Speech by the Minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, on Accountability Day

Speech by the Minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, on the presentation of the Central Government Annual Financial Report 2014.

Today, the 16th Accountability Day, we look back at 2014, the first year for which this government drew up a budget.
2014 was another tough year for many in the Netherlands.
There were still too many job losses.
Still too many businesses struggling.
Still too many homeowners facing negative equity.
But there were also rays of light.
And they were brighter than expected.
The economic recovery, which already began in 2013, continued.
And now that the figures are available, we can say unreservedly that 2014 was a good year for the public finances.

The Dutch economy grew by 0.8%.
And the global economy also showed growth.
The US economy picked up, and the eurozone recovered.
Dutch growth was therefore largely fuelled by exports.
This is nothing new, as our exports have always been relatively strong, even during the years of crisis.
In addition, corporate investment also rose last year.
Business confidence was restored.
And that was a clear turnaround compared with the years before.
Sales of homes rose by nearly 40%, after years of very low sales volumes.
Household consumption, which traditionally marks the completion of Dutch economic recovery, was modest.
But on average there was a rise in purchasing power.
2014 also saw a lower budget deficit, and - according to the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis - it was the year in which we turned the corner towards 'sustainable public finances in the long term' again.
This was a consequence of the more favourable circumstances which I just outlined, but it was also due to government intervention.
We made essential structural reforms to the labour market, the housing market, the pension system and health care.
Favourable circumstances and government policies ensured that the actual results greatly exceeded the gloomy expectations for the year 2014.
In 2013, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis forecast a budget deficit of 3.5% for the year 2014.
The actual figure was 2.3%.
By way of illustration: in 2009 the Netherlands was overspending by €92 million a day.
In 2014 this daily deficit had been more than halved to €41 million.

In 2014 the Netherlands was able to leave the Stability and Growth Pact 'sin bin' where it had been since 2009.
So we can say unequivocally that things are getting better.
But it's too early to crack open the champagne.
As I said, in 2014 people in the Netherlands were still feeling the aftermath of a serious financial and economic crisis.
Nor is there yet any reason for the government to sit back and relax.
In 2014 the Netherlands still had a high national debt.
But our budget benefited from a historically low interest rate.
In 2014, we paid €400 million less in interest than in 2008, but the debt itself had gone up by almost €200 billion in the intervening years due to the rising budget deficit and economic circumstances.
So the low interest rate suits us nicely at the moment.
But interest rates have a habit of going up again.
And when they do, our high national debt will again be a burden on our country.
So we still need to pursue a cautious fiscal policy.
I think you were not expecting a different comment from me.

Madam President,

Since the crisis, we have focused far more on the risks to public finances.
This is evident at all levels.
Since 2013, provincial and municipal authorities have been required to deposit their surpluses in the Treasury.
The amount deposited now stands at €6.5 billion.
Since 2014, central government only acts as a guarantor when truly necessary.
At their height, in 2012, government guarantees totalled €258 billion.
By 2014 this had already been reduced to €197 million.
And in Europe too, we limited risks in 2014, concerning countries and banks.
After European banks had been subjected to a rigorous stress test, the banking union was launched last year.
120 banks, which account for 82% of Europe's banking sector, are now under strict European supervision.
And future losses will be borne by the banks themselves, their owners and investors.

On Accountability Day, we also always look back at the government's operational management.
Last year the regularity of central government obligations, revenues and expenditure was again high at more than 99%.
In that respect, too, 2014 was a good year.

Madam President,

Achieving sustainable economic growth is not a sprint.
It is more of a hop, skip and jump.
The hop, the start, was last year.
But we have not yet got to the jump towards high growth.
2014 was the transition: the skip.
We are making good headway, but we're not there yet.

Saskia Stuiveling ís there.
She will step down on 1 June as president of the Court of Audit.
Ms Stuiveling, you have been the head of the Court since 1999.
And I think I can speak on behalf of all my predecessors, the ministers of finance from this period, when I say that under your stewardship the Court has inspired in us ever greater admiration and respect.
I have very much enjoyed working with you.
You are meticulous, and a pleasure to work with.
And your sense of responsibility is as strong as your affinity with innovation.
For instance, you believe that the government should embrace open data.
On this point let me assure you that I will take up the baton.
And I thank you for our cooperation.

Madam President, I am now pleased to present to you the final annual financial report and other accounting documents approved by president Stuiveling.