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Culture budget anno 2015. Not: '13.5 million more', but: 'no 13.5 million off'.

Update 4-12-15: During the plenary discussion of the culture budget on 3 December, Mr Monasch (PvdA) and Mr Van Veen (VVD) withdrew the controversial amendment. Instead, an amendment was adopted in which a one-off sum of 10 million was released from the additional proceeds of the tax on polluting companies. This contribution will support festivals, facilitate talent development and help open monument day, among other things. This amendment was supported by almost the entire House and was submitted by the VVD. Which thus confirms the news from this article: the party agrees that Halbe Zijlstra's cuts in Rutte I have gone too far and need repair.

The big news of the slightly chaotic 30 November parliamentary debate on the culture budget was not in the big words spoken. Nor was the big news that the PvdA, together with the VVD, came up with a bizarre amendment by which the national government would take free visual-art money away from municipalities to give to a few festivals and private security for De Balie debate centre. This is all true. The big news of the debate is that with the one-two punch with the Labour Party, the VVD has explicitly admitted that Rutte 1's culture cuts have missed the mark.

VVD culture spokesman Michiel van Veen became increasingly silent during the budget debate. He largely left defending his and PvdA MP Jacques Monasch's amendment to the latter. Smart in itself. Van Veen did not have to say what Monasch did say: that both VVD and PvdA are convinced that the cultural festivals in particular are being hit too hard and unjustly by the cuts, and that they want to repair this.

None of the other spokespeople actually picked out that fact, which was again striking. People mainly hammered on the plan's lack of substantive underpinning and the rather scandalous way in which this amendment is financially covered. Suffice it to say that the financing of the 13.5 million repair money is done because money that municipalities are now free to spend on encouraging visual artists in particular is earmarked by the state for festivals and securing potentially controversial art events. How controversial that plan is can be seen from the tweet report we made of the debate, which you can find at the bottom of this text.


Monasch and Van Veen collapsed more and more during the debate. Their cute little ball had become a bombshell and exploded in their own faces. The ministers of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (Plasterk, PvdA) and Culture (Bussemaker, also PvdA) don't like it. The BZK spokespersons of the two governing parties don't like it. It had not been discussed with anyone. And now the cultural world is angry too. Logical: they are fed up with being played off against each other again and again, now that, for the umpteenth time, an increase in one budget comes at the expense of another.

Why did Monasch and Van Veen decide on this perhaps political suicide bombing? It seems largely conjecture, but a nasty truth also looms. After all, Van Veen told the debate that he was already working on this plan in June. We have the report grabbed it and what turns out: the VVD did not like that visual arts money for the municipalities. Van Veen put it as follows: 'I cannot reconcile the decision to demand no quid pro quo from municipalities for as much as EUR 13.5 million with the matching and multiplier idea that is particularly effective at Economic Affairs, for example. No matching, no money: simple. What is the real reason for the Minister to abandon that thinking and throw more than EUR 13 million into the Municipal Fund tombola?

At the time, Monasch joyfully addressed the VVD's suggestion: 'Does Mr van Veen also agree with me that, especially in these times, it is not wise to decentralise 13.5 million without an earmark for culture? If this route is taken, shouldn't we look at alternative national spending? There is still plenty to do there and we can do so. Mr van Veen rightly pointed out points where some things still need to be done.’

Van Veen (VVD) accepted the invitation: 'I am building in a middle ground. First, I want to know from the Minister why she abandoned matching. In the policy we had before, municipalities had to match the money. I agree with Mr Monasch that we would like to see the money land in culture.


So at first glance, it seems like a politically motivated reallocation of the budget. The VVD wants to know how every cent is spent and does not want 'free' money that municipalities can use to fix their cultural budgets, for example. The Labour Party is keen to save festivals, suggesting that the VVD wants to take away that 13.5 million. Hence the two parties had divided the tasks. It is a trade-off construction in the best traditions of the current cabinet. And we also know who will suffer: anyway, the people who now use that free money for Visual Arts and Design. After all, they will lose that budget anyway. This has been threatened, and as a result, thanks to their own overconfident culture spokesperson, the two PvdA councillors have their backs against the wall: the only way to secure that 13.5 million for culture is this administratively improper grab (according to the minister during the debate) into the municipal coffers.

If they do not, the VVD will strip the money of its cultural purpose and allocate it to general resources, as has already happened with similar free budgets. The minister warns of this in its reply which was sent out today: 'The amendments by Monasch and Van Veen have consequences for supporting visual arts and design. What consequences this will have very precisely for individual municipalities is difficult to predict. €13.5 million will be taken from the municipal fund. Based on the above studies, it is plausible that €13.5 million in spending on visual arts and design will disappear as a result. However, the amendments to the OCW budget provide for a reinvestment of €13.5 million in the cultural sector. The funds will largely end up in places in the cultural sector other than visual arts and design. It is likely that the funds will also end up in other municipalities. The exact redistribution effects cannot be predicted now, as the funds will partly become available through an application system.’

Van Veen and Monasch are not friends. One of them has the other in a vice grip. But in the meantime, everyone thus forgets to signal that the VVD has admitted that the cuts to at least the festivals have proved unjust. It is up to the opposition to separate that fact from the discussion on the legitimacy of those decentralisation millions.

It just needs money now. Right?


Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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