Dutch politicians close to austerity budget deal

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The Dutch caretaker government and opposition lawmakers said Thursday they are close to a deal on a provisional 2013 austerity budget, but the outcome was not yet certain.

The news comes just three days after Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative government collapsed over the failure to reach such a deal with its own rightwing political ally, that of euroskeptic Geert Wilders.

Although national debt is relatively low in the Netherlands, the country is in recession and it is set to run a 4.6 percent deficit this year -- well above the 3 percent limit mandated by European rules that the Dutch government had been among the most vocal in demanding be enforced.

Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said Thursday that "three percent is in sight," with the agreements reached Thursday afternoon. De Jager added, however, that a deal is not yet certain. Parliament is due to debate the budget later Thursday.

Leaders of the five parliamentary factions involved were presenting the outline of the deal to their party members ahead of what is likely to be an unruly session of parliament that may stretch into the early hours.

Rutte and his free-market VVD party remain partners in the caretaker government with De Jager's Christian Democrats.

The other three parties who negotiated the deal had been in the opposition and are bitter rivals of Rutte's former ally Wilders, whose party grew to become the country's third largest after riding on an anti-immigration and an anti-Islam platform. Wilders walked out of austerity talks on Saturday, precipitating the government collapse.

His departure came just a week before The Netherlands is obliged to submit a preliminary budget to Brussels.

Alexander Pechtold, the leader of the small centrist D-66 party, said it took only three days to agree.

"This is the other way to do things," he tweeted.