Deal to Rescue Dutch Coalition Alarms Other Parties

Opposition parties criticize a proposal to bypass the Senate if it fails to enact health reforms.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012 (Rijksoverheid)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte told parliament in the early hours of Friday that he had agreed to make last-minute changes to a critical health reform bill to save his government from collapse.

But the deal he did with his Labor Party ally aggravated three other parties whose support is needed to push the reforms through parliament.

The centrist liberal Democrats and two small Christian parties criticized the government’s threat to bypass the Senate if it votes down the legislation a second time. One threatened to pull its support from the reforms altogether if the government persisted in this approach.

Constitutionally unsound

The ruling Labor and liberal parties proposed to rewrite a controversial health insurance reform in order to win over three Labor Party senators who unexpectedly voted with the opposition against the measures on Tuesday, triggering a crisis in the coalition.

The three dissenting senators would not outright commit to supporting the revamped legislation, however, and Rutte’s liberals demanded guarantees.

In a letter to parliament, the cabinet said it would consider bypassing the Senate with decree legislation in case the upper house did not accept the changes in the law.

That irked the liberal Democrats and smaller parties on the right who said the suggestion was constitutionally unsound.

Their support is also needed to get the reforms through the Senate where Labor and the liberals lack a majority of their own.

Other parties oppose the reforms outright, meaning they can also not pass without the support of the full Labor Party.

Power to insurers

The reforms would allow insurance companies to limit their customers’ hospital choices, a change that they say will raise efficiency and reduce premiums for consumers. The measure had been painstakingly negotiated with insurers, hospitals and the three loyalist opposition parties.

The Labor Party senators who voted down the reforms felt they gave insurers too much power over health-care providers.

Cabinet crisis

Party leaders shuttled between the three dissidents and the liberals through Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to find a way out of the coalition’s worst crisis since it came to power after the 2012 election.

Rutte canceled his attendance of a European Council meeting in Brussels to focus on the political crisis at home. He deputized Luxembourg’s premier, Xavier Bettel, to speak on the Netherlands’ behalf.

The liberals insisted on the option of bypassing the Senate in case the three Labor Party senators do not change their mind. If they don’t, it would blow a €1 billion hole in the government’s budget.

Neither Labor nor the liberals are keen to bring down the government and trigger early elections. The latest Ipsos survey gives Labor just fifteen out of 150 seats, down from the 36 it has now. The more volatile Peil.nl has Labor at eleven.

The liberals get 27 seats in both polls, down from 41.

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