Splits on the Right Force Rutte to Consider Coalition with the Left

Dutch parliament
Chamber of the Dutch parliament in The Hague, April 8, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

The Netherlands has broken a century-old record: seventeen parties won seats in the election in March, the highest since 1918, but defections from the centrist Christian Democrats and far-right Forum for Democracy would make this parliament the most fragmented since women got the vote.

Pieter Omtzigt, who narrowly lost an internal election for the Christian Democratic leadership a year ago, has resigned from the party. He now sits as an independent.

Wybren van Haga, who left Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member) in 2019 to join Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy, has split again and formed a new right-wing party with Olaf Ephraim and Hans Smolders. The three were appalled when Baudet compared the COVID-19 lockdown to the wartime Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

The defections make it even harder for Rutte to avoid forming a coalition with the left. Read more “Splits on the Right Force Rutte to Consider Coalition with the Left”

Judges Need to Know Their Place

Supreme Court The Hague Netherlands
Seat of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague, February 3, 2016 (Rijksvastgoedbedrijf/Bas Kijzers)

European judges have discovered they can compel politicians to take action against global warming.

France’s Council of State has given the government of Emmanuel Macron an April 2022 deadline (one month before the election) to ensure the country will meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

Germany’s Constitutional Court issued a similar ruling in April and gave the government an end-of-year deadline to update its policy.

A Dutch court has gone further, ordering Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, to reduce not just its own carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent but those of its customers and suppliers as well.

It’s like we’re living in a kritocracy. Read more “Judges Need to Know Their Place”

Swedish Housing Crisis Has Similarities with Netherlands

Stockholm Sweden
View of Södermalm from the island of Riddarholmen in Stockholm, Sweden (iStock/Goncharova Julia)

Stefan Löfven may be Europe’s first prime minister brought down by a housing crisis, but he is unlikely to be the last.

Löfven, a social democrat, lost the support of the far left over a proposal to allow landlords to freely set rents for newly-built apartments.

Rents in Sweden are usually negotiated between landlords and tenants’ associations.

Other countries struggle to find the right balance between public and private in housing too. Berlin instituted a citywide rent freeze last year, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by Germany’s highest court. Spain’s central government is challenging a Catalan rent cap. Authorities in Barcelona want to extend a moratorium on evictions that has been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But perhaps the best comparison is with the Netherlands, which organizes public housing in much the same way as Sweden. Read more “Swedish Housing Crisis Has Similarities with Netherlands”

Dutch Likely to Reverse Labor Market Liberalizations

Amsterdam Netherlands
Bicycle traffic in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (Unsplash/Noralí Nayla)

Pressure is mounting on the Dutch government to reverse liberalizations in the labor market.

The OECD, a club of 38 wealthy nations, has endorsed a call by Dutch employers and trade unions to encourage the use of permanent contracts.

But where the OECD prioritizes reforms to make it cheaper and easier to hire workers full-time, the Netherlands’ own Social and Economic Council (SER), in which trade associations and labor groups are represented, would make temporary and part-time work more expensive.

The divide is mirrored in Dutch politics: Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member) and the centrist Christian Democrats would reduce the cost of regular employment for businesses. The Labor Party and Greens would rein in zero-hours and freelance contracts. All four may be needed to form a government. Read more “Dutch Likely to Reverse Labor Market Liberalizations”

Dutch Right Alarmed as Left Needed to Form Government

The Hague Netherlands
Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague (iStock/Fotolupa)

The left lost the election in the Netherlands but is winning the battle to form the next coalition government, argues conservative commentator Syp Wynia.

Labor, the far-left Socialist Party and the Greens fell to a combined 26 out of 150 seats in the election in March, down from a recent peak of 65 seats in 2006 and fewer than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD (of which I am a member), which won 34 seats.

