Dutch Liberals Seek to Draw Conservatives into Coalition

The Netherlands’ ruling parties do not command a majority in the Senate.

Christian democrat party leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma during an election debate on Dutch television, September 8, 2012
Christian democrat party leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma during an election debate on Dutch television, September 8, 2012 (CDA)

The Netherlands’ liberal party hopes to draw opposition Christian Democrats into their ruling coalition with Labor, reports the Dutch weekly Elsevier.

The Labor and liberal parties, which formed a government after September’s election, command a comfortable majority in the lower chamber of parliament but not the Senate where they need opposition support to make laws.

Last week, the two coalition parties finalized a housing market reform plan with input from the smaller liberal Democrats and two religious parties in order to get it through the upper chamber. The Christian Democrats, who were in coalition with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberals until late last year, did not endorse the plan.

Liberal party leader Halbe Zijlstra believes that the conservatives will be more inclined to cooperate with the ruling parties now that the latter have shown they can also tempt others to back their legislative agenda. “Next time, the party will probably be more realistic,” said Zijlstra of his former coalition partner.

Christian democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma seemed skeptical, however. “If a cabinet proposal creates more employment, I will support it. If there’s little I can do to improve it, I won’t,” he said.

Earlier, the Christian Democrats vehemently criticized a cabinet plan to link health insurance premiums to incomes, a Labor Party proposal that also met fierce opposition from within the liberal party ranks. It was quickly canceled last year, mere weeks after the two parties had formed a government.

The Christian Democrats were the biggest losers in last year’s election, dropping from 21 to thirteen seats in parliament. Two years earlier, they had already lost nearly half of their 41 seats.

In the most recent election, right voters threw in their lot with Rutte’s fiscally conservative party to prevent Labor leader Diederik Samsom from claiming the prime ministership and pursuing an economic stimulus policy. After a heated election, the two had little choice but to form a government together, allowing the Christian Democrats to reclaim in opposition some of the support they have lost.

It makes little political sense for either the Christian Democrats or Labor to formalize a three party coalition. The former would then be prevented from criticizing government policy which is how they can get votes back from the liberals. The latter wouldn’t like the balance of power in the coalition to shift to the right which could open them up to criticism from the far left. Yet without the Christian Democrats’ support, the government will have to do battle and water down its plans every time it tries to get legislation through the Senate.