Dutch, German Coalitions Unpopular Going into European Elections

Conservative voters are dismayed by their governments’ emphasis on social issues.

German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands in Kleve, near the Dutch-German border, May 23, 2013
German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands in Kleve, near the Dutch-German border, May 23, 2013 (Bundesregierung)

Less than two months before European Parliament elections are due, the ruling coalitions in two of the continent’s richest countries are unpopular.

A Deutschlandtrend poll published on Friday showed 55 percent of Germans “not very or not at all happy” with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government with the Social Democrats.

In the most recent poll by Maurice de Hond, the ruling parties in the Netherlands hold 23 percent of the votes combined, down from the nearly 50 percent support they got in the last election.

Merkel’s own conservative parties have not lost support compared to last year’s election yet but that may be more due to a perceived lack of alternatives than a lack of dissatisfaction.

Germany’s liberals, with whom Merkel governed in her last coalition, have yet to recover from a dismal election in which, for the first time in their history, they failed to win any seats in parliament. Alternative für Deutschland, despite being far more moderate than the Dutch Euroskeptics, has had to cope with a disdain from established parties and many news media similar to Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. It is polling at just 6 to 7 percent support for May’s European Parliament elections even if a quarter of Germans said in a survey last year they would rather give up the euro.

Wilders, who advocates a withdrawal from the European Union altogether, is polling at 18 percent nationally whereas he got 10 percent support in the 2012 election.

Right-wing voters who are disappointed in liberal prime minister Mark Rutte for breaking an election promise not to raise taxes and reduce government spending instead can also defect to the liberal Democrats, who are outspokenly in favor of deeper European integration, and the Christian Democrats, whose European policy is more muddled. Both parties won support compared to the last parliamentary vote in local elections last week.

Support for Germany’s Social Democrats is also roughly in line with their performance in September’s election, unlike the Dutch Labor Party which is polling at just 9 percent. It is losing support to the liberal Democrats as well and to the far-left Socialist Party, now at 14 percent.

Conservative voters in both countries have been dismayed by an emphasis on social issues at the expense of growth policies and fiscal consolidation. Dutch labor market reforms were halfhearted and raised costs for freelancers. The German coalition plans to limit temporary work contracts and introduced a national minimum wage that economists and employers fear will cost jobs. It also made it easier for workers to retire early even if the German population is projected to shrink nearly 20 percent between now and 2060, putting further strain on the country’s welfare system. The Dutch coalition did raise the pension age from 65 to 67 but only for those who retire after 2022.

Left-wing voters, by contrast, see social policies being undermined for the sake of budget cutting. Dutch Labor Party voters worry about plans to shutter nursing homes in favor of cheaper home care and are appalled by plans to criminalize illegal immigration, even if this was part of a tradeoff with the liberals who agreed to a pardon for children living in the country illegally.