Billions for ‘Wopke-Wiebesfonds’ will come anyway

Billions for ‘Wopke-Wiebesfonds’ will come anyway

Later this morning, the Cabinet will present the ‘National Growth Fund’, for which a total of EUR 20 billion can be borrowed over the next five years. This money should be used for long-term investments, such as knowledge development, infrastructure, research and innovation projects.

Initially, the idea that the government would free up a much larger amount for the so-called Wopke-Wiebesfonds, named after the two initiators: Ministers (Wopke) Hoekstra and Wiebes. There was talk of 50 to 100 billion euros. That money would be borrowed from the government at once as far as Finance Minister Hoekstra was concerned and put it into a state investment fund. Because interest rates are so low now, that would be beneficial.

But that’s what his officials came up against. They warned him that “taking on debt to invest is risky,” internal documents revealed last summer (.pdf). “The scenario of negative returns is realistic and creates political risk of harm.” If such a high amount had been borrowed, not everything could have been invested immediately, but most of it should have been invested first, and the officials warned against such an investment fund.

That is why the Government does not choose to borrow a huge sum of money at once, but wants to increase the national debt by an extra EUR 4 billion annually to supplement the fund.

Wishes vary widely

The idea behind the fund is to invest outside the political agenda in developments that contribute to economic growth and to achieving the Paris climate goals. That’s why an independent commission is going to assess who gets the money.

Projects receive a one-off amount, not structurally. However, in the end, that committee will only give an opinion, which the cabinet can take over. The House of Representatives can also block investments. This fund is therefore completely separate from politics.

Already the wishes vary greatly. For example, there is a call in the House of Representatives to use the money to extend the North-South line in Amsterdam, widen the railway in South Holland and build a fast train connection to Groningen. But there are also sounds to invest in preschool education, hydrogen infrastructure or biotech companies.

No concrete projects yet

According to Prime Minister Rutte, such a fund is a good idea right now. “Because if people, companies and the government are resilient and agile, we can also absorb unexpected blows better in the future.”

Concrete projects will not be announced by the Cabinet today. In the near future, people and organizations will be able to sign up if they think the money should go to their plan.

Whether the fund will actually reach EUR 20 billion also depends on subsequent cabinets and whether they see the need for it. The first EUR 4 billion should be in the fund on 1 January.

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