Category Archives: The Netherlands

Dutch talks over streamlined VVD,Labour ‘purple coalition’ progressing rapidly

It appears that Dutch coalitions may be even easier to form now that the monarch isn’t in charge of the negotiations.

Both Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte of the free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) and Diederik Samsom, leader of the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party) are moving forward with talks for a coalition government, despite clear divides on some of the most important policy issues that will face the next Dutch government.

The VVD and Labour both emerged as winners by improving their existing standing in last Wednesday’s election — the VVD won 26.6% and 41 seats (an increase of 10 seats from the prior election in 2010) and Labour won 24.8% and 38 seats (an increase of eight) in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.

The negotiations, for the first time, following a new 2010 law, will be organized by the Dutch parliment instead of by the monarch, reducing one of the key roles that the Dutch monarch has traditionally played in affairs of state.

So instead of Queen Beatrix, VVD parliamentarian Henk Kamp has taken the lead in sorting which potential coalitions exist and now, as informateurs, Kamp and former Labour party leader Wouter Bos seem to have found enough common ground between Labour and the VVD for a potential coalition, and the camps are set to proceed with private negotiations out of the media spotlight.

Typically, it takes around three months for a coalition government to be formed — notwithstanding the new cabinet formation process that excludes the monarchy, however, it seems likely that a coalition may now be formed within weeks.  That’s because there are only a small number of viable coalitions, and because both Rutte (pictured above, right) and Samsom (pictured above, left) agree that forming a relatively stable coalition quickly is important, given the questions lingering over the 2013 Dutch budget and given the precarious state of European finances.

After the 2010 election, the VVD formed a minority coalition with the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), with an agreement with the right-wing, populist, anti-Muslim Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom) to provide support for the VVD agenda from outside the government.  That agreement held up only until April 2012, when the PVV balked at supporting further budget cuts to bring the 2013 budget deficit within 3% of GDP, thereby causing last week’s election — the fourth Dutch election in a decade.

After preliminary inquiry into potential coalitions that began last Thursday, just hours after the election result, a so-called ‘purple coalition’ of the VVD and Labour emerged as the most likely coalition, so named because it would bring together the ‘blue’ VVD and ‘red’ Labour.  The result would leave the two parties with a clear majority of 79 seats in the 150-seat chamber, but eight seats short of a majority in the upper house, the Eerste Kamer, where VVD holds 16 and Labour holds 14 of the 75 seats.

Such a coalition would be a throwback to the ‘purple coalitions’ of Labour prime minister Wim Kok from 1994 to 2002 among Labour, the CDA, the VVD and the progressive / centrist Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) (as well as a throwback to the coalitions of the 1980s between Labour and the CDA).  It’s similar to the ‘grand coalition’ that governed Germany from 2005 to 2009 between Angela Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU, the Christian Democratic Union) and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD, the Social Democratic Party). Continue reading Dutch talks over streamlined VVD,Labour ‘purple coalition’ progressing rapidly

Rutte’s VVD edges out Samsom’s Labour as both gain in Dutch election

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte looked more likely than not to continue as prime minister of the Netherlands Tuesday night after his party, the free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) won the largest share of the vote in the Dutch election, with 98% of the votes counted.

The VVD won 26.6% of the vote, entitling it to 41 seats in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, an increase of 10 seats over the 2010 election.

It was followed very closely by the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), with 24.8%, which entitles it to 39 seats, a nine-seat increase from 2010 under the incredibly strong performance of Labour leader Diederik Samsom, a former Greenpeace activist who took over the party’s leadership only in March 2012 and spent much of the past year trailing the more staunchly leftist Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) of Emile Roemer.

All things being equal, Rutte and Samsom are the clear winners of the election.  Rutte will now be able to attempt to form a government with a credible mandate for bringing the Dutch budget within 3% of Dutch GDP — his prior government fell in April of this year when Geert Wilders, the leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), refused to support further budget cuts.

