Dutch Government Denied Upper House Majority

The Netherlands’ ruling coalition fails to secure a majority in the Senate.

The Netherlands’ ruling coalition probably failed to secure a majority in the upper house of parliament on Wednesday. Without ample support in the Senate, the government’s austerity plans could be imperiled.

Faced with a €18 billion shortfall, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet has proposed deep spending cuts that affect welfare programs and public workers’ salaries. The opposition, led by Labor, considers the budget cuts imbalanced and unfair and has suggested that the government raise taxes on high incomes and corporations to mend the deficit.

After Dutch voters swung to the right in June’s parliamentary election, the country’s Christian Democrats and liberal party formed a government that won a slim majority from Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the lower house of parliament.

The Christian Democrats were decimated in last year’s election. Many of their supporters, particularly in the south, voted Wilders instead.

In Wednesday’s provincial elections, the Christian Democrats had again to brace for major defeats. The provincial representatives will elect the members of the Senate in May. Exit polls predicted that the party could lose as many as half of its upper chamber seats.

Even if the Freedom Party isn’t formally part of the government, cooperating with Wilders, who has characterized Islam as a totalitarian ideology and proposed to ban the burqa and the Quran, has been controversial. Hundreds of thousands of traditional Christian Democrat voters defected to his party last summer but among conservative party members, a third opposed the coalition.

Without a solid majority in the Senate, the government will have to try to win votes from the opposition for its legislative agenda.

Earlier this year, it managed to elicit support from two minority parties for sending a police training mission to Afghanistan — a mission Wilders’ Freedom Party opposed.

Plans to rein in mounting health-care costs and welfare programs are deeply unpopular on the left however. Prime Minister Rutte may garner support from minority senate parties and independents on the political right but even if the opposition is willing to seek compromise, it will be difficult for him to balance the state budget during his government’s four year term.