Dutch coalition

More than three months since the election, the Netherlands has an accord on a minority coalition government. Three recent items from Radio Netherlands online offer the highlights.

Coalition talks in the Netherlands appear to have resulted in right-wing government supported by the far right. Negotiators reached agreement on Tuesday evening [27 Sept.] on the details of a coalition agreement between the free-market liberal VVD and Christian Democrats (CDA). A second agreement on parliamentary support by the Freedom Party has also been finalised. Tuesday was 111th day of the formation. Earlier in the evening, VVD leader Mark Rutte said the new cabinet will be named Rutte-Verhagen, acknowledging CDA leader Maxime Verhagen’s role in the coalition. […]

A second article asks what is in the deal for Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party.

The Qur’an will not be banned, headscarves will not be taxed, and Muslims will not be deported en masse. Geert Wilders did not get everything he wanted in the coalition agreement between the conservative VVD and the Christian Democrats, propped up by his own Freedom Party (PVV).

So what did Mr Wilders get in return for supporting this minority cabinet? These are the main PVV points:

    There will be a complete ban on burqas, and police and justice employees will not be allowed to wear headscarves;
    Conditional passports for new immigrants – to be withdrawn if they commit crimes in the first five years;
    The pension age will only be raised to 66 not 67;
    An extra 2,500 police officers;
    Animal police will be introduced. 500 officers will look after the welfare of animals in the Netherlands;
    The duration of unemployment benefit payments will not be reduced;
    Maximum speed on the motorway will be increased to 130 kilometres per hour;
    The current smoking ban will be lifted for small cafés

[…] Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party will not be part of the new cabinet, and so will not provide any ministers. The twelve ministers (down from the current 16) will be split evenly between the VVD and the CDA, and VVD leader Mark Rutte says the cabinet should be called Rutte-Verhagen I. The Freedom Party, for its part, will support the government in parliament.

This is a unique construction, with no precedent in Dutch politics. To achieve a stable minority government, the three parties have signed two different governing accords. One encompasses what all three parties have agreed to, and the other details what the VVD and CDA have agreed. Geert Wilders will not sign the second accord. However, he has agreed not to bring the government down over policies laid out in the agreement between the VVD and CDA.

Then comes a reminder of why it is not accurate to call this coalition a “right-wing government supported by the far right.” (Reiterating and detailing some points raised above.)

Wilders has managed to minimise cuts in a number of areas. The VVD and CDA have agreed that the retirement age will only be raised to 66 instead of 67. Wilders wanted it to stay at 65. There will be investment in care for the elderly and unemployment benefits will not be further limited.

This is actually not unusual. Many parties that tend to be called in the media and by politicians from other parties “far right” are not right-wing at all on the dimension that “left-right” normally refers to, which is economic policy. Parties like the Freedom Party are notoriously hard to label, but “nationalist” is probably more appropriate. While taking a hard-line view on immigration and even on public manifestations of minority identity (in particular, in today’s Europe, by Muslims), parties of this sort often take left-of-center positions on areas like social welfare. Of course, this combination is nothing new: there is a reason the term “national socialism” was invented, after all. (No, I am not saying Wilders is a Nazi, but only that this combination of issue positions is neither rare, nor meaningfully “right wing.”)

The Freedom Party has also secured some policy commitments on animal rights, which is not usually thought of as a right-wing cause.

The Christian Democratic Party MPs unanimously approved the agreement after a special party congress held on Saturday, 2 October.

The parliamentary party approved the deal after just two hours of discussion, in sharp contrast to a similar meeting last week when they failed to reach a decision after 15 hours of talks.

Acting party chairman Henk Bleker said the special CDA congress on Saturday had made the difference. 68 percent of the party members voted in favour of the coalition agreement and 32 percent against.

7 thoughts on “Dutch coalition

  1. «Many parties that tend to be called in the media and by politicians from other parties “far right” are not right-wing at all on the dimension that “left-right” normally refers to, which is economic policy.»

    But perhaps the error is not in calling these parties far-right but in associate the left-right opposition with the welfare state – free market opposition?

    After all, the association “left-wing= welfare state”/”right-wing = free-market” is historically very recent; in 19th century (and perhaps in much of the 20th), “conservatives” were usually much more anti-“jungle law capitalism” than “liberals” (compare Disraeli with Gladstone, or Bismark with German liberals).

  2. In the CDA there is an influential minority opposed to the coalition and eventually, a ‘party congress’, open to all its members, decided on joining the coalition. (In VVD the decision was taken by the parliamentary party and in PVV Wilders is the only member of the party).

    In Belgium, a coalition agreement (if ever reached…) is usually submitted to all-member-congresses in every participating party; although a party congress has never disallowed its negotiators, a low approval vote (<75%) means trouble ahead.

    How common is this rule ‘in our party an all-member-congress decides over entering a governement coalition’ in other countries with coalition politics?

  3. …in PVV Wilders is the only member of the party

    That’s really interesting. One Nation has now fallen into insignificance, but its registered name was ‘Pauline Hansen’s One Nation’ and she was effectively the sole member. Could there be a common cause that drives these parties into such similar structures? Should we start calling them ‘social autocrats’?

  4. “More than three months since the election” is technically accurate, I suppose, but with that phrasing, you could say that it’s been “more than three months” since Obama’s election, too! (The Dutch general election was on June 9th.)

  5. There are actually two members of the PVV as two memebrs are requred by Dutch law. However. the other is an organisation called “the Geert Wilders foundation trust” which, in turn, only has one member: Geert Wilders. So the point still stands

  6. “in PVV Wilders is the only member of the party”

    Is there any other party like this in the world? With the possible exception of some undemocratic countries – and probably not many there either – I can’t think of any, and certainly not a party large enough to enter parliament in a democratic country. While right-wing populist parties, or whatever you want to call them, often have leaders that exerts more control over the party than you’ll find in most other parties, this is much more extreme than usual. In addition to the policy differences and the general style of Wilders, stuff like this must also have made CDA and VVD more skeptical to cooperate with such a party.

    But how long will Wilders remain in full control of the party? While they don’t have any other members, they do have elected politicians. If their MPs get dissatisfied, they could leave PVV and set up and alternative party, just like the Danish People’s Party was formed by MPs dissatisfied with the Progress Party and its founder Mogens Glistrup.

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