Rutte Is More Pro-EU Than His Critics Allow

Mark Rutte Emmanuel Macron
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte greets French president Emmanuel Macron in The Hague, June 23, 2020 (Elysée/Soazig de la Moissonniere)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte is criticized from the left and center for failing to make the argument for the EU integration in his reelection campaign.

The Financial Times, which a few days ago selectively quoted from Rutte’s televised debate with far-right leader Geert Wilders to make him and not Wilders out to be the bigot, has listened to his critics and concluded that Rutte is following, rather than leading, Dutch public opinion on the EU.

That’s hardly an outrage in a democracy, but I don’t think it tells the whole story. The prime minister who once promised to give “not one cent more” to Greece (and then agreed to another bailout) has become more pragmatic about European integration. Read more “Rutte Is More Pro-EU Than His Critics Allow”

Dutch Should Keep Health Care System They Have

Leiden Netherlands hospital
Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands (LUMC)

Nearly all political parties in the Netherlands call for more government in health care.

The far-left Socialists and Greens would replace private health insurers with public health funds. Labor would keep the insurance companies but take away their power to negotiate prices with health providers. The Christian Democrats and far-right Freedom Party want to end competition between hospitals. Even the center-right VVD believes liberalization has gone too far.

I’m a member of the VVD, but on this point I disagree. (So I’m glad there are few concrete proposals to reverse liberalizations in the VVD’s manifesto.) The Dutch health-care system is one of the best in the world. In a column for Trouw, I challenge the parties that want to uproot it to point to a better example. If there isn’t one, let’s keep the system we have. Read more “Dutch Should Keep Health Care System They Have”

Financial Times Smears Netherlands’ Rutte as Bigot

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5, 2016 (European Parliament)

In an hour-long election debate with Geert Wilders on Thursday night, Prime Minister Mark Rutte took his far-right opponent to task for treating nonnative Dutch as second-class citizens. He pointed out that Wilders wants to ban the Quran, close mosques and deny voting rights to dual citizens.

Because Morocco won’t allow even the descendants of Moroccan nationals to renounce their citizenship, Wilders’ proposal would disenfranchise some 400,000 Dutch citizens, including the speaker of parliament, Khadija Arib.

It is a plainly racist proposal, and Rutte called Wilders out on it — thrice. He asked Wilders to consider the effect of his rhetoric on the hundreds of thousands of Dutch Muslims of good will, not in the least children, some of whom Rutte teaches civics and sociology every week on a middle school in an immigrant neighborhood of The Hague.

He demanded an apology from Wilders for his infamous promise to voters in 2014 that he would arrange for there to be “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands. Far from apologize, Wilders said he wanted fewer Somalians and Syrians as well, and he accused the liberal party leader of presiding over the “destruction” of the Netherlands by admitting so many non-Western immigrants.

Rutte, once again, ruled out forming a coalition government with Wilders’ Freedom Party.

Here is how the Financial Times summarizes the exchange:

Rutte … felt compelled to insist that he wasn’t in fact a Muslim — twice. Ahead of the debate, Rutte told [de] Volkskrant he was ready to seal Dutch borders in the face of another EU migrant crisis and declared the country’s values “nonnegotiable” for foreigners.

Rutte’s preternatural ability to pander to the far right is part of the reason he is a shoo-in to keep his job for the next four years.

I don’t know if the author, Mehreen Khan, speaks Dutch, but it doesn’t sound like she listened to the debate. Read more “Financial Times Smears Netherlands’ Rutte as Bigot”

Dutch Left Could Have Worst Election in Decades

Jesse Klaver
Dutch Green party leader Jesse Klaver attends a European Young Leaders conference in Malta, September 14, 2018 (Friends of Europe)

The three largest parties on the Dutch left could post their worst election result in decades.

At best, Labor, the Greens and far-left Socialists will defend their 37 seats in parliament, according to an aggregate of polls. At worst, they would fall to 31 out of 150 seats, down from a recent peak of 65 seats in 2006.

What happened? Read more “Dutch Left Could Have Worst Election in Decades”

What’s at Stake in the Dutch Election

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

This Dutch election campaign has been the least memorable in my lifetime. There are two more weeks to go, and two more televised debates. The first, last Sunday, failed to change the dynamic of the race.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is almost certain to win reelection. His liberal VVD (of which I am a member) is projected to win 37 to 41 out of 150 seats, up from 33.

