Expatica news

Top bosses prefer Zalm over Balkenende for PM

14 January 2004

AMSTERDAM — Managers and directors of the largest Dutch companies believe Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm would be a better prime minister than the current incumbent, Jan Peter Balkenende, it was reported on Wednesday.

According to the finding of a poll of 138 business leaders by employers’ association VNO-NCW’s Forum magazine, Balkenende’s stock in the popularity stakes has nose-dived in the last 12 months.

In 2003, half of the top managers and directors saw Balkenende, the leader of the Christian Democrat CDA party, as the best candidate for the post of prime minister. A year later, his rating has plunged to 14 percent of the respondents.

In contrast, Zalm, the leader of Balkenende’s coalition Liberal VVD partner, got the backing of 24 percent of the business leaders as the best man to lead the country through the current economic malaise, news agency Novum Nieuws said.

Zalm is Finance Minister and one of Balkenende’s two deputy prime ministers.

And unlike Balkenende, who had no ministerial experience prior to leading his CDA party to victory in the May 2002 general election, Zalm was a highly-praised Finance Minister in the two-term centre-left coalition government from 1994-2002.

Earlier this month Zalm did admit however that he must shoulder part of the blame for the current weak state of the country’s finances.

Unconcerned by his candour, the top bosses gave Zalm a score of 7.1 out of 10 for his performance to date.

Social Affairs Minister Aart Jan de Geus came in second place with 6.8 in the Forum league table of the managers’ appraisal of the 15 ministers’ individual performances.

Balkenende was tied in 12th place on a 6.0 score with his immigration and integration minister Rita Verdonk who is charge of the controversial policy to expel unsuccessful asylum seekers.

Forum magazine said it was unclear why Balkenende’s standing in the eyes of the business leaders had dropped so dramatically.

But it was noteworthy, Forum said, that the managers and directors were unanimous in their annoyance about the way Balkenende has dealt with the “affairs” and “carry on” in relation to scandals in the Royal Family and the debate the Prime Minister initiated about the return to ‘traditional Dutch’ norms and values.

“The Netherlands is going back to the 1950s,” one respondent quipped, and managers also criticised the government’s foreign policy, the handling of the Iraq question and the “clumsy” EU policy.

Thom de Graaf, deputy prime minister and leader of the junior coalition partner D66, came in joint last place with Interior Minister Johan Remkes.

De Graaf has the thankless portfolios of government reform and kingdom relations.

The top managers did indicate however that 44 percent liked the current Cabinet more than the two previous coalition governments.

Some 22 percent said they favoured the centre-left government of Prime Minister Wim Kok (1994-2002).

Only 10 percent said the country was better off with Balkenende’s first coalition made up of the CDA, VVD and the LPF party of murdered populist Pim Fortuyn. That government lasted an unimpressive 87 days before imploding due to infighting between two LPF ministers.

Now surprisingly, 54 percent of the bosses of the largest companies said they would vote for the free-market Liberal VVD if a new election was held now, and 20 percent said they would back the CDA.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Dutch news