New Dutch coalition govt seeks $20 billion in cuts
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A new Dutch ruling coalition made up of the pro-free market VVD party and the center-left Labor Party plans to slash government spending by €16 billion ($20.6 billion) by 2017.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he and Labor leader Diederik Samsom agreed Monday to a policy blueprint for their new coalition, an announcement that came after weeks of closed-door talks aimed at bridging their parties' ideological gulf.
"Getting government finances in order is an absolute priority," Rutte said as he gave the financial targets for cuts.
It's his second term as leader of this European Union nation of 16 million. His new administration is expected to be sworn in next week.
The blueprint underscored that Rutte's second government will continue the fiscally conservative policies of his first coalition, which was a staunch supporter of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's tough line on financial responsibility as the EU struggles to rein in its debt crisis.
Samsom conceded that the deal means more belt-tightening for the Netherlands, one of Europe's most economically stable nations and one of only a handful of EU states to have kept its top AAA government credit rating throughout the crisis.
"You can't say you're happy with this deal, because everybody will have to make sacrifices," Samsom told reporters in Parliament.
VVD and Labor together hold 79 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives after both recorded big gains in Sept. 12 election.
That healthy majority is in stark contrast to Rutte's first administration, which was a minority coalition supported by the Freedom Party of maverick anti-Islam Euroskeptic lawmaker Geert Wilders.
Rutte's first government collapsed earlier this year after 18 months in office when Wilders refused to support a far-reaching austerity program aimed at bringing the Dutch government debt within EU guidelines.
The policy platform made clear that the Dutch will remain strong supporters of the European Union.
"Europe is of great importance for our peace, security and prosperity," the 81-page document said.
Rutte said his party had made "an important concession" to Labor by agreeing to cut tax relief on the mortgages of the wealthy. Rutte's VVD had long pledged not to lower mortgage relief, including at the September elections.
The blueprint also said the Netherlands will not try to host the Olympic Games, saying that successfully bidding for and organizing the Olympics "brings financial risks. There is little support for this in a time of crisis and austerity."
In the past, the Dutch had considered bidding for the Olympics in 2008 — exactly a century after Amsterdam last staged the games.
The new coalition also pledged to lift the age at which Dutch youths can buy alcohol from 16 to 18 years.