With the latest polls putting the Christian Democrats just one seat behind Labour, prime minister Jan Pieter Balkenende must be a happy man today.

The budget, just nine weeks before the general election, is the perfect opportunity to let the voters know just how sweet things are going to be next year. After all, he can say, the tough policies of the past two years are starting to bear fruit. Next year, everyone is going to have more cash in their pockets. But because we have a minority cabinet, there was nothing controversial expected in today’s budget announcements either. No mad ministerial plans to built an airport at sea or introduce a new tax. It was tame stuff, and rightfully so. The new government should not be saddled with last-minute hairbrained schemes by the outgoing cabinet. And it is by no means certain that the plans outlined today will all end up being implemented either. Next week is when things might get really interesting. This is when MPs debate the budget and come up with amendments. Who knows, the cash earmarked for health could go up by a couple of million euros, thanks to a fuss by one party or another. The debate is the opportunity for the opposition parties to make their presence felt. That will be when the election campaign really gets going.

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