Samsom is nearly as much a winner as Rutte, though.  His polished performance in the various Dutch leaders debates (in contrast to Roemer’s often bumbling performances)  convinced Dutch voters that he possesses sufficient poise to be prime minister.  Samsom, a more leftist leader of the Labour Party as compared to his predecessor, former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, offered essentially the same anti-austerity option as Roemer, but without the anti-Europe sentiment of a Roemer-led government.  Even if he remains in the opposition, he can become the chief voice against Rutte’s budget cuts during the next government and work to build upon his party’s gains from today’s election.

The Socialists finished far behind with 9.7% and 15 seats — unchanged from 2010, but a huge disappointment after polls showed a gain of potentially 35 seats just a few weeks ago.

The Socialists, in fact, finished just behind Wilders’s anti-immigration, anti-Europe PVV — with 10.1% and also just 15 seats, it’s a nine-seat drop from the 2010 election, a huge disappointment for Wilders and a success for those who favor an approach of integrating Muslims into Dutch culture rather than excluding them.  Essentially, voters seemed to blame Wilders for dragging them back to the polls just two years after the last election — and furthermore, the essentially pro-European Dutch did not seem to take to Wilders’s contrived and virulent campaign to bring the Dutch guilder back and pull the Netherlands out of the eurozone.  Wilders never found the same resonance over Europe in 2012 that he obvious found over Muslim immigration in 2010.

Rutte’s coalition partners, the once-dominant but now-atrophied Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) won just 8.5% and 13 seats, a drop of eight seats from 2010.  The progressive / centrist Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) won 7.9% and 12 seats.

Also returning to the Tweede Kamer were the center-left, Christian Democratic ChristenUnie (CU, Christian Union) with 3.1% and five seats, the ecologist GroenLinks (GL, GreenLeft) with 2.3% and three seats, the Calvinist, ‘testimonial’ Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP, the Reformed Political Party) with 2.1% and three seats, and finally, both of the newly-formed Labour spinoff 50PLUS and the animal welfare advocate Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD, Party for the Animals), each with 1.9% and two seats.

As soon as tomorrow, cabinet formation talks are expected to begin — and for the first time, the Dutch parliament will take the lead in exploring potential coalitions (instead of the Dutch monarch, Queen Beatrix).  Those talks typically take up to three months, but can take longer — the 2010 government was formed after four months of negotiations.

Given the result, it looks like three coalitions are possible: Continue reading Rutte’s VVD edges out Samsom’s Labour as both gain in Dutch election

Dutch election today; UPDATE: VVD, Labour tied for first place

UPDATE (6 pm ET): Results are coming in slowly (see here for real-time results).  Some exit polls are now showing the VVD could win 44 seats.  If so, I think it’s possible for the VVD to form a majority government without Labour — they’d need the CDA, Democrats 66 and several of the smaller parties, including the Greens.  But it’s *just* barely doable.  If Rutte could pull it off, it would be quite an accomplishment, and it would give the Netherlands a much more stable government than it’s had since 2010, although maybe not an ironclad government through 2016.  Samsom would remain in the opposition, and could build on his very strong performance in advance of the next election.

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UPDATE (3:30 pm ET): The first exit poll is out, showing the free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) and the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party) essentially tied for first place.  The Ipsos projection has the VVD of prime minister Mark Rutte with 41 seats and the Labour Party of Diederik Samsom with 40 seats.

The Soalistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) wins 15 (as many as they won in 2010), but a sharp fall from polls that showed the Socialists leading the election less than a month ago.  Geert Wilders’s anti-immigration, anti-Europe party, the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), will fall from 24 seats to just 13, and the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), fall from 21 to 13 seats.

If the projection holds, I think Labour is likely headed into government, one way or another.  With the collapse in support for the Socialists, it seems more likely than not that Samsom and Rutte will be forced to negotiate a so-called ‘purple’ coalition together, although an anti-austerity coalition could not be ruled out — the result now is too close, however, to know if Labour will win more seats, thereby making Samsom the likelier candidate to become the next Dutch prime minister.

