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”

Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte addresses parliament in The Hague, September 17, 2020 (Tweede Kamer)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has tendered his government’s resignation to King Willem-Alexander.

With only two months to go before elections, and the government remaining in a caretaker capacity to manage the coronavirus crisis, the resignation is largely symbolic.

But smaller parties in Rutte’s coalition felt they had to take responsibility for what an inquiry described as an “unprecedented injustice” in the tax service, which wrongly accused more than 20,000 families of fraud.

Lodewijk Asscher, who was the responsible minister in charge of social affairs in the last government, stepped down as leader of the now-opposition Labor Party on Thursday. Read more “Dutch Government Falls Over Child Benefits Scandal”

Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric cars, infrastructure, renewable energy and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued the United States should imitate policies in Northern Europe to improve child care, health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”

Dutch Christian Democrats Can’t Expect White Knight

Wopke Hoekstra
Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra attends the state opening of parliament in The Hague, September 18, 2018 (Ministerie van Financiën/Valerie Kuypers)

Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra is back in contention for the leadership of the country’s ruling Christian Democratic Appeal following the unexpected resignation of Hugo de Jonge.

Hopes are that Hoekstra will be able to succeed where the last three leaders of his party failed: to unseat the liberal Mark Rutte as prime minister.

The Christian Democrats are currently a junior party in Rutte’s third coalition government since 2010.

Elections are due in March. Read more “Dutch Christian Democrats Can’t Expect White Knight”

Consensus Among Major Dutch Political Parties

The Hague Netherlands
Dutch government buildings in The Hague, March 29, 2015 (Pixabay/Unsplash)

Earlier this month, I took an in-depth look at the draft election manifesto of the Netherlands’ ruling liberal party (VVD), which is likely to win the next election. (Disclosure: I’m a party member.)

Now that most other parties have released their manifestos as well, it’s possible to make a comparison. Read more “Consensus Among Major Dutch Political Parties”