Left-Wing Pact in Netherlands Hinges on Centrist Ambitions

There could be a left-wing government in the Netherlands if centrist parties are willing to make the necessary compromises.

Dutch Christian Democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma speaks at a summit of European conservative party leaders in Brussels, March 17, 2016
Dutch Christian Democrat leader Sybrand van Haersma Buma speaks at a summit of European conservative party leaders in Brussels, March 17, 2016 (EPP)

The most likely outcome of the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands this month is another centrist coalition government led by Mark Rutte, the incumbent prime minister.

But the polls do show there is another possibility: a center-left government of five parties.

This is the wish of the Green party and far-left Socialists, who are polling at 10 and 8 percent support, respectively.

Labor, which is also polling at 8 percent — down from 25 percent in the 2012 election — could probably be persuaded to join such a pact.

The question is if the Christian Democrats and liberal Democrats would.

Policy differences

On economic issues like health care and labor, the two centrist parties, who are polling at 10 percent each, have more in common with Rutte’s liberals than they do with the left.

The three left-wing parties want to reverse liberalizations in health care; the three others want to liberalize more.

The left argues it has become too easy for companies to lay off workers; the other three parties argue firing workers is still too costly and that relaxing dismissal laws would boost employment.

On social issues, the liberal Democrats are closer to the left but the Christian Democrats are to Rutte’s right.

Ambitions

The reason a left-wing coalition is nevertheless possible is that the Christian Democrat and liberal Democrat party leaders are very, very keen on becoming prime minister themselves.

Sybrand van Haersma Buma and Alexander Pechtold haven’t kept their ambitions to themselves. Both have said they want to take Rutte’s place.

The liberal Democrat can probably be persuaded to take a cabinet post instead. His party has never delivered a prime minister yet.

But for Buma’s Christian Democrats, playing second fiddle to the liberals still takes getting used to. In the past, it were the liberals who always served under a Christian Democrat plurality and a Christian Democrat premier.

We’ll see how much of their policies Buma and Pechtold are willing to give up for the sake of their personal ambitions.

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