It will have been an incredibly disappointing night for Wilders — who many consider a bit of a demagogue.  His problems are three-fold: (i) voters blame the PVV for early elections (with a campaign that interrupted holiday season!), (ii) Wilders’s attempt to turn his populist formula from anti-Islam to anti-Europe was clunky and obvious and insincere, and (iii) Dutch voters just aren’t anti-Europe to the degree Wilders was arguing — Netherlands was a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Commission, after all!

It’s nearly as bad a night for Emile Roemer, who dropped like a stone after Samsom impressed voters in the debates and Roemer seemed to flail.  Voters realized that Samsom, a relatively leftist leader of the Labour Party, was close enough on the substance of budget austerity to Roemer, but with the poise of a potential prime minister and sufficiently pro-Europe not to scare Berlin and Brussels.  Samsom seemed to offer the same message but in a package that wouldn’t embarrass the Netherlands on the international stage.

It’s also a good night for stability — it’s the first time in nearly a decade that two parties would hold over 40 seats each in the Tweede Kamer.  It looks like, even in the closing days of the campaign, voters moved tactically to the VVD and to Labour, and away from the smaller parties — that bodes well for stability over the next four years, if Rutte and Samsom or Samsom and others can agree a credible coalition program.

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Dutch voters are at the polls today to select the 150 members (by proportional representation) to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament. 

Follow all of Suffragio‘s coverage leading up to the election here.


On the eve of Dutch elections, a primer (and a prediction) on cabinet formation

In most countries, an election is the decisive moment in forming a government.  After the election results are in, it’s usually immediately clear who will become the next president or prime minister or chancellor (or so on).  Even in countries with complex parliamentary systems, where coalitions still take time to negotiate, it’s typically pretty clear to spot which party will emerge to form the government.

In the Netherlands, however, the election is more prologue than main event: no single party has won a majority of seats in the Dutch parliament since 1900, so the main government-forming exercise is the complex negotiation that follows Dutch elections.  While not as tortured as recent Belgian political negotiations, Dutch cabinet negotiations typically take around three months to complete — and that’s only when the coalition formation process is fairly routine.

The last government, a minority coalition headed by Mark Rutte, was sworn in only in October 2010, following elections earlier in June.

This year, two thing augur a relatively longer (than shorter) period of cabinet negotiations:

  • First, poll volatility and the likelihood that a large number of parties are expected to win double-digit numbers of seats in the 150-member Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, will make the arithmetic of forming a majority government even more difficult.
  • Second, MPs eliminated the role of the monarch from the cabinet formation process in 2010, which will now be headed by the chair of the Tweede Kamer, Gerdi Verbeet, instead of Queen Beatrix (pictured above), leaving the process more uncertain and less transparent than in years past.

In years past, the Dutch monarch (since 1980, Queen Beatrix) has typically initiated the process by meeting with each of the party leaders and appointing an informateur, typically a senior statesman, to explore the possibility of various governing coalitions.  Coalition negotiations can go through several stages of informateurs — for example, in 2010, the Queen ultimately appointed five different informateurs, including three who served in the role twice.  Thereupon, the monarch appoints the formateur — typically the leader of the largest party in parliament — to negotiate the details of the coalition agreement among the coalition partners, including the governing agenda for the coalition, appointments to the cabinet and other issues.

This year, the process is a bit more unsettled — it will be Verbeet and parliamentarians who can shape the agenda of the negotiations, which could result in delays as everyone navigates a new process, and which some critics believe could make the cabinet formation process less transparent.  Although Queen Beatrix was widely seen as steering the 2010 negotiations away from any PVV participation in government (and that bias was one of the reasons MPs voted to strip the monarchy of its role in cabinet formation), it is not necessarily the case that parliamentarians will have any less bias in choosing informateurs.

