Netherlands 2017 open thread

I hope to have something to say about the recent election in the Netherlands. But so far have not. But maybe you do. Here is your chance!

We can talk about the election result itself, or the coalition negotiations, which should be pretty interesting.

(Part of the reason for not having a post yet is that I made this election one of the themes for my students’ final exam earlier this week. And now that means exams and papers must be graded, grades assigned, etc.)

Luxembourg term limit referendum

On June 7th, the same day as the Turkish and Mexican elections, Luxembourg held three referenda: one proposal would have reduced the voting age to 16, another would have extended voting rights to foreigners living in the country for more than 10 years and the last one would have imposed a ten-year term limit on serving as member of the government. All three proposals were resoundingly defeated, though the term limit measure came closer to being approved than the others (30% in favour).

The background for the term limit proposal is the premiership of Jean-Claude Juncker, who served lasted for no less than 18 years before resigning in 2013 amidst a corruption and spying scandal (he went on to become EU Commission President). Following early elections, a new government formed which excluded Juncker’s party, CSV, from government for the first time since 1979. It is this government that initiated these constitutional amendment proposals.

Though being very common among (semi-)presidential countries, term limits are exceedingly rare among parliamentary systems; the only examples I know of are Thailand and South Africa.

[MSS adds: Perhaps also Botswana among parliamentary systems. In semi-presidential systems, there certainly are cases of term limits on the president, but I do not think there are any such limits on membership in the cabinet. We might also add here that, as far as I know, the only cases with term limits on legislators are all pure presidential systems–some Latin American countries, including Mexico, as well as the Philippines and some US states, including California.]

Belgian Senate reform

authored by JD Mussel

Since 1970, Belgium has gone through no less than 6 constitutional reforms, possibly more than any other western democracy during the same period. Most importantly, these have transformed it from a unitary state into a full-fledged federation (since the 4th reform, in 1993-95). One of the results to come out of the prolonged (and record-breaking) government formation of 2010-2011 was agreement on a 7th constitutional reform, which will enter into effect after the upcoming elections in May 2014. The most well-known of the changes to be implemented is the splitting up of the Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde constituency along language lines, a measure mandated by the Constitutional Court, solving a quandary which has been a major stumbling block in government formation and reform negotiations over the last five years.

There are more parts to the constitutional reform, but the most important change is probably to Belgium’s Senate. Before 1993, the Senate was perfectly co-equal with the House of Representatives, to the point that governments needed the confidence of both houses. This did not cause much instability, as the houses had similar political compositions; the Senate was largely elected, at the same time as the House, with some members indirectly elected by provincial councils, and the last group co-opted by the first two (Additionally, some Princes were, and until next year remain, members of the Senate by right, but in practice they do not participate or vote). In 1995, the composition of the Senate was changed to 40 directly-elected, 21 elected indirectly by the new Community/Regional parliaments and 10 co-opted members, while its powers were drastically curtailed: its powers to remove a government, as well as block supply, were removed, as were its powers over a host of issues for which the House was designated as having the final say. The Senate retained its veto on constitutional amendments and other changes to state organisation, federal relations and treaties. For other matters bicameral procedure became ‘optional’ – the lower house could decide what to do.

The newest reform will change the composition of the Senate to 50 elected indirectly by the Community/Regional parliaments and 10 co-opted, removing all directly-elected members. Its powers and functions will also be hugely curtailed: it will no longer take part in regular legislation, will no longer have the power of inquiry or to ask ministers questions. The only legislative power it retains regards to the constitution and the monarchy. Instead of being a true legislative chamber, the Senate is supposed to become a forum for the Regions and Communities. The reform was a compromise between those wishing to abolish and those wanting to retain the chamber (the latter being mainly French-speaking parties, if I’m not mistaken).

The difference in political composition that is likely to result may justify a certain curtailment in the Senate’s powers, but why that should mean it abolishing its legislative role entirely, let alone taking away its powers of inquiry, is somewhat beyond me…

Elections in the Netherlands, 2012

The following entry is authored by JD Mussel, who frequently comments here at F&V. Because JD is in the Netherlands, I asked him if he would like to offer a preview of the 12 September elections in that country.

All of what follows is by JD, not me.


On Wednesday 12 September next week, Dutch voters will choose the ‘Second Chamber’ – the lower house of the Dutch Parliament. The elections are being held two years early after the government fell in April – in short, the Freedom Party (PVV), who were supporting the minority Liberal (VVD)-Christian Democrat (CDA) government, withheld their support after some weeks of consultations on the budget. Since it was calculated the deficit was going to rise above the EU-agreed norm of 3%, the two government parties wanted another round of cuts, which the PVV could not agree with. Despite being able to quickly make a new budget with three other parties, the government resigned and new elections were called.

