Budget day yesterday was bit like the Dutch Sinterklaas celebration: lots of present-giving accompanied by a sermon-like poem explaining why you deserve a new pair of socks.
The new pair of socks for most people is 1% increase in purchasing power. The poems were all about reaping the fruits of tough budgetary policy in the preceding years. Prime minister Balkenende’s face gleamed as he talked about the teamwork between the nation and the government which has laid the foundation for economic revival. The Netherlands is working again, he said. Oh yes? Well the health system is certainly not working, costs are out of control and a quarter of elderly patients are underfed. Low-income families need more than a pair of socks, having had their financial situation squeezed constantly for several years. And education is in desperate need of far more money than it has been allocated.
With elections just two months away, Balkenende pointed to a bright new future. But commentators pointed out that economic revival has far more to do with global economic growth and higher gas revenues than Balkenende’s policies.
As one opposition politician put it: the prime minister is like a cockerel crowing that the sun has risen – and that he made it rise.