The main opposition parties have reacted with scepticism to the reform package worked out by unions and employers, saying it will do little to improve the economy and highlights cabinet weaknesses.
Sybrand Buma, leader of the Christian Democrats and a key ally for the government in the upper house of parliament, said the deal showed unions and employers took their responsibilities seriously.
‘But I have many questions about what the VVD and Labour party will actually do with the deal,’ he said. ‘It is even more unclear what the cabinet is actually planning to do. In this respect, the cabinet has left running the country to the unions and employers.’
Alexander Pechtold, leader of the D66 Liberals and another senate key ally, said the new agreement means the coalition’s plans have been binned.
The deal is disappointing and raises three main questions, Pechtold said. ‘How many jobs will this cost, how much extra tax will we have to pay and what is its impact on the government’s spending plans?’
Pechtold said the government did not appear to be making any real progress and is simply ‘gambling on growth’. This is because reforms to unemployment benefit and redundancy law are being delayed until 2016.
Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer said while the unions and employers have gone back on the government’s planned cuts, the door has been kept open for ministers to step in again.
‘One positive thing is there will be no pay freeze for healthcare staff and that they have adopted our approach to dealing with flexible contracts,’ Roemer said. ‘But I also have my doubts about the unemployment benefit plans,’ he said. ‘What will happen in the third year – it can go any way.’
Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration PVV, says the reforms need to be about boosting spending power. ‘You get that by lowering taxes and saving billions of euros on aid,’ Wilders said. ‘This deal is aimed at keeping Rutte in his office for longer and not boosting confidence.’
But Halbe Zijlstra, parliamentary leader of the ruling VVD Liberals described the deal as a ‘package of important measures which will modernise the labour market, stimulate employment and reform the social security system’. The delays built into the deal are ‘the price we have to pay,’ Zijlstra said.
The VVD’s coalition partner Labour denied the agreement meant government policy is being put on the back burner.
‘It is precisely what the Netherlands needs,’ party leader Diederik Samsom said. ‘The deal fills in the details of a number of important aspects of the coalition agreement… it offers security to people in work and hope to those without.’
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