The final TNS Nipo poll forecasts the following results for tomorrow’s election (similar to results from other polls):

  • 35 seats for Rutte’s free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).
  • 34 seats for the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), which has seen its support rise with the success of its leader Diederik Samsom in the recent debates.
  • 21 seats for the anti-austerity, leftist Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party), a marked decline from a month ago, when it led polls, before its leader Emile Roemer made some anti-European comments and was seen as having stumbled in the debates.
  • 17 seats for the populist, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom) of Geert Wilders, a sharp decline in seats.
  • 13 seats for the progressive/centrist Democraten 66 (Democrats 66).
  • 12 seats for the conservative Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), a sharp decline.
  • 6 seats for ChristenUnie (CU, Christian Union), a smaller, vaguely center-left, Christian democratic party.
  • 4 seats for GroenLinks (GL, GreenLeft), the Dutch green party.
  • 4 seats for 50PLUS, a new party founded in 2009 by former Labour politicians.
  • 2 seats for Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP, the Reformed Political Party), a Calvinist party that’s in electoral alliance with ChristenUnie, but is typically a ‘testimonial’ party uninterested in joining coalitions.
  • 2 seats for the Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD, Party for the Animals), another ‘testimonial’ party focused on animal rights and welfare.

If those polls are correct — and, I’ll caution, polls still show many undecided voters — I see three potential coalitions:

  • a centrist, pro-Europe ‘purple’ coalition, largely between the VVD and Labour,
  • a more leftist anti-austerity coalition, largely between Labour and the Socialists, and
  • an unlikelier VVD-led pro-austerity coalition without Labour.

It seems more likely than not, however, that Labour is headed back into government as either the leading party or a supporting coalition member of the next government. Continue reading On the eve of Dutch elections, a primer (and a prediction) on cabinet formation

Samsomania! Five reasons why everything’s coming up roses for the Dutch Labour Party

In less than two weeks, we’ve watched the Dutch election transformed from a two-party race into a three-way tie, as the Dutch Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom has burst into a starring role on the Dutch political stage.

Samsom’s party, the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, the Labour Party), now either leads or is essentially tied with the two prior leading parties in advance of the September 12 elections for the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.

Those two parties are the center-right, free-market liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), led by current prime minister Mark Rutte, and the stridently leftist, anti-austerity Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) led by Emile Roemer.

In the latest Ipsos Nederland poll and projection, Rutte’s VVD would win 34 seats, Roemer’s Socialists would win 27 seats and Samsom’s Labour would win 26 seats.  Three other smaller parties win a significant share of the vote: the anti-Muslim (and now increasingly anti-Europe) Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), led by Geert Wilders, would win just 20 seats, the progressive Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) would win 14 seats, and the center-right Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) would win just 13 seats.  TNS Nipo and Maurice du Fond polls show an even more ascendant Labour result.

Rutte’s VVD emerged with the most seats in the prior 2010 election, and he formed a minority government with the CDA, with outside support coming from Wilder’s PVV.  The current government fell in April, when Wilders refused to support Rutte’s budget package, which aimed to cut the 2013 Dutch budget to within 3% of GDP.

Labour, then headed by former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, finished with one fewer seat than the VVD in 2010, and is currently the main opposition party in the Tweede Kamer, but it had consistently lost support ever since — until now.  Cohen stepped down earlier this year, and Samsom, a more leftist Labour leader, replaced him in March.

So the latest poll capture the recent resounding resurgence for Labour, but also indicates that the Socialists and the Democrats 66 would still improve on their 2010 election totals, indicating that the Dutch parliament would be a much more anti-austerity parliament — a Labour-Socialist coalition is a possibility, as is a so-called ‘purple coalition’ between Labour and the VVD.  Labour last governed the Netherlands from 1994 to 2002 under prime minister Wim Kok, when the VVD and Labour joined together under a so-called ‘purple coalition’ (alongside the Dutch Greens and the Democrats 66), and Labour and the CDA governed in coalitions in the 1980s.

Whew! But that doesn’t explain why Samsom has so drastically improved his party’s chances to the point where he is now a credible contender, with Rutte and Roemer, to become The Netherlands’s next prime minister.  Here are five reasons why:  Continue reading Samsomania! Five reasons why everything’s coming up roses for the Dutch Labour Party

Is the European ‘Christian democracy’ party model dead?

When Dutch voters go to the polls on September 12, we don’t know whether they’ll favor prime minister Mark Rutte’s Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) or Emile Roemer’s Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) or even Diederik Samsom’s Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, the Labour Party) as their top choice.

