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Dutch queen calls for September elections

By Mike Corder
Associated Press / April 25, 2012
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands—The Dutch queen has called for national elections on Sept. 12, leaving the country with only a caretaker government for more than four months as it struggles to bring its budget deficit within EU-mandated limits.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his 18-month old government resigned Monday after failing to agree on billions of euros (dollars) in cuts to rein in government spending.

Caretaker Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager was reportedly meeting with leaders of all political parties Wednesday in a bid to find common ground on cuts ahead of a debate Thursday on the AAA-rated government's finances.

The government, along with all other EU nations, has until the end of the month to submit a draft 2013 budget and plan of economic reforms to Brussels as part of the EU's fiscal surveillance of member states.

Rutte had been one of the most vocal critics of countries not sticking to EU budget rules and is now facing a near impossible task of getting the Dutch deficit down to 3 percent of GDP in 2013.

The Dutch budget deficit is expected to reach 4.6 percent of gross domestic product this year.

Because of the European financial crisis, most of the 17 euro countries have deficits above 3 percent. Still, opposition parties in the Netherlands say they want to work to get their country's deficit down to 3 percent, but not by next year because that would involve deep cuts that will ultimately hurt economic growth.

Ratings agency Fitch indicated Wednesday that the Netherlands' coveted top credit status was not yet under threat.

"While this year's deficit will be in excess of the 3 percent Maastricht reference value, it is not inconsistent with the Netherlands' current 'AAA' rating," the agency said in a statement.

But Fitch warned that the political crisis in the Netherlands means "domestic policy uncertainty has increased, while financial and economic risks from the eurozone crisis remain significant."

Failure to get the deficit back to 3 percent next year will mean "pressure on the rating will increase."

The deficit limits were agreed by the 17 eurozone countries to restore investor confidence in the region after a series of debt crises. But such austerity is increasingly unpopular across Europe amid fears that it is so damaging to business and consumer confidence that it leads to lower economic growth and even greater debt distress.

The collapse Saturday of Rutte's austerity drive came a day before French Socialist leader Francois Hollande's strong showing in presidential elections. If he wins a May 6 run-off election against French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande has pledged not to cut, but to increase public spending and to re-negotiate a much vaunted budgetary pact among 25 EU countries meant to enforce national fiscal discipline.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, however, underscored the EU's stance that European governments should not attempt to spend their way out of trouble.

"There are no easy answers," Van Rompuy said in a speech Wednesday to Romania's Parliament. "Since the budgetary situation in many member states is tight, stimulating growth through 'deficit spending' is not the solution."

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