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New Dutch government scraps Olympics bid, raises drinking age

The Liberal-Labour coalition will also cut government spending by €16 billion over the next five years.

Liberal premier Mark Rutte, right, and Labour's Diederik Samsom attend a joint news conference in The Hague.
Liberal premier Mark Rutte, right, and Labour's Diederik Samsom attend a joint news conference in The Hague.
Image: Peter Dejong/AP

A NEW DUTCH ruling coalition made up of the liberal VVD party and the centre-left Labour Party plans to slash government spending by €16 billion by 2017.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he and Labour leader Diederik Samsom today agreed to a policy blueprint for their new coalition, an announcement that came after weeks of closed-door talks aimed at bridging the ideological gaps between the parties.

“Getting government finances in order is an absolute priority,” Rutte said as he gave the financial targets for cuts.

The deal confirms Rutte’s second term as the Netherlands’ leader. 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 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.

Healthy majority

VVD and Labour together hold 79 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, after both recorded big gains in the election on September 12.

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 Eurosceptic 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 Labour 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.”

The Dutch had last bid for the games in 2008, but Amsterdam had been earmarked for bids for the 2028 Summer Games after winning the rights to hold the 2016 European Athletics Championships.

The new coalition also pledged to lift the age at which Dutch youths can buy alcohol from 16 to 18 years.

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Associated Press

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