Dutch prime minister says austerity talks collapse

Posted: April 21, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

— Seven weeks of talks to hammer out an austerity package aimed at bringing the Dutch budget deficit back within European Union limits collapsed Saturday, the prime minister said, laying the blame squarely with anti-EU lawmaker Geert Wilders.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his minority Cabinet will hold a crisis meeting Monday to discuss what to do now.

"Elections are the logical next step," Rutte said, but he added that he wants to work with parliament to hammer out austerity measures before a poll can take place.

The talks began in early March after the Dutch economy sank into recession and forecasts showed the 2012 budget deficit will reach 4.6 percent — well above the 3 percent limit mandated by European rules. Dutch politicians have strongly demanded that Greece and other countries meet that target.

Rutte leads the free-market Liberal Party in a minority coalition with the center-right Christian Democrats and outside support from Wilders' Freedom Party. The outspoken Wilders is widely known for his anti-Islam and anti-EU opinions.

Rutte said negotiations had been rounded off Friday to deliver a "balanced package" of cuts, but Wilders torpedoed the talks Saturday after discussing the package with his Freedom Party.

Wilders was happy to take the blame, saying he "would not accept that the elderly in the Netherlands have to pay for nonsensical demands from Brussels." He underlined that an accord would have been possible had the coalition been less concerned with following European rules to the letter.