Dutch PM Rutte "open" to discuss changes to government agreement with opposition

The new coalition of VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie are debating their new government agreement with the opposition parties in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, on Thursday. As far as Prime Minister Mark Rutte is concerned, the government agreement is not set in stone and the coalition is open to discussing changes with the opposition parties, NU.nl reports.

"This cabinet will talk to the entire Kamer", VVD leader Rutte said in the debate. "If there are good ideas, they can be discussed." Rutte was responding to questions from PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher about whether some points in the agreement are still open for discussion. "We are open to that", Rutte said, adding that he stands by D66 leader Alexander Pechtold's wish to connect 'left and right'.

The Rutte III government agreement contains many ambitious and controversial points, including changes to the pension system, a tax system reform, regulated cannabis cultivation experiments, a climate law, and an accelerated reduction in the mortgage interest discount. The new government will need the support of opposition parties, because despite a four party coalition, they only have a parliamentary majority of one single seat. If one member of the VVD, CDA, D66 or ChristenUnie decides to leave his or her party, parliament will be split 50/50 - 75 seats for the coalition, 75 seats for the opposition. 

"A cabinet with support from 76 seats will always have to stay in conversation with the opposition", CDA leader Sybrand Buma emphasized.

The coalition already pretty much ruled out support from the PVV, SP and GroenLinks, according to the newspaper. Geert Wilders and his PVV were very critical of the government agreement from the start. The formation process included two failed attempts for the VVD, CDA, D66 to form a government with GroenLinks and party leader Jesse Klaver. And the SP and its leader Emile Roemer ruled out working with the VVD from election time. The new government's hopes therefore lie with the PvdA nd SGP.

SGP leader Kees van der Staaij wanted to know from Rutte which proposals exactly are still open to discussion. The SGP is "cautiously optimistic" about the new government's plans, but criticized the removal of a tax benefit for homeowners who paid off their mortgage. PvdA leader Asscher's main criticism is the increase of the low VAT rate from 6 to 9 percent.

Rutte could not say specifically which points in the government agreement are still open to discussion. But he did defend the coalition's decisions on the SGP and PvdA's main concerns. According to Rutte, the fact that the tax benefit for paid-off mortgages will be scrapped is manageable because it will be done slowly over a period of 30 years. He added that the benefit is not sustainable in the long term, as it became mandatory to pay off your mortgage in 2013. 

About the low VAT rate increase Rutte said it is acceptable because everyone will have more money in their wallet at the bottom of the line. 

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