Dutch Parties Yet to Resolve Government Crisis

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet could fall as the result of a rebellion in the Labor Party.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands inspects an honor guard in Moscow, Russia, October 19, 2011
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands inspects an honor guard in Moscow, Russia, October 19, 2011 (Rijksoverheid)

The two ruling parties in the Netherlands had yet to resolve a cabinet crisis on Wednesday that was triggered when three Labor Party senators unexpectedly voted down the government’s health reforms a day earlier.

The defection of the three Labor Party members deprived the coalition of a majority in the upper chamber and blew a €1 billion hole in its budget.

State broadcaster NOS reported that the Senate Labor Party did not want to bring down the government. But Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberals demanded a resolution before the end of the day. According to the left-wing daily de Volkskrant, the liberal party’s health minister, Edith Schippers, even threatened to resign if her measure wasn’t enacted. The three dissident senators insisted they wouldn’t change their vote. RTL News, then, was less optimistic about the coalition’s chances, saying its end was “in sight.”

The ruling Labor and liberal parties do not command a majority of their own in the Senate — usually a sleepy constitutional body that can do little more than send legislation back to the lower house. It had won the support of the liberal Democrats and two small Christian parties for its health reforms, theoretically giving it a one-seat majority.

Other opposition parties reject the changes, meaning they cannot pass without the support of the full Labor Party.

The reforms would allow health insurance companies to limit their customers’ hospital choices. The measure is expected to raise efficiency, save the government €1 billion in health-care spending per year and reduce premiums for consumers.

The dissident Labor Party senators fear it would give insurers too much power over health-care providers.

Theirs is not the first Labor Party rebellion since Rutte formed a government with the party after the 2012 election. The liberals were forced to accept changes in immigration policy under pressure from Labor. Late last year, a Labor Party senator threatened to hold up a housing bill but was persuaded at the last minute — notably not by party leader Diederik Samsom but by the social affairs minister, Lodewijk Asscher.

The conservative weekly Elsevier sees a leadership gap on the left. “Simply no one is in charge in the Labor Party,” it argued on Wednesday, “a party that threatens to lose almost three quarters of its voters in the next election.”

The latest Ipsos survey gives the social democrats just fifteen seats out of 150, down from 36 now. The more volatile Peil.nl has Labor at eleven.

The liberals do poorly too. Both poll show them losing at least thirteen seats out of 41.

Many rightwingers haven’t forgiven Rutte for raising taxes and those who oppose his policy in Europe prefer Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party which wants the Netherlands to pull out of the European Union altogether.

The bad poll figures have yet to undermine Rutte’s position. On the other hand, Dutch media speculate about who will replace Samsom as party leader. Asscher is considered the most likely candidate.

Labor voters still blame Samsom for entering into a coalition with the right in the first place. They were especially appalled by the criminalization of illegal immigration, even after the liberals agreed to a general pardon for children living in the country illegally as part of a quid pro quo. Labor voters are defecting to the far-left Socialist Party and the pro-European liberal Democrats.