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September 01, 2017

Rutte deflates Dutch labour party like a hot air balloon

The crisis of the Dutch caretaker government precipitated by the demand by the labour party PvdA for higher education spending in the 2018 budget has blown over, and has resulted in putting the PvdA and its leader Lodewijk Asscher in their place. They are a junior partner in a caretaker government, their parliamentary strength was decimated at the March general election, and they don't get to dictate the budget of the new government, presumably composed of Mark Rutte's VVD, the Christian parties CDA and CU, and the left-liberal D66. Bert Wagendorp comments that Asscher deflated like a hot air balloon. All the PvdA got was an unspecified "guarantee" by Mark Rutte that there will be something for teachers in the new budget, which has now been submitted to the Council of State for its advisory opinion.

For the past couple of weeks, the Dutch press has been focusing more on the threat of a crisis in the caretaker government than on the talks to form a new cabinet reflecting the result of the March general election. Perhaps this is a sign that, after the leak of a draft agreement on medical ethics three weeks ago, the negotiating parties are enforcing the unwritten rule that there should be no leaks during negotiations. Or perhaps it is a sign that the negotiations are not progressing. The fact is that Rutte appeared to be busier negotiating to keep the PvdA in the caretaker Rutte II government than negotiating with his presumed partners for Rutte III. 

But there are some real issues that the negotiating parties will have to sort out if Rutte III is to be successful. NRC has an interesting piece about two former ministers in the Balkenende IV cabinet, from PvdA and CU, warning the parties not to leave the medical ethics issue open. The draft agreement that was leaked last month gave the parties freedom to pursue their policies from the parliament even if the government would not introduce legislation on assisted suicide. As difficult as it may be for CU and D66 to compromise, Rutte III may end up being short-lived if this issue is not addressed. Another pressing issue is environmental taxes. With the Green Left out of the government negotiations over its stance on immigration, the D66 is the only party with an interest in ramping up environmental taxes. The most the right-wing parties VVD and CDA will concede is that any new taxes be budget-neutral, that is compensated with tax cuts elsewhere, writes Volkskrant. The parties are considering some for of vehicle tax based on mileage and not a flat rate. Taxing vehicles differently depending on their fuel type is also a possibility, which will add to the debate on the relative merits of diesel and gasoline. And also, the Netherlands might remove the tax exemptions such as for aircraft fuel on international flights or for diesel in freight transport.

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