What we do know is that the election could well be the worst post-war finish for the traditional Christian Democratic party in the Netherlands, the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal).  It’s currently on track to finish in fifth place (or even sixth place) in a country that it had a hand in governing virtually without break in Dutch post-war politics until 2010.

In 2010, the CDA won just 21 seats in the lower house of the Dutch parliament, and it could win just 15 seats or less this time around.

So it goes all across Europe:

  • In Italy, the Democrazia Cristiana controlled the government (or participated in governing coalitions) for nearly 50 years of post-war Italian politics.  The Tangentopoli (‘Bribesville’) scandal led to its demise under the weight of massive corruption allegations in 1992, and the remaining core of that party, the Unione dei Democratici Cristiani e di Centro (UDC, the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats), led by Pier Ferdinando Casini, plays a significant, but minor role in Italian politics today.
  • Norway’s Christian Democratic Party, the Kristelig Folkeparti (KrF) once dominated Norwegian politics as well, but now holds just 10 out of 169 seats in the Norwegian parliament.
  • In Bavaria, the Christlich-Soziale Union (CSU, Christian Social Union) has controlled Bavaria’s state government since 1957.  It’s still the overwhelmingly largest party in Bavarian politics, but it lost 32 seats in the Landtag in 2008 and now holds just 92, and it looks likely to lose even more seats in the Bavarian state elections that must be held in 2013.
  • In Switzerland, the Christlichdemokratische Volkspartei der Schweiz (CVP, Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland) has steadily declined since the 1970s.

Only in German federal politics does Christian democracy seem to be holding on — in the form of Angel Merkel’s Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU, Christian Democratic Union), which is allied at the federal level with Bavaria’s CSU.

So what’s happened to Christian democracy? And is it a concept whose time is up?

Christian democracy emerged as a political movement in the 19th century, as much as anything a reaction of the Catholic Church to the Industrial Revolution — and to the Marxist ideas that had so effectively challenged industrial capitalism in the mid-19th century, in the same way that the social democratic movement that gave voice to (and moderated) the growing labor movement.  (Some political scientists see a parallel in the “justice and development” strand of moderate Islamist parties that have emerged in Turkey and through vehicles like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan).

It reached its heyday during the Cold War as a bulwark against the communist influences of Soviet Russia, but today seems increasingly an anachronism as the European right divides into, on the one hand, a free-market liberal ideology untroubled with cultural issues and, on the other hand, a nationalist ideology that is increasingly both anti-Europe and anti-immigrant.  That fragmentation provides yet another complication in navigating the European Union out of its current debt and currency crisis — the European Union was formed and the eurozone conceived in a world where Christian democracy largely controlled the initial EU member states. Continue reading Is the European ‘Christian democracy’ party model dead?

Who is Diederik Samsom? A look at the newest party leader in the Netherlands

When Dutch voters tune into tonight’s debate — the second in advance of the September 12 parliamentary election — they will be watching closely the man who was deemed to be the winner of last week’s debate.

That’s Diederik Samsom, the leader of the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, the Labour Party), is riding a wave of popularity, with Labour rising very narrowly in the polls and with indications that Dutch voters may be giving Samsom his first real look as they contemplate doubts about Emile Roemer, the popular leader of the Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party).

A former Greenpeace activist who once studied nuclear energy and physics, Samsom has been a Labour member of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, since 2003, and has served as the party’s spokesperson for environmental issues.  Hailing from the left branch of the Labour Party, Samsom opposed extending the Dutch military presence in Iraq in 2004 in defiance of much of his own party.

The Labour Party currently holds the second-largest number of seats in the Tweede Kamer — 30 seats to 31 for the party of prime minister Mark Rutte, the the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).

