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Meuwese on new developments in Dutch cabinet’s response to child benefits scandal

In recent days and weeks, experts have been falling over themselves to point the finger at the main culprit in the Dutch child benefits scandal. Although this debate is fascinating, equally important are the broader lessons to be drawn from the scandal in relation to constitutional and administrative law, says Anne Meuwese, Professor Public Law & Governance of Artificial Intelligence (AI), in her blog published on online platform de Nederlandse Rechtsstaat.

Maatwerk en openheid

Customisation and openness

In its response of 15 January 2021 to the Parliamentary Investigative Committee’s report on the scandal surrounding child benefits, the cabinet provided a clear direction for these broader lessons. Since the ‘existing administrative law was unable to prevent the rules being applied too strictly’, it is clear that reform is required. Customisation and openness are what must be pursued.

From the child benefits scandal, we can also learn that taking reforms too far can create blind spots. This would be a disservice to the rule of law, says Meuwese. The response of the cabinet is a good start in preventing new problems. It stresses that the government must always balance different considerations and that simple solutions are rare.

Below is a list of seven foreseeable pitfalls. Meuwese does not consider some greater constitutional law issues such as the consequences of ministerial responsibility and the role of the judicial system. Here, she focuses on what the cabinet refers to under the title ‘Legislation and regulations, and the human dimension’.

The seven foreseeable pitfalls

  • Introducing new lack of clarity in legislation;
  • An exclusive focus on hardship clauses;
  • Lessons concerning ‘doability’ of regulations for citizens;
  • Generalising about ‘hardship’;
  • Expectations of human assessment being too high;
  • Expectations of algorithms being too low;
  • Piling up steps for the review of regulations.


Read the full blog (in Dutch)

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