MPs angry as PM misses pension debate

Opposition MPs have reacted furiously to the refusal of the prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende and finance minister Wouter Bos to attend Thursday evening’s debate on the increase in the state pension age to 67.

Instead the debate will be led by social affairs minister Piet Hein Donner and his deputy Jetta Klijnsma.
Femke Halsema, leader of the left-wing green party GroenLinks said she was extremely disappointed. The prime minister should be at a debate about one of the government’s biggest reforms, she was reported as saying by the Telegraaf.
Liberal leader Mark Rutte said the prime minister’s decision is ”holding parliament in contempt’. The planned increase in the state pension is one of the few things the government is doing to counteract the economic crisis and the prime minister should lead the debate himself, Rutte said.
A spokesman for Balkenende told the Telegraaf the prime minister and finance minister had never agreed to be at the debate. They had both repeatedly defended the policy and it is up to the social affairs minister Piet Hein Donner to deal with the details, the spokesman said.
But a spokesman for parliamentary chairwoman Gerdi Verbeek said MPs had unanimously agreed that Balkenende and Bos should be invited. The debate had been scheduled so both ministers could attend, the spokesman pointed out.
Opposition parties are now considering boycotting the debate if the prime minister does not attend, the NRC says.
Opposition MPs are opposed to the state pension age increase for a number of reasons. The Socialists and anti-immigration PVV are against the rise in principle, the Liberals say it is too complicated and GroenLinks is concerned about the effect on people who started work at a young age.
Ministers agreed in October the state pension age will go up in two stages, from 65 to 66 in 2020 and then again to 67 in 2026.
The hikes will not be phased in, but people will still be able to retire at 65 in return for a lower pension.
To lessen the blow for people doing ‘heavy work’, ministers have also agreed to amend health and safety legislation to force employers to find them alternative tasks after 30 years. As yet, the concept of heavy work has not been defined.

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