Dutch PM responds to fierce criticism

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Balkenende defends himself by saying he was just trying to point out that life in The Netherlands is not all miserable.

23 May 2008

THE NETHERLANDS - Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has defended remarks he made on Wednesday about the negative image that the Dutch have of their own country.

Reacting to fierce criticism from the opposition, the prime minister said in Thursday's parliamentary debates in the Lower House that he merely wanted to say that it isn't all misery in The Netherlands.

The prime minister's remarks came after the Dutch audit office strongly criticised the government's annual accountability report. The audit office said government objectives were too vaguely-worded, making it impossible to assess whether policies were effective or money was well spent.

Balkenende stressed that he did not intend to cause offence or dismiss the Dutch as a nation of "grouches". Nor did he mean to trivialise the harsh problems some people are facing trying to make ends meet.

He acknowledged that some people have good reason to complain, but emphasised that there were many positive things as well.

Balkenende also defended the cabinet's progress when challenged on government policy by the opposition.

On the whole, the coalition parties reacted positively to the audit office's report and the ministries' financial reports, which were publicised last week.

Christian Democrat leader Pieter van Geel said he was satisfied with the cabinet's economic performance, but added that he would like to see a further reduction of the red tape facing entrepreneurs. His Labour party counterpart Mariëtte Hamer concluded that the neo-conservative policies of the previous cabinets led by Mr Balkenende were a thing of the past, and that government policies have become softer and more socially-sensitive.

Christian Union party leader Arie Slob said the cabinet was off to a good start.

However conservative VVD leader Mark Rutte slammed the accountability as unreadable, and "offering zero solutions". He blamed the prime minister for a lack of decisiveness, while Socialist Party leader Jan Marijnissen rejected the ministries' annual reports as "propaganda".

[Radio Netherlands / Expatica] 

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