage to do it for three little islands? We’ve been at it for eight years”, says Van Kappen (VVD). The ChristenUnie agrees with him. SP Senator Meta Meijer thinks that it’s come down to an unwillingness to do it.

Difference between Senate (Eerste Kamer) and House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer)

The members of the Senate – also known as senators – are considered to be more independent than their counterparts in the House of Representatives, because they are not bound by the coalition agreement.

Senators are guided by the fundamental constitutional rights and if the coalition’s policies are legal under constitutional law. They do not worry about the practical or political wishes of the coalition as their counterparts do in the House of Representatives.

Coalition parties VVD, D66, and ChristenUnie’s senators let it be known to the State Secretaries on Tuesday that they are not happy with the undetermined social minimum when they visited the Senate. The same parties gave the State Secretaries a few extra years to determine the social minimum in the House of Representatives.

The same senators who two years ago took the initiative and entered the motion to determine the social minimum into the Senate are once again upping the pressure. The House of Representatives followed thereafter two years ago. The senators have in the past managed to get the House of Representatives to pass legislation to give child supplements to parents on Bonaire, Saba, and Statia.

The PVV also wants a social minimum now
Remarkably the PVV, who did not support the motion two years ago, appeared to be a big supporter of the social minimum during the meeting on Tuesday. The support to determine the social minimum as soon as possible has only broadened in the Senate.

State Secretaries Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) and Tamara van Ark (Social Affairs) [green] in conversation with the Kingdom Relations commission of the Senate – picture: John Samson