Drop in support for austerity deal parties

Tue, May 8, 2012, 01:00

DUTCH OPINION POLL:THE FIVE Dutch political parties who put together a controversial €13 billion austerity package for Brussels less than a fortnight ago would no longer have a majority in parliament if an election were held today, according to a new opinion poll.

The package led to the collapse of the Netherlands’ minority coalition government last month – but was salvaged by a last-minute ad-hoc arrangement between the governing Liberals and Christian Democrats, supported by GreenLeft, the centre-left D66 and the centrist Christian Unity. The five parties had a narrow two-seat majority, with 77 seats in the 150-seat parliament, at the time of the deal, which aims to bring the country’s budget deficit into line with the euro zone requirement of 3 per cent of GDP next year.

The deal appeared to have popular support in its immediate aftermath, but yesterday’s poll indicates that attitudes may be hardening towards some of its tougher elements – such as a higher pension age, a 2 per cent increase in VAT, more expensive healthcare, and a public sector pay freeze for civil servants, teachers and police.

The Maurice de Hond poll shows that, if an election were held today, the five parties would fall back to just 74 seats, three fewer than at the time of the deal and two short of a majority. This is a worrying prospect for the EU because it could lead to the unravelling of the austerity deal.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals would have 30 seats compared with the current 31; the Christian Democrats would have just 13 compared with 21; and D66 would have 17, the Greens eight and Christian Unity six.

The fear for the five parties – known as “the Kunduz coalition” after they backed an extension of the tour of duty by Dutch troops in the Afghan province of Kunduz last year – is that the gap could continue to widen in the long run-up to the September 12th election.

Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, which lost two seats in polling after rejecting the deal, has regained those seats. The party plans to campaign on an anti-EU and anti-euro platform. Mr Wilders held the balance of power after the 2010 election, and on current polling could do so again.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming reaction in the Dutch media to weekend election results in France and Greece is that they pose a growing threat to a battered euro.