Belgian budget for 2006: early retirement age raised from 58 to 60

The Belgian government presented a balanced budget Tuesday for a sixth consecutive year and decided to raise the age of early retirement from 58 to 60 to meet the challenge of sustaining an aging population.

Under an agreement reached Tuesday, funds illegally invested abroad will be allowed to be transferred back without penalty for the first half of 2006. Fines will be progressively imposed later.

Combined with other taxes on some investment and insurance funds, the government is convinced the budget will stay out of the red. It based its budget projections on growth of 1.5 percent this year and 2.3 percent next year, the AP reports.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who heads a government of liberals and socialists, told parliament he expects that business-friendly measures will create 29,000 jobs and help keep the unemployment rate at 8 percent, 0.7 percentage point below the EU average.

Government ministers held talks with management federations and trade unions before deciding to raise the early retirement age to make sure retirement costs remain within limits in the future. A.M.