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New Dutch government agrees 'bridge-building' coalition deal

Liberal and Labour party members have approved the coalition agreement negotiated by Mark Rutte and Diederik Samsom, clearing the way for a new Dutch government to take office next week.

Mark Rutte is expected to be sworn in as Prime Minister of his second cabinet next week.The agreement will be made public on Monday afternoon, but large chunks of the document were leaked to the media over the weekend. An interim deal was approved by Parliament earlier this month to keep budget spending on track for the current year.

The agreeement has been described as a 'bridge-building' programme that combines the right-wing Liberals' (VVD) priorities of financial discipline and job creation with Labour's (PvdA) emphasis on sharing the burden of sorting out the economic crisis across all income groups.

Rutte will remain Prime Minister, but Labour leader Samsom has opted to stay in Parliament rather than join the cabinet. The Dutch constitution prohibits cabinet ministers from sitting in the Tweede Kamer.

The formation of a new cabinet in less than two months, especially one between two parties on opposite sides of the political spectrum, has been seen as a vindication of the new coalition-building process that ended Queen Beatrix’s formal role.

The new government is expected to make insurance premiums dependent on income, a key Labour party demand, and scale back the mortgage tax relief system.

The Liberals gained a €1 billion cut in the foreign aid development budget and an increased to the defence budget for peacekeeping missions.

There is also expected to be a general pardon for all child asylum seekers who have been in the Netherlands for five years or families with small children who have spent eight years in the country.

The position of immigration and asylum minister, which was held in Rutte’s first cabinet by Gerd Leers and was the focus of much controversy, appears to have been abolished.

Details of the cabinet posts were leaked at the weekend. Justice minister Ivo Opstelten, health minister Edith Schippers and infrastructure and environment minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen all retain their posts from the first Rutte cabinet.

Labour are given the interior and foreign ministries, under Ronald Plasterk and Frans Timmermans respectively, and the finance portfolio, which goes to Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

The latter appointment ended speculation that the departing Christian Democrat finance minister Jan Kees de Jager, a widely respected figure at home and in Europe, might be persuaded to cross over to the Liberals.

Amsterdam alderman Lodewijk Asscher is expected to be appointed deputy prime minister and minister for social affairs.

Both parties spent Monday morning in meetings after the leaders submitted the final document to their colleagues after six weeks of talks behind closed doors.

The proposed ‘kilometre tax’, which would have seen current road taxes replaced by a levy based on the distance travelled, is being scrapped, as is the plan to reclaim the Hedwigepolder in Zeeland.

The parties also want to merge local authorities across the country so that each area contains a minimum of 100,000 people.

The main measures in the interim accord, agreed four weeks ago, saw the tax on insurance policies doubled to cover the cost of retaining tax-free status for commuter travel.

The fine for students who take an extra year to complete their courses was also abolished and plans speeded up to raise the retirement age to 66.

Source: De Volkskrant: Kabinet-Rutte II staat in de startblokken