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Prinsjesdag 2004: budget cuts and mass protests

21 September 2004

AMSTERDAM — With the dust still settling in Rotterdam where up to 60,000 protested against the government on Monday, Budget Day in the Netherlands on Tuesday was marked with unions staging further protests against the government’s socio-economic policies.

Thousands of protestors assembled in various places across the country where large screens were erected to show Queen Beatrix’s Speech from the Throne. The main protest was held in The Hague, where an estimated 2,500 people protested outside Parliament, some of whom clashed with police.

Budget Day is held on the third Tuesday in September and is known in Dutch as Prinsjesdag. Traditionally the high point is the monarch’s speech. It was the 25th time on Tuesday that Queen Beatrix delivered the speech, in which she outlined the main points of government policy for the coming year.

The Queen left from Paleis Noordeinde at 1pm in the historic golden coach and made a short tour through the streets of The Hague before arriving at the Knights Hall (Ridderzaal), within the Dutch parliament buildings complex.

Proceedings in the Ridderzaal ended once the speech was read and attention turned to the Lower House of Parliament, Tweede Kamer, where Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm presented the 2005 Budget.

But there were few surprises this year. RTL Nieuws broke the traditional embargo and released a leaked version of the report last week indicating the government intended to extend its cost cutting drive to ward off a “chronic” economic illness.

And Zalm told Parliament that the despite a strengthening economic recovery, the reforms and cutbacks must continue. This is because excessive high wage increases in recent years has left  the country in “arrears” compared with its competitors.

The Dutch economy shrank by 0.9 percent last year and is forecast to grow by a modest 1.25 percent this year and 1.5 percent in 2005. The budget deficit will drop from 3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 2.6 percent next year as the government moves to save EUR 2.5 billion.

Zalm told MPs that giving the economy an artificial boost is not a real option and most government departments will have to make do with spending cuts. The most vulnerable sections of society will be spared the full impact of the cuts.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende did not attend Tuesday’s ceremony because he is still recovering in hospital in Capelle aan den IJssel from an infected foot.

He has undergone two operations and is expected to remain on leave until at least the start of October. As a result, the budget debate in parliament has been postponed. Political leaders will meet on Wednesday morning to decide when the discussions will take place.

Prinsjesdag is considered unofficially as the opening of the new parliamentary year and unions took the opportunity this year to express their outrage at the government’s austerity measures.

Union officials have estimated about 60,000 people protested in Rotterdam on Monday as public transport staff, port workers and teachers launched a mass strike.

Trade union confederations FNV, CNV and MHP are particularly angered by cuts to fiscally attractive early retirement schemes, social security — such as WW unemployment benefits and the WAO worker disability pension — and healthcare.    

Union leaders Lodewijk de Waal (FNV), Doekle Terpstra (CNV) and Ad Verhoeven (MHP) were to give a public reaction to the budget on the Spuiplein in The Hague on Tuesday.

About 2,000 people in Utrecht, up to 3,000 in Eindhoven and 3,500 in Arnhem downed tools. At the start of the day, many of the protestors were expected to be staff at municipal councils, ministries and fire brigades.

Public broadcaster NOS broadcast Prinsjesdag live on Radio 1 from midday and on television on Nederland 2 from 12.30pm. Its internet website and Teletext also gave coverage of the event.

The Dutch capital was not spared demonstrations either, as hundreds of public servants also staged a protest on Tuesday. The union-led campaign will also culminate in Amsterdam on 2 October when 100,000 people are expected to participate in a mass protest.

[Copyright Expatica News + Novum Nieuws 2004]

Subject: Dutch news