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Departing Finance Minister Zalm cut Dutch debt load

‘Best in Europe’

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

THE HAGUE - Politicians from across the political spectrum have paid tribute to the country’s longest serving finance minister, Conservative Liberal Gerrit Zalm, who did not seek re-relection.

Zalm, who also served as deputy prime minister, became finance minister in 1994. He adhered to the concept, now known as the ‘Zalm norm,’ which maintained a strict budget for every department, with the minister being responsible for offsetting any shortfalls within his department.

Zalm’s economic blueprint gained him many admirers. Commentators have called him one of the best finance ministers in Europe. Under his guidance, Dutch national debt dropped from a high of over 74 percent to below 48 percent of gross national product. It is generally expected that the country’s budget deficit will turn a modest surplus next year.

Christian Democrat spokesman Maxim Verhagen called Zalm one of his country’s leading politicians of the last 15 years. Labour’s Ferd Crone, with whom Zalm often clashed during debates, respects Zalm for his professionalism.

It is expected that Zalm will be appointed to a top position at the Dutch Central Bank or be asked to serve with an agency in the financial sector.

Dutch voters did not reward Zalm’s party, the VVD, with electoral gains. Instead, the party which earlier this year selected a new leader and saw internal dissention, suffered mayor losses in the election.