Deputy PM sorry for 'offensive' remarks
14 December 2005, BRUSSELS — Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Freya Van den Bossche refused to withdraw on Tuesday night her criticism of Dutch social and economic policies, but admitted her comments about several government leaders could have been "offensive".
14 December 2005
BRUSSELS — Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Freya Van den Bossche refused to withdraw on Tuesday night her criticism of Dutch social and economic policies, but admitted her comments about several government leaders could have been "offensive".
The Socialist SP.A minister said in an interview with Dutch magazine 'Vrij Nederland' that the policy of Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was "heartless".
However, she also said that her comments about several Dutch Cabinet ministers were offensive and uncalled for, Flemish newspaper 'De Tijd' reported on Wednesday.
Van den Bossche had asked sarcastically: "Do you sometimes have employment advertisements in your newspapers that read: if you are not stiff, dowdy and petit bourgeois you will not come into consideration for a ministerial post?"
Her comment was a reminder of a diplomatic row several months ago between the Netherlands and Belgium in which Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht criticised Balkenende.
The Christmas edition of Vrij Nederland includes an interview with Van den Bossche and a description of how the Belgian minister responded to photos of the Dutch cabinet.
Spontaneously she let slip the following comments: "Is Gerrit Zalm only 53? He looks much older … Balkenende is 49? You wouldn't say. He probably wore a similar striped suit on his 19th birthday … Who is that? Piet Hein Donner? Jesus, what does he look solemn. Is he of nobility?"
Van den Bossche also had criticism of the Dutch government's economising policies, warning that people on WAO worker disability benefits were simply being moved to social security instead of being offered work.
"Apart from my ideological preferences, I say as Budget Minister: you will never solve the problem of the budget deficit that way. You only solve that if more people start working. Then you stimulate the growth of the economy," she said.
"I don’t understand why Balkenende does it this way. He certainly doesn't want to get re-elected as Prime Minister?"
Further into the interview, the Belgian deputy prime minister urged for the retention of the social security safety net, even in times of an aging population.
"For that you need [government] measures, but in good discussions with the unions. The alternative is what you now see happening in the Netherlands and Germany. There is a heartless policy being pursued," she said.
"A society of winners will arise in which others fall overboard. We reject such a split society in Belgium".
However, it appears that Van den Bossche forgot the ongoing industrial unrest in Belgium as the nation's three main trade union federations resist the federal government's 'generation pact' aimed at lifting the minimum early retirement age. The government has refused to back down.
Previously Employment Minister, Van den Bossche was appointed federal Budget Minister in a Belgian Cabinet reshuffle in October. A popular and young politician, she was also the first minister in office to have a baby earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Dutch Finance Minister Zalm was informed about the interview during a debate in the Senate and "laughed heartily". A spokeswoman said the Liberal VVD minister thought it was a good "Belgian joke" and he looked forward to reading the entire interview.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Dutch news + Belgian news