Many Dutch voters appear ready to reject Rutte’s brand of austerity, which would normally leave Labour well-placed for the elections.  Instead, Labour has watched as Roemer and the Socialists bounded to the top of the polls, tied or even leading Rutte’s VVD. Continue reading Who is Diederik Samsom? A look at the newest party leader in the Netherlands

Rutte and Roemer hope to consolidate support in Dutch election, as Europe watches nervously

As Dutch voters and the wider international world begin to pay attention to the Sept. 12 election, it’s becoming clear that ‘anti-austerity’ and ‘pro-austerity’ forces are coalescing behind the party of prime minister Mark Rutte (pictured above, top) and the Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) of Emile Roemer (pictured above, below), leaving both newer and traditional parties of the Dutch political landscape floundering. 

The election, which is typically followed by months-long coalitions talks, will have a significant impact on the ongoing political and economic eurozone crisis: a Rutte victory would bolster German chancellor Angela Merkel in her cause for Europe-wide austerity, while a Roemer victory would embolden a growing ‘pro-growth’ cause that includes French president François Hollande and, to some degree, Italian premier Mario Monti.

After a relatively quiet election season, Rutte, leader of the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), is back in the spotlight with a promise to increase an existing tax break for workers (arbeidskorting) by €300 in 2013 and by €1,000 in 2014.  The move is designed to sweeten the otherwise harsh effect of budget cuts that would lower the 2013 budget deficit to within 3% of GDP — last year’s budget was 4.7% of Dutch GDP, a shortfall that undermined Dutch credibility on the European stage.  Since Rutte came to power in a minority coalition government in 2010, he has made broad cuts across the entire spectrum of government spending, and the Dutch retirement age is set to rise from 65 to 67.

Rutte’s attempt to pass more budget cuts in the Netherlands in April led to the fall of his government, when Geert Wilders, the leader of the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom) refused to support further cuts — although the PVV had not been a formal member of the coalition, it had provided crucial outside support to Rutte’s government.

Wilders, who rose to prominence and much electoral success in 2010 on his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration platform, is campaigning in 2012 on a full withdrawal from the euro and from the European Union altogether (even though the Netherlands was one of the original six members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951).  For whatever reason, however, voters are turning away from Wilders — much to Roemer’s benefit.

The subtext to Rutte’s drive to cut the Dutch budget is simple — he wants to retain the country’s pristine ‘AAA’ rating and keep the country out of any sovereign debt crisis and the ballooning yields that follow.  Above all, Rutte is determined to keep the Netherlands within the terms set by the Maastricht Treaty that establishes the 3% target.  The Netherlands is just one of four eurozone countries that has maintained its ‘AAA’ rating from each of the three major credit ratings agencies (joining Germany, Luxembourg and Finland).  Continue reading Rutte and Roemer hope to consolidate support in Dutch election, as Europe watches nervously

The incredibly shrinking Geert Wilders

The past decade in Dutch politics has been fraught with what in the United States would be called “culture war” issues.

It may be surprising when you think of the Netherlands and its liberal attitude towards many of the hot-button issues in the U.S. — marijuana legalization, euthanasia, prostitution, same-sex marriage — but the Netherlands has had more than its share of tensions over Muslim immigration in the past decade.

The current standard-bearer of anti-Islam politics is Geert Wilders, somewhat of a Dutch Cultural Warrior, version 2.0 (following in the tradition of the late Pim Fortuyn, filmmaker Theo van Gogh and, to some degree, former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali).  Wilders, the platinum blonde enfante terrible of Dutch politics, has highlighted the influx of Muslim immigrants to the Netherlands as a threat to the culture and way of life of the Netherlands (and Europe, generally).

His Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Party for Freedom) swept the last general election in 2010, winning nearly one-sixth of the seats in the Tweede Kamer, the third-highest total.

Wilders dominated that election campaign with his views — he would ban all Muslim immigration to the Netherlands, pay current immigrants to leave and ban the Koran. He then dominated the months of coalitions talks that resulted when no party won enough seats to govern.  And then, as an outside supporter of Mark Rutte’s government, he has dominated Dutch governance — right up to April 2012, when he withdrew his support for additional budget cuts, leading to the snap elections on September 12.

