The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, has pointed out the need for a far-reaching legislative and legal reform in the Netherlands to avoid new scandals such as that of family allowances, which led to the resignation en bloc of the central government right last January. This is indicated in the draft report prepared by the Commission, which was published this Tuesday by the Dutch press. In it, the Government is targeted, and also Congress, for failing to fulfill the functions they are entrusted with. The first, for lack of transparency and for not providing the deputies with the information requested from the different ministries. The other, for not taking a good look at the time of passing laws that may undermine the protection of the citizen. The aid was received between 2014 and 2019 by more than 30,000 families, mostly of immigrant origin, accused without motive of fraud by the Tax Agency. Only 10% have received compensation to date.
The investigation into the rulings in this case was requested by the Dutch lower house itself and its conclusions, confidential for now, have been leaked to the newspaper Fidelity and the television network RTL. Both media uncovered the subsidy scandal. As published, the report indicates that the Netherlands must strengthen the role of Congress so that it can adequately supervise the Executive. The Venice Commission also points out that it should be considered “acceptable and normal for the deputies of parties of the coalition in power to exercise their work of scrutiny of the Government, without this being seen as disloyalty.” The family aid scandal was denounced by the Spanish lawyer Eva González Pérez, who asked for help from the Christian Democrat deputy – one of the government groups currently in office – Peter Omtzigt. She acted from the courts and he asked the Executive from his seat, causing deep discomfort within the Cabinet.
The Venice Commission has produced other critical reports on the state of democracy in Poland or Hungary. In the one dedicated to the Netherlands, he asks for more funds and support so that the different parliamentary committees can work. Also, the reinforcement of the “right to information by Congress, established by the Constitution.” At the same time, he points out that the lower house can also demand a parliamentary investigation “even if requested by a minority of deputies.” On the other hand, he says that critical voices within the government should not be stifled, but should be heard at the highest level.
The Council of Europe draws attention to the functioning of the Congress “in its capacity as co-legislator”. At this point, he describes the lack of attention paid to drafting the tax laws that have doomed thousands of innocent families to financial disaster. To avoid repetitions, it proposes the inclusion of protection clauses that allow deviations from the legislation “when it may harm the citizen”. In this context, it warns about the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence by the Government when making decisions. The algorithms applied by the Tax Agency to mark a possible risk of fraud ended up discriminating against families with foreign surnames. As a positive point, the report includes that reforms have already been announced to avoid similar cases.
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