The electoral system is flexible-list PR – and is probably the most proportional in the world, as all 150 seats are one nationwide constituency with the only threshold being that a party needs to win enough votes to fulfil one quota – ie 0.67% of the national vote. Partially as a result of this system, but perhaps more so as a result of the breakdown of the Dutch social order based on ‘pillarization’, the political landscape has been very volatile ever since the turn of the century. Most importantly, new parties have been storming in and out of parliament, radical or protest parties have grown in size while the three ‘established’ parties – CDA, VVD and Labour have been collectively losing ground (especially the CDA) and therefore finding it difficult to form relatively comfortable (and stable) coalitions. Since 1994, with the exception of the elections that followed in 1998, after every election, a coalition government has been formed in a way that had never been tried previously, with the most recent example being the Rutte minority cabinet supported by the PVV. Moreover, since 1998, a government has never served for the full term.

Over the month or two, the main election battle – for which party would become biggest – seemed to be between the VVD and the formerly-Maoist Socialist Party (SP). However, about a week ago the Labour party leader did very well in an important televised debate, and since then left-wing tide has turned in favour of the more mainstream Labour. This is a radical turnaround – in mid-August the SP was still predicted by the polls to win twice as many seats as Labour, while now it is Labour, with continuing momentum, who are vying for a first-place finish with the VVD.

But what is the importance of such a ‘victory’? After all, no party is even close to winning a majority. I think the main the main issue is that of which party will provide the prime minister. But what I hear more often (from Dutch as well as external sources) is that the biggest party ‘gets the first attempt at forming a government’. However, the Netherlands uses a system where ‘informateur(s)’ are appointed to hold consultations with party leaders as to a possible coalition. Only once agreement has been reached for a coalition, a ‘formateur’ is appointed to actually form the cabinet, with the formateur usually becoming PM.

Since the above system has been put in place, the Dutch Queen has had an important role in the formation of a government. First, she would meet with each party leader, as well a number of other important figures, for advice. Then she would appoint an informateur, usually some preeminent figure from the political establishment, with the task of exploring the possibility of a certain coalition. Often there would be more than one round of ‘information’ conducted, with multiple informateurs, until an agreement was in sight and a formateur could be appointed to finish the job of forming a government. However, sometime last year, the parliamentary rules of procedure were amended to provide for election of informateur and/or formateur by the incoming Second Chamber. This was possible as the whole system of government formation is in convention rather than law. If the newly-elected chamber manages to make this new system work, it will now all be done independently of the Queen, who will only have to sign the ministerial appointment documents and pose with the new ministry. With regard to the new system, many have suggested that the Chamber should elect the leader of the largest party as informateur, or elect him straight away as formateur – thus returning, in essence, to the 19th-century system where the Queen would appoint formateur after formateur until one of them succeeded (the only difference of course being the appointer).

Lastly, I’d like to mention a trend among Dutch party leaders – some time ago, the VVD codified an existing convention that their political leader, who stands at the head of the list, remains in the Chamber to lead the faction unless he becomes the PM (Ministers in the Netherlands have to resign their seat in parliament). Recently in the campaign, Labour party leader Samsom said he would do the same – he would not become minister in a cabinet led by someone else if Labour participates in the government, but remain in the chamber unless he becomes PM.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my entry! If I’ve managed to interest you in Dutch politics, do have a look at the great website by Peter-Paul Koch. It’s absolutely fascinating, and I’ve learned quite a lot from it myself.

This has been JD Mussel, reporting from the heart of Dutch democracy in The Hague.

Netherlands assembly size issue?

On a “how to vote” application for the upcoming Dutch election, the second statement you are asked to agree or disagree with is:

The number of members in the Lower House should remain at 150.

Is the size of the chamber an issue in the Netherlands?

For the record, the chamber is one of the most undersized among the major democracies (see graph), according to the cube-root rule.

On a somewhat related note, can anyone explain the Central Planning Agency, mentioned in a Monkey Cage post as an “authoritative” institution that “runs each party’s submissions [i.e. campaign proposals] through a model and offers projections”?

Early elections in the Netherlands

The Dutch government of Mark Rutte has indicated that he will submit his resignation, and early elections will be held, perhaps in September.

The fall of the cabinet was trigged by the refusal of the Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, to support the government’s austerity package.

The current government was formed in October, 2010, just over three months following the election that year. It is a two-party minority cabinet of the liberal VVD and the Christian Democrats (CDA), backed by the Freedom Party (which did not have cabinet seats).