THE NETHERLANDS is on the verge of a general election this morning after the collapse of austerity talks aimed at bringing its budget deficit within EU limits by 2013 – giving rise to new concerns that it could also now lose its coveted triple-A international credit rating.
The package being finalised is believed to have proposed increasing the state pension age to 66 in 2015 rather than 2020, a cut of €750 million in development aid, a new €9 charge for every medical prescription, the abolition of tax relief on interest-only mortgages, cuts in subsidies to public broadcasters, an increase in VAT, and an across-the-board freeze in public sector salaries and benefits.
What? No household charge? Puh-lease.
As voters in France also delivered their initial verdict on who should lead them for the next five years, and whether they would favor more austerity or stimulating growth, the Czech government was rattled this weekend by popular protests against budget cuts and increased hardship.