The Netherlands: amended pandemic law leads to unrest among politicians and citizens

In the Netherlands, there is a discussion about the measures that the cabinet can implement in the event of a future pandemic – the ‘toolbox’ in political jargon. Tomorrow there will be a vote in the Senate.

According to NRC last week, these measures led to a lot of criticism, concern and emotion in the normally timid Senate (comparable to our Senate). NRC: “There, Minister Ernst Kuipers (Health Care, D66 – see photo) defended for hours his amendment of the Public Health Act (Wpg) – popularly known as the pandemic law or corona law.”

The Wpg gives the Dutch government the right to temporarily disable certain fundamental rights and to impose obligations (such as wearing a face mask or a quarantine obligation) in the event of a pandemic such as Covid-19.

According to Kuipers, the amendment should ensure “that the Netherlands is better prepared for a new pandemic” and replaces all temporary laws to give the corona measures a legal basis.

DEBATE

On Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 May, the Senate debated with Minister Kuipers of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) about amending the Public Health Act (Wpg). Before the start of the debate, PVV senator Van Hattem submitted a bill to postpone the consideration of the bill. The proposal was rejected by a majority of the MPs present later in the evening. The House will vote on the bill and the 8 motions submitted on Tuesday 23 May. At the request of Senator Otten (Fractie-Otten) there will be a roll call vote on the bill.

The Dutch senators already asked about 1,300 written questions – after two previous rounds of questions – which still had to be answered quickly by the officials of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. NRC: “During the debate, Kuipers again received a deluge of questions. Important point of criticism: the evaluation of the corona pandemic has yet to begin, it is unclear how effective the corona measures have been, but there is already a new law, including some of those measures.”

“It would have been cleaner to evaluate the corona measures first,” said Senator Alexander van Hattem (PVV). “It is regrettable that the cabinet does not want to wait,” added Senator Diederik van Dijk (SGP).

MISTAKE

Senator Dessing (FVD) also spoke on behalf of the Frentrop Party. He said that the House is about to make an unprecedented historic mistake because this law gives the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport unlimited powers that are effectively not under parliamentary scrutiny. In addition, future changes to this law, he says, will result in power being diverted to an undemocratic body: the WHO.

According to Dessing, virtually no measure has played a role in combating the corona pandemic, and that doesn’t even include the social damage. According to the Wpg, vaccination would be the best solution, but Dessing is not convinced of that, just as he is not convinced of the effectiveness of the PCR tests. According to him, this amendment to the law has a series of far-reaching consequences that cannot be foreseen. Dessing said that this gives the minister a mandate to introduce new measures that cannot be checked by this parliament. The government persists in implementing measures that were ineffective. Why not first wait for the investigation into the corona crisis and learn lessons from it, he asked.

Dessing called the bill disproportionate, unconstitutional and discriminatory. It can lead to great unrest in society and has dictatorial tendencies, he concluded.

According to NRC, similar criticism came earlier from the Advisory Board on Regulatory Pressure and the Dutch Safety Board (OVV). According to the OVV, the cabinet is missing an opportunity to make a “more informed assessment” in the event of a revival of the virus.

NRC: “But according to Minister Kuipers, the effect of each measure cannot be evaluated separately, because several measures were always active at the same time. “The measures can therefore only be viewed in conjunction.”

CONTROVERSIAL

According to NRC, the most controversial corona measures, such as school closures and curfews, are not explicitly included in the Wpg. But many parties, in addition to PVV and FVD, for example also SP and GroenLinks, fear that the cabinet will still bring it out through a so-called ’emergency power’ in the law, in the event of a violent pandemic.

Kuipers did not rule out that following NRC either: “That is possible in extreme cases.” According to him, this emergency power is “not used lightly”, only if a “disruptive social situation” arises. There is also an extensive procedure to be followed. “A black box from which the minister can choose himself,” concluded Rik Janssen (SP).

TO ASSURE

NRC: “There are also concerns about whether the measures can also be taken out of the law (“That is something like taking candy from a child,” says Janssen), whether the social impact is sufficiently taken into account (more young people have been struggling since the corona period with psychological problems and serious suicidal thoughts), and to what extent the senate can prevent measures in the future.”

According to NRC, the amended law will lead to a lot of unrest in society, the senators said. One by one they received many emails. The question is whether the mailers are reassured after these two days of debate. “It makes me shudder,” said Van Dijk of the SGP, who referred to research by Statistics Netherlands last week that showed that the Dutch have less and less confidence in politics. “It’s way too complicated. As a legislative lawyer, I have had to study for hours and I am not yet sure that I know what it is,” said former top official at VWS Roel Bekker in a hearing with experts. “It’s not a good law. It is a cut and paste law,” concluded Peter Nicolaï (Party for the Animals) according to NRC.

Tomorrow the senate will vote on the Wpg. Or in the words of senator Henk Otten: the law is being “rushed through”. Kuipers said that – if measures are necessary – communication about this should be better than during the corona period. “It’s not easy, it’s a challenge. We must communicate honestly.”

photo: Martijn Beekman / D66 – Wikipedia

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