Dutch referendum initiator misuses Euro 150,000 of government subsidies

Photo: ANP

Photo: ANP 

2016/03/09 • News

‘GeenPeil’ has systematically collected subsidy money that was meant for citizens. Through this detour around Euro 150,000 government subsidy has been obtained to campaign against the Association Agreement between the European Union (EU) and Ukraine. Statutory rights for a legal body like ‘GeenPeil’ is limited to Euro 50,000.

‘GeenPeil’, one of the initiators of the to be held referendum on April 6 on the treaty, has collected the money by involving forty private citizens. ‘GeenPeil’ was responsible for the complete subsidy application for those individuals. Then, ‘GeenPeil’ signed a purchase agreement with the private citizens, which obliged them to pay the received subsidy to ‘GeenPeil’. The money has been used a.o. for the printing of flyers and purchasing campaign materials.

Through this construction Euro 150,000 was secured. However, the maximum amount that may be applied for by a legal body like ‘GeenPeil’, is Euro 50,000. Due to the action of ‘GeenPeil’ it decreased the available subsidy for individuals with more than 30 percent. It is striking that ‘GeenPeil’ earlier announced to the referendum commission that it abandons as a legal entity of a subsidy as applied for.

Anne Scheltema Beduin, Managing Director of Transparency International Netherlands, put question marks at the action of ‘GeenPeil’. She points out that subsidy applications from individuals are not in line with the subsidy agreement, which makes a clear distinction between individuals and legal entities. Earlier, the commission rejected a request from the journalist Laura Starink, because according to it, there was a legal entity behind her request. Moreover, as is clear from the subsidy agreement, there should be done only one subsidy application per applicant. This Euro 50,000 is for a legal entity and EUR 5,000 for an individual. The method used by ‘GeenPeil’ actually comprised 40 subsidy applications, which brings them additionally far above the allowed maximum of Euro 50,000.

Member of Parliament Marit Maij of the Labour Party calls it “too cynical for words as the Dutch campaign against the trade agreement is funded by dubious actions of ‘GeenPeil’ “. She says that the Association Agreement is meant to contribute to the fight against corruption and dubious act in Ukraine.

Read also: Dutch referendum organizer playing with fear and ignorance

Kees Verhoeven of D66 prepares for parliamentary questions, because he wants there will be soon clarification in this matter. The Referendum Commission announces that it knew about the method of ‘GeenPeil’ directing Euro 200,000 subsidy money from citizens to their own account. The commission says it has no objection against the method as used by ‘GeenPeil’.

‘GeenPeil’ is against the association agreement, but has indicated that it will conduct a pro-, anti- ánd a neutral campaign. With the money that is brought in by the private persons, it had also developed an app to coordinate the participation of volunteers. Individuals who have applied for subsidies, are allocated for flyering, living-room meetings and canvashen.

A glitch for those recruited by ‘GeenPeil’ may be that each individual must keep his campaign’s own accounting. One of the tasks of the referendum commission is to check that. If irregularities are detected, the subsidy shall be recovered. ‘GeenPeil’ will have to make a complicated effort to divide the central accounts for forty individuals. Individuals are at risk that they have to pay back the subsidy.

Earlier this month ‘GeenPeil’ came into the news by indications that the Dutch campaign of ‘GeenPeil’ for the referendum on the European Association Agreement with Ukraine was financed with money from the European Parliament. European legislation prohibits such subsidies to be used for campaigns, elections or referenda.

Bart Nijman of ‘GeenPeil’ says the explanation of abuse of subsidy “makes no sense” and he will abstain from further comments.

On April 6, 2016 in the Netherlands a consultative referendum will be held. One can then vote on the Association Agreement between the European Union (EU) and Ukraine. On the ballot paper will be placed the following question: are you in favour or against the ratification of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine? In total, 2 million Euro subsidy has been provided by the government to both companies (legal entities) as civilians to make campaigning possible. There may be a pro-, anti-, and neutral campaign conducted.

Read also: FAQ: What does the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement mean for the Netherlands

Quote from correspondence regarding the purchase contract between citizens and ‘GeenPeil’:
Step 3a: you get subsidy, then you pay us the money and we’ll give you everything you need for the campaign. We even will provide you a map out where in your community you can get the best way of working. Also, we provide you campaign materials and put you in touch with other enthusiastic people in your community. In addition, your budget overdue could be used by yourself to reimburse your volunteers and to pay your expenses.

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