Liar, Liar: government agency keeps Dutch parties honest
Which parties have the best plans? And which parties stretch the truth about their own programmes? In the run-up to the 9 June general elections in the Netherlands the costs and benefits of all promises have been calculated.Here in the Netherlands, the government looks into these questions in what has become an election campaign ritual. Since the mid-1980s, The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (in Dutch, Centraal Plan Bureau, or CPB) has calculated the effects of political parties' policy proposals. The CPB's conclusions are an important moment in the campaign.
Something for everyone
And no matter what the report says, political leaders can find something they like. A few of the reactions to the report.
MPs of all parties say they are satisfied with the CPB's sums and outcomes, highlighting for instance their own solutions, the balanced nature of the programme, or the beneficial effect on the national budget.
Of course, alongside praise for the CPB, there are always accusations of bias. But listening to the political leaders, it is clear how important the CPB report is in a Dutch election campaign.
This year, the CPB crunched the numbers for nine parties. (Two party programmes were not calculated.)
Upon presenting this year’s results, CPB director Coen Teulings emphasised the organisation’s impartiality.
“This analysis is not a report card. It is an objective analysis of the results of implementing the proposed policies. In principle, all those choices are fine. We present this as a service to the voter: it is up to them to state their preference.”
So how did the parties do?
Which parties are the most honest about their proposals?
1. Scrupulously honest: SGP and Christian Union
2. Reasonably honest: Green Left and Freedom Party
3. Could be better: Christian Democrats
4. Oops. D66, VVD, Labour
Keeping them honest
Mr Teulings says the most important element facing the next government is budget shortfalls and the reforms needed to get the budget back in the black. All nine parties take this challenge seriously and all nine call for major cutbacks. The difference lies in how much, and how quickly.
The CPB ranked the parties according to various factors, such as job creation and maintaining purchasing power. What the CPB does not do, is rate a party’s honesty. Do the figures match the rhetoric?
There were a few discrepancies in what parties said they want to do, and what the CPB calculated would actually happen.
For instance, the Conservative VVD party is known as the party for the business sector. Its election manifesto says, “Enterprise and hard-working people are the motor of our economy.” But, according to the CPB, businesses do better under four other parties.
On the other hand, the VVD’s programme does create the most jobs, at least in the long run. The Labour Party, on the other hand, comes in fifth in terms of creating jobs, even though in its platform it says, "The Labour Party is doing everything possible to keep jobs."
Of course, the Labour Party has a different problem when it comes to the CPB report. Days before the CPB was to release its results, Labour Party leader Job Cohen announced the party would significantly increase its budget cuts. Speculation was rife that the party’s initial figures were not found credible at the CPB. The adjusted figures were found to be sound.
Another surprise was Democrat 66, a party known for its interest in improving education. "For D66 education is an absolute top priority," says its manifesto. Not so fast, says the CPB. D66 comes in fourth for improving education.
CPB director Coen Teulings is proud of this Dutch tradition, and thinks it will catch on in other countries. For instance, an institute did a similar analysis in the run-up to the recent British elections.
"In mapping out these choices, The Netherlands is at the forefront...You see calls in the international press to make these kinds of institutions systematic in order to get ahead of problems that are now apparent in southern Europe."
Indeed, the proposals from even the smallest Dutch parties seem to get more scrutiny than the policies of some European governments. And in these times of financial crisis, such scrutiny is badly needed.