The Corona pandemic and the war in Ukraine show that raw materials and essential products can become scarce. The Court of Auditors has mapped which strategic buffers the Dutch central government maintains and whether they can be used if the need arises.
There are operational and strategic stocks of oil, medicine, medical equipment and cash, notes the Court of Auditors. The national government chooses not to keep a strategic stockpile of gas and food. In addition, little progress has been made in designating national groundwater reserves.
The Netherlands largely complies with the international mandatory stock of oil. Using this strategic oil supply provides comfort only for a short period of time. The Ministry of Economy expects that there may be a shortage of diesel in the Netherlands due to the impending sanctions against Russia. Crucial parts of the economy may run into problems due to diesel shortages and the associated higher diesel prices. Think of the transport and logistics sector or agriculture. Diesel is also important during a crisis, for example to keep the food supply going and to keep the emergency generators going. There is currently no national emergency plan for oil (as there is for gas and electricity).
The national government has no strategic gas reserves, and the climate and energy minister has no plans to do so either. The minister refers to the storage that the Netherlands has as an operational stock and supplies a significant part of the necessary gas in the winter. This gas is sold to the highest bidder in the Netherlands or abroad and is therefore not reserved for users in the Netherlands. EU legislation stipulates that strategic stockpiles may not be restricted for one’s own country either. Since the middle of this year, the state has provided financial assistance to fill the gas stocks because there are insufficient financial incentives for the market parties to fill. Several countries in the EU have strategic gas storage facilities.
Gas extraction in Groningen. © Sander Van Der Werf | Dreamstime.com
In contrast to, for example, Germany and Switzerland, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Food Quality (LNV) does not have a strategic food stock that can be used in a food crisis. According to research from Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands can produce enough food itself. Nevertheless, situations can be imagined, such as major droughts or floods, that make food production difficult or even impossible. A few years ago, the LNV Ministry started writing a food safety handbook and a food distribution pact between the government and the market. According to the Court of Auditors’ investigation, there is great uncertainty about the first food emergency aid: The national government, security regions and municipalities have a task, but who exactly has to do what and when has not been specified. According to the ministry, there is still much to be done to really get crisis preparedness in order.
Drinking water companies are legally obliged to take various measures in case of emergency. In addition to this, the provinces designate so-called additional strategic stocks to guarantee the drinking water supply until 2040. Since 2014, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management has also set himself the goal of designating national groundwater reserves. These reserves are intended for drinking water supply after 2040 and large-scale disasters. In its investigation, the Court notes that little progress has been made in identifying these reserves. There is sufficient (drinking) water in the Netherlands on an annual basis, but shortages may occur regionally or depending on the season.
De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) aims to have a stock of coins of around 50 million euros. DNB does not have a strategic stock of banknotes. The European Central Bank has it, but its value and storage locations are secret. DNB and the Minister of Finance are investigating digital payment alternatives for emergency situations. It is unclear whether the Dutch can get enough cash in the event that, for example, it is no longer possible to pay by card due to power or network failure.
More information, including what the Court of Auditors thinks about the stock of medical supplies, can be found in the research report Focus on strategic stocks.