Presentation of the central government annual financial report
Speech by the Minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, presenting the central government annual financial report House of Representatives, Wednesday 18 May 2016.
Today we are looking back at 2015, a year in which the Dutch economy continued to grow stronger. Although there are still too many people out of work, the number of jobs in the Netherlands reached a record high. Some homeowners were still in negative equity, but house prices rose again. And although the government debt is still higher than we would like, it has fallen for the first time since 2006. If you focus solely on the development of the Dutch economy, the news is predominantly positive.
But 2015 also saw the terrorist attacks in Paris, which created uncertainty and an atmosphere of insecurity. It was also a year in which an increasing number of people fled to our part of the world to escape violence and chaos in their own countries. This had financial repercussions. The government provided an extra €646 million for the reception of the 60,000 refugees who entered the Netherlands. In addition, it decided last year to provide an extra €250 million on a structural basis to enhance our national security.
Residents of the province of Groningen face a very different threat to their safety. For years, the natural gas extracted in Groningen has contributed to the prosperity of the entire country. Since many residents there are now suffering material damage, the government wishes to provide compensation. It made a total of €1.2 billion available for this purpose. The reduction in the volume of gas extracted and the lower gas price meant that the treasury received over €4 billion less than the government expected when it took office in late 2012.
Public finances and economic development
The government has therefore provided extra funds for several unavoidable reasons, without throwing public finances off balance. The budget deficit is €2.2 billion less than we had expected. In the 2015 Budget Memorandum we expected the national debt to be 70% of GDP, but it was actually 65%. This puts us ahead of schedule in terms of the timetable set out in the coalition agreement. The government debt fell by €26 billion to €442 billion. Public finances have not yet attained the top condition of Dafne Schippers, when she became the 200 metre world champion last year. That will take time. But, all in all, the 2015 annual report reflects the positive impact of the difficult measures taken in recent years. They were necessary to restore the Dutch economy to health and ensure sustainable public finances.
Our economic growth was partly due to a 4.2% increase in exports, compared with 2014. Businesses expanded to meet demand from Dutch and foreign buyers. Business investment increased by 8.4%, 4 percentage points more than the year before. Purchasing power grew by 1% and as a result spending increased by 1.6%. Despite the lower gas revenue, the economy grew by 2%. In late 2013, the Dutch central bank (De Nederlandsche Bank) forecast growth for 2015 of under 1% and a deficit of 3.1%. This illustrates once again how difficult it is to make medium-term forecasts.
The results in 2015 therefore show that steadfast policy pays dividends. This government has consistently pursued the course it set in 2012: putting public finances in order, ensuring fair distribution, and reforming the economy to stimulate growth. We have already achieved a great deal:
- public finances are moving in the right direction;
- the state pension has been safeguarded for present and future generations;
- healthcare costs are back under control;
- the housing market is growing again; and
- unemployment is falling.
On Accountability Day we always scrutinise the financial management of central government as well. Expenditure generally proceeded in a controlled manner and, as in previous years, the regularity of expenditures, commitments and receipts far exceeded the 99% norm. So 2015 was a good year in that regard.
Madam President, allow me to conclude.
At the start of the year there was some confusion as to whether Accountability Day still existed. This important day does of course still exist, though on this occasion you brought the ceremony forward several hours at my request, for which I am grateful.
It is the third Wednesday in May. Arno Visser, the new president of the Court of Audit, is here, the budget briefcase is here, and I am here. So, without question, we are honouring the tradition of Accountability Day.
I would now like to present to you the central government annual financial report for 2015 and the other accountability documents.