So it’s with some surprise to see that the PVV is not dominating this election campaign: polls show that Rutte’s liberal, free-market Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) is tied with Emile Roemer’s Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party).  Rutte is running a campaign defending his push to bring the Dutch budget within 3% of Dutch annual GDP, while Roemer (and not Wilders) has emerged as the voice of opposition to austerity.

What’s clear is that, for the first time in over a decade, next month’s Dutch election is about spending, growth and the economy and less about Muslim immigration and ‘culture war’ issues — and early polls indicate that Wilders has not been as germane to the 2012 debate as he was in 2010.

Maybe it’s because Wilders has been so thoroughly identified as an anti-Muslim candidate (rather than an anti-Europe or anti-austerity).  Maybe it’s because there’s no mistaking the message of anti-austerity that voting for the Socialists sends.  Maybe it’s because Wilders originally provided support to prop up Rutte’s minority government.

But for whatever reason, Wilders has watched Roemer’s party rush to the front of the pack.  Although Wilders would normally seem mostly likely to benefit from a strong protest vote this year, he’s been relegated to watch as the unlikely Roemer drinks his milkshake — Wilders and the PVV remain trapped in a four-way tie for third place alongside the progressive Democraten 66 (Democrats 66) bloc, and the two struggling parties that dominated postwar Dutch politics until the last decade, the center-right Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) and the center-left Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party).  It’s a little odd, considering that Wilders has a populist style that dwarfs that of either the technocratic Rutte or the plodding Roemer.

That doesn’t mean Wilders is going down gently, and Dutch voters are just starting to tune into what’s been a subdued campaign that coincides with summer holiday season.

His latest bid has been to expand his brand of populism to Europe — the PVV’s platform for 2012 reads, “Their Brussels, Our Netherlands.”  In typical Wilders fashion, it’s not nuanced — it proclaims, “other parties may choose Islam or EU nationalism, our party is for the Netherlands!”  Continue reading The incredibly shrinking Geert Wilders

Who is Emile Roemer?

Europeans, including the Dutch, may well be unplugged and disengaged this month.

But ready or not, September 12 is nearly a month away, which means yet another European election — this time in the Netherlands, one of the six founding members of the European Economic Community in 1957, that body would develop into today’s European Union.  Dutch voters will elect 150 members to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the parliament of the Netherlands.

And today, after years of elections on social issues, the Dutch parliamentary election is poised to be fought, won and lost on one issue: budget austerity and bringing Dutch fiscal policy in line with the European ideal.

Given what we’ve seen this year all across Europe — the success of Alexis Tsipras’s anti-austerity SYRIZA coalition in Greece, the emergence of the anti-austerity Victor Ponta in Romania and the surge of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Front de gauche in the first round of the French presidential election — it’s no surprise that the breakaway pace-setter in the Dutch election has been not any anti-Muslim group, but the Dutch Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party), led by Emile Roemer.

As I noted last week, the prior 2010 election saw unprecedented levels of fragmentation among the Dutch electorate, and it led to six months of talks before a governing coalition emerged — Mark Rutte and his free-market, liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) ultimately formed a weak minority government in coalition with the once-strong, now-withering center-right Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), with outside support on a vote-by-vote basis from Geert Wilders’s right-wing populist and anti-Muslim Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom).  Rutte’s government fell in April when Wilders denied his support for a budget that would have reduced the Dutch budget deficit to just 3% of GDP next year.

In the current campaign, Wilders has attempted to deploy anti-Europe sentiment with as much gusto as he previously deployed anti-Muslim sentiment in 2010 (including wild rhetoric that would pull the Netherlands out of the eurozone).  But according to the latest IPSOS poll, both Wilders’s PVV and the CDA are sinking.  Even though Rutte’s VVD is holding steady as the top vote-winner, Roemer’s Socialists have vaunted into second-place — and are gaining.  Currently, the Socialists are projected to take 29 seats to 35 seats for Rutte’s VVD.  Other polls, moreover, give the Socialists a lead or put them in a tie with the VVD.

What does that mean? Even if the Socialists cannot form a coalition with, say, the longtime center-left Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), which is currently polling in third place (projected to win 23 seats), the Socialists will nonetheless be a force to be reckoned with as never before.

