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Netherlands: Sigrid Kaag, the finance minister Macron was waiting for

The worst “fathers the rigor” in Europe: this is the image of the Dutch in recent years. In 2017, the Minister of Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem had mocked the countries of the South who “spend all their money on schnapps (sic) and as women before asking for help. “Then, while these same states were fatally struck by the first wave of Covid-19, his successor, Wopke Hoekstra had pointed out their lack of budgetary room for maneuver in the face of the health crisis.

Such provocations – the second was described as “repulsive” by Portuguese leader Antonio Costa – are unlikely to happen again anytime soon. After preaching frugality, the Netherlands converted to public spending. A turning point embodied by Sigrid Kaag, new Minister of Finance and first woman in this post. This promised “significant investments in education, for the climate and a strong Europe”, including 60 billion funds intended for the energy transition. A colossal amount on the scale of this country of 17 million inhabitants, whose public debt will return to the bar of 60% of GDP.

This 60-year-old former diplomat caused a sensation on the evening of the legislative elections last March by dancing on a table. The party she leads, D66 (center left) had then made the best progress in the ballot, finishing second behind the PVV (center right) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in office since 2010. After 271 days of negotiations – a record – he succeeded in forming a new government. “But the coalition agreement overwhelmingly takes up the proposals of our party”, welcomes D66 MEP Sophie in’t Veld.

Sigrid Kaag avait supervisait pour l'ONU le démantèlement de l'arsenal chimique syrien, en 2013 et 2014.

Sigrid Kaag had supervised for the UN the dismantling of the Syrian chemical arsenal, in 2013 and 2014.

afp.com/Louai Beshara

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For Emmanuel Macron, the appointment of Sigrid Kaag is good news, as the French presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) begins. And not just because she is French-speaking or because D66 is an ally of La République en Marche (LREM) in the European Parliament. “As Minister of Foreign Trade, from 2017 to 2021, she played a key role in deepening relations between Paris and the Netherlands, underlines Rem Korteweg, researcher at the Clingendael Institute. Above all, she considers that the ministry Finance must do more to strengthen the EU. ”

Openness to European budgetary rules

Contrary to his predecessors, Sigrid Kaag is in favor of a reform of the budgetary rules of the euro zone, dear to the French head of state as to the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi – they want to exclude certain investments from the stability pact (limitation of the annual public deficit at 3% of GDP and debt at 60%). The project is now more likely to succeed, especially as the coalition contract of the German government of Olaf Scholz leaves the door open to adaptations.

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More flexible, the Dutch will not however renounce the credo of fiscal prudence. “The real test for Sigrid Kaag will be how it positions itself in the event of a crisis – high inflation, unsustainable debt of a country in the South – if Parliament pushes for a hard line,” said Rem Korteweg. The Netherlands could then return to their traditional rough approach.

Clement Daniez


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