Dutch PM seeks cross-party support for €9bn in budget cuts


DUTCH PRIME minister Mark Rutte has taken the unusual step of asking all 11 of the country’s political parties to support a €9 billion package of budget cuts in an effort to prevent the collapse of his coalition government – which is no longer assured of a working majority in parliament.

The coalition of Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrats (CDA) has been supported in power since 2010 by the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders – but the departure last week of one of Mr Wilders’s longest-serving deputies, Hero Brinkman, has left the government on a knife-edge.

Mr Brinkman, a former policeman and a deputy since 2006, left to set up his own party after disagreeing with Mr Wilders over the PVV’s anti-immigrant website – with the result the government plus the PVV are one crucial seat short of a majority.

Mr Brinkman, who remains an independent deputy, says he is still broadly supportive of the coalition – and has no intention of sparking a general election in such a difficult economic climate.

However, the fear in government circles is that his enmity with Mr Wilders could change that. Sources also point out that natural differences could also emerge, given the sensitive issues – such as tax and pension reform – being looked at in the austerity talks.

At the weekend, Mr Rutte – many of whose Liberal Party members are increasingly unhappy with its PVV alliance – acknowledged this potential electoral timebomb as “a special political situation”.

“Our budget deficit must be brought under control in line with EU monetary union requirements – and so we are now going to seek as broad a range of political support as possible,” he said.

However, the possibility of an election is now very much in the wind, and the main parties are beginning to reposition themselves in search of new partners.

In the most interesting overture, one of Mr Rutte’s Liberal colleagues, former minister Johan Remkes, said that while he did not favour an election, this might be the time for an alliance with Labour rather than the PVV.

However, that suggestion was immediately rejected by new Labour leader Diederik Samsom – a former Greenpeace campaigner known as “quiz king” for winning five television quiz shows – who replied that Labour would not be used to shore up the government if the PVV pulled out.

“You don’t solve this crisis with a package of unconnected measures gathered from every quarter,” Mr Samsom said. “If Rutte has no support for his approach, he should call an election.”

The leader of the centre-left party D66, Alexander Pechtold, agreed: if the budget talks collapsed an election should be called.

Meanwhile, polling yesterday showed the PVV had been damaged by Mr Brinkman’s resignation. It would lose four seats if an election were held today, leaving it neck-and-neck with Labour as the third-largest party.