And that means Emile Roemer will become a key power broker in Dutch — and European — politics.

So who is Roemer — and what can we expect from him?

Roemer remains a bit of a blank slate within the international media — for now, at least.

Continue reading Who is Emile Roemer?

Up next in the spotlight during the EU’s summer of discontent: the Netherlands

It may seem hard to believe, especially as yet another bond crisis envelops Europe, but the Netherlands has less than two months to go before a new general election on September 12.

As with so many elections in Europe lately, this one will be fought and won primarily on the issue of austerity.

The early election was called at the end of April following the resignation of Mark Rutte (pictured above, right) over disagreements on the Dutch budget.  Rutte, whose fragile minority government was being supported by Geert Wilders’s Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, the Party for Freedom), had been in talks with Wilder and other government partners for weeks in an attempt to cut €16 billion from the Dutch budget, lowering the 2013 budget deficit from 4.7% of GDP to just 3% of GDP.

Wilders (pictured above, left), whose PVV vaunted to the heart of Dutch politics following the particularly fractured 2010 general election, refused to accept the cuts.

In no small part due to the populist, anti-Muslim Wilders, previous Dutch elections have focused on identity politics: protecting the particularly liberal social rights in the Netherlands (as to same-sex marriage, drug legalization and euthanasia, among others), immigration and the role of Muslims in Dutch society.

This campaign, however, is focused squarely on austerity, and while polls today show that voters are inclined to reward Rutte and his free-market, liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), voters are also inclined to give Emile Roemer’s Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party) its best showing in Dutch political history — with projections of 30 to 32 seats.  This would only further fragment the Dutch Tweede Kamer, the 150-seat lower house parliament of the Netherlands.

After the 2010 elections, it took Rutte six months of long discussions to put together a minority government.  As it turned out, Rutte entered into a formal coalition with the center-right Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal), with outside support coming from Wilders’s populist, right-wing and anti-immigrant PVV.  The latest Ipsos Netherlands poll shows that both the CDA and the PVV will lose seats in September, which could complicate Rutte’s ability to form any government and which could also prevent the adoption of the 2013 budget.

Here’s the latest composition of the lower house of the Dutch parliament:

Continue reading Up next in the spotlight during the EU’s summer of discontent: the Netherlands

Three elections — and three defeats — for EU-wide austerity

The concept of a ‘democratic deficit’ has long plagued the European Union — the EU’s history is littered with grand, transformative schemes planned by EU leaders that voters have ultimately rejected as too sweeping.  As recently as 2005, French and Dutch voters rejected the proposed EU constitution, smacking the EU elite for getting out too far in front of an electorate that clearly did not approve.

Sure enough, the story of the last three days — in the UK, in France and in Greece — will go down in EU history as a similar pivot point against German chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to impose strict fiscal discipline across the continent, even as additional electoral hiccups await in the North-Rhine Westphalia state elections later this week, the Irish referendum on the fiscal compact later this month and French and Dutch parliamentary elections due later this summer.

French president-elect François Hollande will now immediately become the face of the EU-wide opposition to austerity and is expected to challenge Merkel with a view that advocates more aggressive spending in a bid to balance fiscal responsibility with the promotion of economic growth — a distinct change in Franco-German relations after the ‘Merkozy’ years.  In his victory speech, Hollande called for a ‘fresh start for Europe’ and laid down his gauntlet: ‘austerity need not be Europe’s fate.’

It is an incredible turnaround from December, when Merkel and deposed French president Nicolas Sarkozy single-handedly pushed through the fiscal compact adopted by each of the EU member states (minus the UK and the Czech Republic), which would bind each member state to a budget deficit of no more than just 0.5% of GDP.  The treaty followed in the wake of the latest eurozone financial crisis last November, during which both the governments of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Georgios Papandreou in Greece fell, to be replaced by Berlin-approved technocratic governments, each tasked with the express purpose of making reforms to cut their governments’ respective budgets.

Continue reading Three elections — and three defeats — for EU-wide austerity