Nieuwsuur asked the tax law departments of various universities about external funding over the past five years. Although the professors are transparent about their ancillary positions, they did not report that their chairs were totally or partially funded by external institutions.
This includes Arnaud de Graaf, endowed professor of International and European tax law at Erasmus School of Law (ESL). The Ministry of Finance sponsored the PhD research and loaned him to EUR for free for one day a week. On his appointment, the Ministry also obtained a vote in the application procedure, whereby their own staff member was chosen. Later, the Tax Authorities paid his salary. De Graaf no longer works for the Tax Authorities or the Ministry.
From 2013 to 2021, tax consultants EY also funded two chairs in tax law. This involved Professors Walter de Wit and Reinout Kok. They received their salary from their employer EY and spent one day a week at the university working unpaid. In addition, the accountancy office paid a total of 100,000 euros a year, intended for PhD research.
EY was part of the appointment advisory committee, which assesses potential professors, but had no voting rights. However, the firm was allowed to advise on the best candidate. On two occasions, a member of staff from EY was chosen. According to EUR, it was not established in advance that candidates linked to EY would be appointed to the chairs. Since the end of their terms of office, De Wit and Kok have become ordinary professors at ESL.
Money for research
Furthermore, the research of Arjen Schep for the Taxes of local authorities chair was funded by several municipalities and municipal partnerships. The five partners each contribute 20,000 euros to research relating to research into local taxes, Erasmus University told Nieuwsuur.
The fifth chair appointed by EUR is that of Madeleine Merkx. She is Professor of Indirect Taxation. This chair is funded by the European Fiscal Studies Foundation, which will become a partnership under the EUR Holding from 2022. EUR is its full shareholder. The foundation will be funded by providing post-academic education and has no other underlying financiers or donors.
Members of Parliament Jasper van Dijk (SP) and Pieter Omtzigt asked parliamentary questions about the Nieuwsuur investigation, which mentioned several universities. Van Dijk wants Minister Dijkgraaf to explain how ‘untransparent funding can be prevented’. Omtzigt calls professors paid by the state ‘brilliant’ but wants to see this done via the budget of the Ministry of Education rather than through Finance or the Tax Authorities. “In fiscal matters, there are far too many endowed professors, paid by industry. This means there is a lot of research into corporation tax and very little into surcharges. I would therefore like to see the complete list of sponsored chairs,” tweeted Omtzigt.
Umbrella organisation Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) told Nieuwsuur that Erasmus University and the other universities fulfilled the applicable norms for transparency. However, UNL wants better agreements. “We will be talking to Minister Dijkgraaf about the norms and duties of care relating to independence and transparency from the Code of Conduct for Academic Integrity. There must be no room for any lack of clarity.”