Budget debate centres on position of prime minister
The final day of the Dutch budget debate focused on the position of the prime minister himself.
On Thursday an unexpectedly high number of parliamentarians supported a vote of no-confidence against Jan Peter Balkenende and his cabinet.
The Christian democrat who has headed four different cabinets in seven years
was in parliament to defend the government's budget for 2010. But the flood
of opposition criticism and swelling rumours that he himself might choose to
leave for a top position in Brussels resulted in a motion of no-confidence
instigated by right-wing liberal VVD leader Mark Rutte.
Rutte gained the support of the Socialist Party and Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom. The three main opposition parties acount for a total of 55 of the 150 seats in the lower house.
The main reason for the motion was the unsatisfactory way in which Balkenende dealt with questions about how the economic crisis will be tackled. The cabinet has been reproached from all sides about its lack of vision and decisiveness as cuts in government spending have been postponed until 2011.
Rutte said the government's plan to set up committees of civil servants which will make an inventory of potential economy measures for each of the government ministries instead of making its own decisions made him "lose faith in the cabinet that sits back and does nothing".
Balkenende said the motion was a "chutzpah" and that he had thought better of VVD leader Rutte, who replied the feeling was mutual.
Earlier in the debate, Balkenende dismissed as "nonsense" the notion that he may not sit out his term as prime minister and opt for a top position in Brussels instead. He has been mentioned as the first permanent president of the European Council and Dutch daily De Financieele Dagblad wrote Thursday that his CDA party has already decided foreign minister Maxime Verhagen will take over as prime minister.
A majority of parliament did rally behind the cabinet's budget plans, but even coalition member Labour voiced strong criticism of the prime minister. "I have rarely heard anyone defend his policies with such an utter lack of inspiration," Labour member of parliament Diederick Samsom said. "While inspiration is exactly what we need right now."