Dutch Premier Promises Tax Relief Before Election

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberals are neck in neck with the far left Socialists in the polls.

Dutch liberal party leader Mark Rutte arrives at the prime minister's office in The Hague, October 14, 2010
Dutch liberal party leader Mark Rutte arrives at the prime minister’s office in The Hague, October 14, 2010 (Rijksoverheid)

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands promised tax relief for working Dutchmen three weeks before parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in the northwestern European country.

Rutte, whose ruling liberal party is neck in neck with the opposition Socialists in preelection polls, told De Telegraaf newspaper in an interview that was published on Wednesday that from 2014, there could be a €1,000 across the board income tax cut.

At the same time, the Dutch leader insisted that there would have to be deeper spending cuts in the short term. “Unfortunately, we will have to bend expenditures sharply because our government finances are out of sync.”

Next year, the Netherlands will reduce their deficit to under 3 percent of gross domestic product in compliance with European fiscal rules but only because a last-minute budget deal was reached in April after Geert Wilders and his nationalist Freedom Party withdrew their support from the ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and liberals. Centrist and Green parties gave the government the necessary majority to enact a budget in time.

Wilders, who has 24 seats in the current parliament, appears not to benefit from causing the collapse of the most right-wing cabinet that the Netherlands had ever known, even as he has defended his decision to trigger new elections by chastising the remaining parties for submitting to a European “diktat.” Recent polls give him between fourteen and seventeen seats.

Freedom Party voters are eying Rutte’s liberals as an alternative as the election appears to become a two man race between the incumbent prime minister and Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer. The far left has upward of thirty seats in the polls, double their current delegation and rivaling Rutte’s party for the plurality. The largest party, even if it does not secure an absolute majority, traditionally delivers the prime minister in a coalition government.

As right-wing voters flock to the pro-business and fiscally conservative liberal party, left-wing voters by a margin of two to one prefer the Socialists, who have never been in government, over the more centrist and less Euroskeptic Labor Party. The latter may win just over twenty seats, an historic low for a party that has been in government for a total of 28 years since it was founded in 1947.

As election day nears and the party leaders meet for nearly a dozen televised debates, leftist voters could yet pivot to Labor or the Greens if they fuel enough doubt about the Socialists’ ability to govern and specifically Roemer’s fitness to be prime minister. Nearly half of potential Socialist Party voters say they haven’t made up their mind definitively yet.

Roemer, who had been party chief for two years, did little to dispel voters’ concerns about his fortitude when he told Het Financieele Dagblad last week that he would refuse to pay a European Commission fine if the Netherlands did not adhere to the 3 percent deficit limit under his administration. “Over my dead body,” said the candidate, only to backpedal on that very promise the next day when he came under severe criticism from other party leaders who questioned his sincerity.

According to recent polls, no two party coalition is possible unless the liberals and Socialists entered into an alliance — highly improbable given that the two occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum and are actively campaigning against one another.

A left-wing coalition led by the Socialists also seems unlikely. It would need the support of the Christian Democrats and liberal Democrats for a majority, centrist parties that are more inclined to enter a coalition with Rutte’s liberals.

Rutte, however, would likely need Labor’s participation to form a four or five party coalition government which would be unprecedented and particularly unstable given Labor’s more oppositional tone in recent months. It has shifted further to the left in an attempt to lure back Socialist Party voters.

Another minority government, with parliamentary support from the Freedom Party, has been all but ruled out by the Christian Democrats and liberals who accuse Wilders of political cowardice for abandoning the coalition when it came time to make unpopular decisions on spending and taxes. Other parties say they would exclude Wilders from talks because of his anti-Islamic platform.

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