What a great selection of conjuring tricks the government has attempted to pull off in its efforts to kick-start the economy, writes Robin Pascoe.
Firstly there is the question of the magically-appearing money. The newspaper headlines talk of €17bn in extra investments. But yesterday the prime minister said the government was pumping €6bn into crisis-busting measures.
So where did the extra cash come from? Oh yes, €1.5bn from the provinces (surely this is not to be confused with the cash the provincial governments are already spending on beating the recession) and a whopping €10bn extra for unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefit has suddenly become an investment? A nice piece of sleight of hand that.
Then there are the disappearing tricks – subsidies to make old cars disappear and the vanishing of the flight tax introduced just last year. And all that investment in insulating homes, schools and nursing homes will stop a lot of heat disappearing into thin air.
Most interesting will be extra subsidies for alternative energy such as wind power – much of which will vanish to Sweden and Germany, thanks to the sale of our two biggest power companies.
Of course, the prime minister pulled a few things out the hat as well. But the plans to increase the state pension age seem set to create as many problems as rabbits have babies – thanks to the involvement of his lovely assistant, trade union leader Agnes Jongerius.
But perhaps the best bit of the whole show is the finale – the savings – which will be delayed until election year 2011. Which means it will be up to the next government to tackle the budget deficit, not the current one. A sight of relief from the audience.
The midnight meetings, the leaks and rumours, the anticipation, the threat that something might go wrong, and then the actual performance. Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende has indeed proved himself a master illusionist.
Pity the reviews so far are not that great.
Robin Pascoe is a founder of DutchNews.nl
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