Analysis The Center Can Hold

New Government Won’t Change Dutch Foreign Policy

Labor may be less Euroskeptic, but the Netherlands is likely to maintain its hard line.

The Dutch Labor and liberal parties that announced this week they had reached agreement to form a new government are unlikely to user in significant changes in the Netherlands’ European and foreign policy.

Although Labor is seen as more pro-European, it backed the previous, right-wing government’s European policy while in opposition for close to two years as one of its partners, the nationalist Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, refused to support the ruling Christian Democrats and liberals in the creation of two European bailout funds for the financial support of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

Before September’s election, which followed Wilders’ withdrawal from the ruling coalition, Labor leader Diederik Samsom vehemently disagreed with Prime Minister Mark Rutte when he insisted that Greece could not be given more time to comply with the terms of its two international bailouts.

Although their coalition agreement, which was published on Monday, does not stipulate a specific policy with regard to Greece, the parties note that the recipients of financial aid should work to improve their economies in the long term. They add, “Structural support from countries that do take their responsibility to countries that don’t is out of the question.”

Rutte has in the last two years maintained that he will not help build “a pipeline of permanent support” from the relatively strong economies in the north of the eurozone to the weak in the south. So even if Labor is expected to deliver the next finance and foreign affairs ministers, Rutte will likely remain an ally of German chancellors Angela Merkel’s in opposition to European “transfer union.”

The two Dutch parties agree that the European single market should be strengthened, another cause that has been embraced by the liberal premier and his British counterpart David Cameron in recent years. They write, “Protectionism is contrary to the European ideal.” Additionally, they plan to ask the European Commission to submit proposals for transferring responsibilities back to the national governments and agree that member states should be able to withdraw from the single-currency union as well as the Schengen customs union.

Beyond Europe, the liberals appear to have got most of what they called for in their election platform. Despite Labor’s reluctance, developmental aid will be cut €1 billion per year while defense spending, which was cut nearly €1 billion by the previous government, is slated to be reduced another €250 million, although a similar amount will be set aside to finance peacekeeping operations.

In 2010, it was Labor’s refusal to continue a military presence in Afghanistan that led to the collapse of their government with the Christian Democrats. In Monday’s coalition agreement, the two new ruling parties agree to maintain the Netherlands’ police training mission in the northern province of Kunduz until 2014 when all NATO forces are set to pull out of the country.

The decision to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a replacement for the Netherlands’ aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets won’t be made until 2013 but the coalition agreement references a report from the nation’s Court of Audits which said last Wednesday that leaving the project will be more costly than staying in. Dutch participation in the development phase of the F-35 will therefore not be affected. Political observers expect that Labor, which only this summer voted to leave the Joint Strike Fighter program, will eventually acquiesce and agree to buy the plane.