Public sacrifices 'needed' for social solidarity

29th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

29 September 2004 , AMSTERDAM — The Dutch government's healthcare and social security reforms demand sacrifices from the public as the changes are necessary to guarantee future solidarity in society, Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm told MPs on Wednesday.

29 September 2004

AMSTERDAM — The Dutch government's healthcare and social security reforms demand sacrifices from the public as the changes are necessary to guarantee future solidarity in society, Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm told MPs on Wednesday.

Speaking in the Lower House of Parliament during the debate on the 2005 Budget, Zalm admitted that the Cabinet's plans would be painful.  "The negative consequences are directly visible and the benefits are visible only in the long term," he said.

The Deputy Prime Minister made it clear that mounting public protests had not escaped the Cabinet's attention, news agency ANP reported. Zalm was filling in for Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who is hospital getting treatment for a serious foot infection.

He said he remained convinced of the necessity of increasing participation rates in the Dutch workforce and managing healthcare costs. He said he had to push forward with the economising measures to achieve these aims.

The Cabinet plans to cut EUR 2.5 billion from the budget next year to reduce the deficit to 2.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Recovering from a nine-month recession last year, the economy is forecast to grow by just 1.25 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year.

MPs of government coalition parliamentary parties, the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66, unveiled a compromise plan on Tuesday to reduce the budget cuts by EUR 1.1 billion.

Zalm had reportedly responded with interest to the plan, raising the speculation that the Cabinet would ease its planned budget cuts. And while criticising the plans somewhat on Wednesday, he said the alternatives could strengthen public support of the budget.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet is trying to attract as much support as possible for its budgetary policies and Zalm — who is also the Finance Minister — said he regretted that negotiations between the government and trade unions have collapsed.

Unions have instead opted for a rolling industrial action and protest campaign. An estimated 60,000 people protested during a day of strikes in Rotterdam last week and 10,000 took to the streets when industrial action halted public transport in Amsterdam on Monday. Protests were also held in The Hague, Arnhem, Utrecht and Eindhoven last week.

"People can rise up for their own interest, so long as they do not damage other people," Zalm said.

He added that criticism of the Cabinet by FNV trade union federation chief Lodewijk de Waal — who labelled government ministers as liars and swindlers — demonstrated a lack of respect.

The VVD minister denied that the Cabinet's plans — which are focused on increasing the supply of labour — are poorly timed, given the fact unemployment continues to rise.

"We are at the turning point. It is time for us to prepare for the economic recovery," he said.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news

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