In a flurry of newspaper and television interviews, ministers and political leaders have been quick to stake their claims ahead of next week’s first debate on the budget and the 2014 spending plans.
Prime minister Mark Rutte said in a weekend interview with news agency De Persdienst he believes people understand the reason for a new round of austerity measures.
‘If I talk to people for longer, then they say ‘we understand what you are doing, and it is logical to take steps’,’ Rutte said.
The Netherlands is in a difficult phase and it is not surprising ministers are not being applauded, the prime minister said.
Two demonstrations, one organised by the Socialist Party and one by the anti-Islam PVV took place on Saturday against the €6bn austerity drive.
According to police, around 1,500 people gathered in the centre of The Hague to hear PVV leader Geert Wilders describe the government as a disaster. One banner read ‘Rutte, you make the Netherlands vomit’, Nos television reported.
In Amsterdam, some 3,000 people gathered for a protest march supported by 40 different parties, unions and other organisations.
Meanwhile, the VVD’s parliamentary party leader Halbe Zijlstra has irritated Labour, the unions and employers by saying the ‘social’ agreement signed by the cabinet, unions and employers earlier this year could be renegotiated if that is necessary to win opposition support. Economic affairs minister Henk Kamp later made similar comments.
The coalition does not have a majority in the upper house of parliament, and senate approval is needed to get its budget measures onto the statute books. The social agreement includes measures to amend redundancy law and cut jobless benefits but not until 2016, when economic recovery is expected.
In a joint interview with the Nederlands Dagblad, the opposition D66 Liberals and ChristenUnie said they are prepared to support the coalition in the upper house of parliament, in return for concessions.
‘We would like to see an earlier reduction in unemployment benefit and changes to redundancy law instead,’ Alexander Pechtold, leader of the D66 Liberal democrats, told the paper.
Not an option
Labour leader Diederik Samsom was quick to respond, saying this is not an option. Samsom said he is convinced ‘the social agreement provides a strong foundation to ensure political support for improving redundancy law, unemployment benefit and jobs.’
Unions and employers also said there can be no changes to the package, Nos television reported.
Pechtold went on to attack the coalition for increasing the tax burden on families and companies, saying the cabinet has gone too far in its efforts to reduce the income gap.
Leading economists have also criticised the new tax measures. ‘Reducing the income gap is a tax on working hard,’ economics professor Lars Bovenburg said in Saturday’s Telegraaf. ‘You are breaking entrepreneurship and making workers less likely to take risks.’
On Friday the Financieele Dagblad reported that people earning more than double the average income will see 59% of their salary go in taxes within three years time.