Support for the other parties has changed little in recent months. The ruling Christian Democrats and Christian Union are stable in the polls. The social-liberal D66, the fourth party in Rutte’s government, appears to have lost some support to the liberals on the right and Labor on the left. Labor has also won (back) supporters from the more left-wing Greens and Socialists.

On the far right, the Trumpist Forum for Democracy could take two or three seats from Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, but its popularity has collapsed from two years ago, when it briefly rivaled Rutte’s in the polls.

Economic and social issues feel less important when Dutch voters still face daily restrictions due to coronavirus. Shopping on appointment was allowed again this week, but hotels, museums and restaurants remain closed. A 9 PM curfew is in effect. Rutte benefits from being the incumbent in a crisis. With the exception of the parties on the far right — which are unlikely to end up in government — most have, in some cases lukewarmly, supported his COVID-19 policies.

But there are other major issues that will play a role in the next four years, from climate and energy to labor law to an overhaul of child benefits.

I’ll walk you through ten of them as well as the positions of the mainstream parties on those issues, out of which the next government will probably be formed. Read more “What’s at Stake in the Dutch Election”

Energy Plays Key Role in Dutch Election

Netherlands wind turbines
Wind turbines near Velp, the Netherlands (Unsplash/Sander Weeteling)

Energy is one of the top issues in the Dutch parliamentary election, which will take place next month. Right-of-center parties have followed the traditionally more environmentally conscious Greens and social-liberal D66 (of which I am a member) in their ambition to adhere to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. But there are differences.

While there is consensus on some topics, such as biomass and natural gas, nuclear energy and windmills are controversial. Read more “Energy Plays Key Role in Dutch Election”

Dutch Intervene to Break Stalemate in Curaçao Legislature

Willemstad Curaçao
Aerial view of Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock/Texpan)

The Dutch government has intervened on Curaçao to break what it described as an “antidemocratic” impasse on the island.

The government of what is nominally an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands had requested the intervention to reconstitute the island legislature. “At the moment,” Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath said earlier this week, “democracy isn’t functioning on Curaçao as it should be.”

All ten opposition lawmakers refused to attend virtual meetings of the Estates, denying the ruling parties, who also have ten seats, a quorum to swear in a tie-breaking deputy: Emmilou Capriles, who succeeds Jeser El Ayoubi.

The Dutch government has now appointed Capriles by decree.

The same opposition lawmakers tried to use the death of a ruling party lawmaker to bring down the government last summer. They failed, but not before encouraging riots. Read more “Dutch Intervene to Break Stalemate in Curaçao Legislature”

What Divides Dutch Voters

The Hague Netherlands
The Hofvijfer in The Hague, the Netherlands, November 29, 2020 (European Commission/Robert Meerding)

Parliamentary elections are held in the Netherlands in three weeks. Polls predict a victory for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party (of which I am a member), giving it 38 to 42 out of 150 seats, up from 33.

Support for most other parties is stable. The social-liberal D66, a junior party in Rutte’s government, and the far-left Socialists would each lose a few seats to Labor. The far-right Forum for Democracy, which tied with Rutte in midterm elections, has imploded. It would win fewer seats than the animal rights party.

The liberals benefit from having the most diverse base in terms of age, education, geography, but not gender. Other parties appeal more to certain groups — although the Netherlands is still a long way from the United States, where identity is crowding out issues. Dutch voters are fickle. Only one in five consistently votes for the same party. Read more “What Divides Dutch Voters”

Butter on Their Heads

Wopke Hoekstra
Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra in The Hague, September 15, 2020 (Ministerie van Financiën/Martijn Beekman)

There’s a Dutch expression for hypocrisy that doesn’t have a direct translation in English: you accuse someone of having “butter on their head”. It means they better avoid the heat lest it stream down their face.

Party leaders Wopke Hoekstra of the Christian Democrats and Lilianne Ploumen of Labor stepped into the heat on Saturday, when they addressed their respective party congresses (held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic). It wasn’t long before the butter on their heads started to melt.

Both accused Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in power for ten years, of dismantling the Dutch welfare state.

Just one problem: their parties have each governed with Rutte for five of the last ten years. Read more “Butter on Their Heads”