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POLITICAL ECONOMY
Dutch minister introduces austerity budget
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Sept 18, 2012


Outgoing Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager introduced an austerity budget Tuesday aimed at steering Europe's fifth-largest economy back below a Brussels-imposed deficit target.

"With this extra package of some 12 billion euros ($15.6 billion) we are bringing back the budget deficit to 2.7 percent (of gross domestic product)," De Jager told the 150-seat lower house of the Dutch parliament.

"It's a tough package. But we have rules that are necessary and will be good for the country," De Jager said ahead of the final meeting of the outgoing Dutch parliament led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte's erstwhile minority coalition government.

The 2013 budget aims to bring the deficit -- at 4.7 percent last year -- to below the European Union's ceiling of three percent by introducing deep cuts in health care, a freeze in civil servants' salaries and major tax hikes.

The agreement was hammered out in late April by a hastily-convened five-party alliance to press it through parliament and get it delivered to the European Commission's doorstep at the 11th hour.

Rutte's two-year-old coalition crashed a few days earlier over the issue, when his parliamentary ally, the far-right platinum-haired politician Geert Wilders walked out of austerity talks.

Fresh elections were held last week and were again won by Rutte's pro-business Liberal VVD, who gained 41 seats in the 150-seat lower house.

He is now now in talks to form a coalition of convenience with the centre-left Labour party of former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom, who snatched 38 seats.

Some Dutch newspapers Tuesday already wrote off De Jager's budget proposal as a "senseless exercise" with analysts saying although it would form a base, many of the more unpopular proposals are likely to be dumped by the new coalition government.

Most of the parties who helped putting together the package in April already changed their tune in the run-up to the vote, the paper added.

"The political coalition has already long-ago fallen apart," said the left-wing Volkskrant, adding: "In the campaign, parties tossed away unpopular suggestions in the package -- with (Rutte's) VVD at the front."

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