The cabinet’s decision to postpone new austerity measures in order to boost the jobs market came in for considerable criticism on Friday, with opposition parties accusing the government of failing to take responsibility.
Five parties have now called for the plans to be looked at by the macro-economic forecasting body CPB to assess their effect on economic growth, employment, productivity and the budget deficit.
Although the plans have been embraced by the ruling Labour party, evidence of unease among VVD ranks is already emerging.
Health minister Edith Schippers said ahead of Friday afternoon’s cabinet meeting she would not say whether or not the plans were sensible without further information. The VVD’s youth wing has already said the deal should be binned.
The agreement between unions and employers – known as a ‘social accord’ – is aimed at maximising support for reforms and easing their passage through the upper house of parliament. The Labour-VVD coalition is eight seats short of a majority in the senate.
The cabinet hopes the agreement will lead to increased optimism among in the general population and industry, so stimulating economic growth.
It involves putting an €4.3bn austerity package on hold until the autumn and delaying reforms to redundancy law and unemployment benefit until 2016. Plans to impose a 5% disabled quota on larger firms have also been replaced with a voluntary agreement.
Social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher (Labour) and economic affairs minister Henk Kamp (VVD) both said on Friday the deal is now ‘set in concrete’ and will be implemented.
Ministers will look again at the austerity package in the autumn, when the cabinet will do what is necessary, Asscher said. ‘The economy is forecast to grow in 2014 and we hope it will pick up even more,’ Asscher noted.
Prime minister Mark Rutte said during his weekly news conference that the cabinet will now look for the support of other parties. ‘That is why we are holding a debate next week,’ he said.
Parliament will debate the agreement next Wednesday. Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma, who could give the government a majority in the senate, says he has ‘very many questions’ about the deal.
Alexander Pechtold, leader of the D66 Liberals who has five seats in the senate, said the government did not appear to be making any real progress and is simply ‘gambling on growth’.
The Socialist Party and Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration PVV could also both give the cabinet a senate majority. Wilders has already dismissed the agreement, saying: ‘this deal is aimed at keeping Rutte in his office for longer and not boosting confidence.’
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