Mariëtte Hamer, a former Labor Party leader and head of the Social and Economic Council, in which employers and trade unions negotiate industrial relations, is nevertheless exploring a centrist coalition in her role as informateur that would involve both Labor and the Greens — to the rising consternation of the right. Read more “Dutch Right Alarmed as Left Needed to Form Government”

Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte enters a meeting with other European leaders in Brussels, July 21, 2020 (European Council)

Revelations that his outgoing government deliberately withheld information from parliament have made it even harder for Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power since 2010, to form a new government in the Netherlands.

Cabinet minutes, normally kept secret for 25 years but released after they had leaked to RTL Nieuws, reveal that ministers agreed not to share all relevant files in the so-called child benefits scandal, which caused Rutte’s four-party government to resign in January.

Between 2013 and 2019, some 26,000 parents were wrongly accused of benefit fraud. Many were financially ruined by demands to pay back tens of thousands of euros in child support.

Pieter Omtzigt, at the time a backbencher for the ruling Christian Democrats, had requested internal documents from the tax agency that would disclose when civil servants had first advised ministers of the mistakes.

Withholding information from parliament is a capital offensive in Dutch politics, but Omtzigt’s request was unusual. Ministers are politically responsible for their departments. Parliamentarians have long accepted that civil servants need to be able to make their recommendations in confidence.

Omtzigt argued for an exception. The minutes reveal Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra, the Christian Democratic party leader, tried to “talk sense” into Omtzigt, who would not relent.

In the election in March, Omtzigt won a third of all votes for the Christian Democrats. His persistence in bringing the child benefits scandal to light has made him one of the most popular politicians in the country — but not necessarily in The Hague, where even some in his own party consider him a loose cannon. Read more “Revelations in Benefits Scandal Make Rutte’s Job Even Harder”

Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water

Mark Rutte
Dutch lawmakers debate Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

After eleven years in power, Mark Rutte is suddenly vulnerable.

The long-ruling Dutch prime minister won his fourth election in a row in March, but botched coalition talks have thrown his future into doubt.

What started with suspicions Rutte had tried to get rid of a critical lawmaker turned into a wider question about his credibility.

But discontent in other parties about Rutte’s longevity also plays a role.

Before I dive in, let me remind you I’m a member of Rutte’s political party and voted for him in March. So this is not going to be an unbiased analysis, and the reason I’m publishing it as an opinion story. Read more “Rutte’s Opponents Smell Blood in the Water”

Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte meets with other European leaders in Brussels, March 16, 2016 (European Council)

Two weeks after parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, attempts to form a coalition government have broken down amid incriminations that could put Mark Rutte’s prime ministership at risk.

Rutte won the election, but a botched start to the negotiations to form his fourth government has thrown doubt on his political survival.

The liberal has been in power since 2010. Read more “Rutte’s Future in Doubt After Botched Coalition Talks”

Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience

Dutch parliament The Hague
Dutch lawmakers listen to a debate in parliament in The Hague, September 29, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Regular readers know I’m not a fan of two-party democracy. It reduces politics to simplistic either-or choices. It encourages parties to radicalize their supporters and appeal to the extremes rather than the center. Multiparty democracy, by contrast, engenders moderation and compromise.

Multiparty democracies are superior on almost every metric: their voters show higher trust in government and each other; their electoral systems are more responsive to changes in public opinion; their economies are more competitive and their societies less divisive.

But there is a tradeoff. When voters aren’t loyal — which is itself a good thing; they should judge parties on their performance — turnover in parliament can be high, which robs it of experience and expertise. Read more “Fragmented Dutch Parliament Lacks Experience”

Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20, 2020 (European Council)

Less than a year ago, Mark Rutte and Pedro Sánchez were on opposite ends of the debate about the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. Sánchez and other Southern European leaders called for grants financed by EU-issued bonds. Rutte and his allies preferred loans. The two sides eventually split the difference.

Now the two prime ministers, one center-right, the other center-left, have made common cause for a version of European “strategic autonomy” that is more liberal than Emmanuel Macron’s.

In a joint “non-paper“, the Dutch and Spanish leaders endorse strategic economy as a means to an end — growth and security — but not an end in itself. They caution it mustn’t become an excuse for isolation and protectionism. Read more “Dutch and Spanish Leaders Share Vision for EU”