Speech by the Minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, on the presentation of the Central Government Annual Financial Report 2013, Accountability Day, Wednesday 21 May 2014
Today, on the 15th Accountability Day, we are looking back at 2013. This is the first time in five years that a government - other than a caretaker administration - is accounting for a full year of policy for which it was itself responsible. 2013 was a year of high peaks and deep troughs. From the rescue of SNS Reaal to the reopening of the Rijksmuseum. From the investiture of King Willem-Alexander to the death of Prince Friso. Financially and economically, too, there were two sides to 2013. We experienced what was perhaps the toughest phase of the crisis, but we also saw a turning point.
We had to grit our teeth because the economy contracted by 0.8% in total; we had been expecting modest growth. As a result, another round of spending cuts was necessary on top of the measures taken a year earlier to control the deficit. Unemployment rose to 8.5%, amounting to nearly 670,000 job seekers. The number of bankruptcies increased by 10% to more than 12,000. And house prices fell by almost 6.5%. Domestic consumption shrank by more than 2% and corporate investments by nearly 5%.
The figures also reveal signs of a turnaround. The economy contracted over the year as a whole but began to recover slowly in the second half. Exports grew by 1.3% thanks in part to the relative calm in Europe and a stronger world economy. Throughout the year we had thought we would miss the deficit target and the EMU deficit would remain above 3% of gross domestic product. The deficit came out at 2.5% of GDP. It may be a little higher if part of the cost of rescuing SNS Reaal is taken into account. But even so, it will remain below the 3% deficit threshold.
The fall in the budget deficit marks an improvement in the State's financial health. But there is still work to be done. The Central Government Annual Financial Report for 2013 contains a new chapter on the risks to public finances. It underlines the value the government attaches to controlling public finances. A matter to which the House also devotes considerable attention.
That chapter, too, reveals a turnaround. The value of third-party risks guaranteed by the government has fallen sharply for the first time in several years, from €258 billion in 2012 to €214 billion in 2013. And the great strides we made last year towards finalising the European banking union put our future on a more secure footing.
2013 was also a year of broad political and public willingness to get the Netherlands back on the right track. Political parties and organisations realised that tough decisions had to be taken. They formed unexpected alliances to make plans that will determine our future. The signatories to the Energy Agreement, for instance, represented diverging interests - from environmental protection to energy supply - but they all recognised their responsibility for a harmonious future. This awareness will guide the implementation of the agreement.
So, progress has been made. But we have not yet achieved our ambition of reducing administrative expenditure. There is an explanation for this. With the approval of the House, we made several investments. For example, an additional €157 million was set aside for inspections and investigations by the Tax and Customs Administration. This judicious investment will certainly pay for itself.
The Court of Audit's 200th anniversary adds a celebratory note to this year's Accountability Day. For two centuries the Court has been keeping a watchful eye on the government's financial management and keeping us on our toes. I am therefore pleased to announce that, in keeping with previous years, the regularity of expenditure, obligations and revenue in 2013 was again comfortably above the 99% standard. Financial management in central government is on the whole in order. Recommendations made by the Court of Audit in the past year helped us make further improvements. So, in this respect, too, we have made progress.
Let me offer a final thought. When you are standing on the beach staring out to sea you don't immediately notice the tide turning. But if you later study the tide table you realise that you were present when it did. This is what happened with the Dutch economy in 2013. It was a difficult year, but the Annual Financial Report confirms we have taken the right steps and made progress. The economic recovery is still in its early stages but we have laid the foundations for sustainable growth in the future.
I now have the honour of presenting the Central Government Annual Financial Report for 2013 and the other accounting documents to your House.