The government came under heavy fire from opposition MPs on Wednesday afternoon, as MPs debated the decision to postpone €4.3bn in austerity measures.
Last week, unions and employers agreed the package should be delayed to give the economy time to recover – a position apparently supported by ministers.
But later ministers issued a string of confusing statements about whether or not there would be a rethink in the autumn – if the budget deficit seems set to break the 3% eurozone barrier next year.
During Thursday’s debate, Rutte admitted there is a ‘real risk’ that all or some of the cuts may be back on the table by September because the cabinet is determined to meet the 3% target.
But the prime minister stressed last week’s ‘social accord’ can contribute to economic growth. The deal includes postponing planned cuts on jobless benefit and redundancy pay. And he welcomed the commitment of other parties to ‘thinking together’ about further austerity measures.
Ministers hope that by having the support of both unions and employers, it will be easier to push the plans through the upper house of parliament where it does not control a majority of the votes.
However, the main opposition parties have so far refused to say if they will accept some or all of the social pact. And they were particularly scathing of the prime minister’s repeated calls for people to be positive and to spend money.
RTL commentator Frits Wester described the debate as ‘chaotic’. ‘I have the impression we are watching an amateur theatre group and that would be a better standard than this,’ Wester said.
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