Political climate and national elections

Arnout Mijs
An important development in Dutch politics is the fall of the government on 20 February 2010 as a result of divergent opinions in the government on the extension of the Dutch Afghanistan mission. Elections took place on 9 June 2010. During the debate the focus shifted from immigration towards the economy, because of the recent developments. Only the anti-immigration party of Geerts Wilders, the Party for Freedom (PVV), held on to the former topic. Budgetary savings on all possible policy fields were fiercely debated and supported by strong evidence on the need for budget cuts provided by the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Planning (CPB). In the respective programmes of the political parties, foreign policy played only a marginal role. In political debates foreign politics were hardly discussed, although this is not uncommon in Dutch parliamentary elections.[1] There was one recurrent issue in the political programmes of the majority of the parties on foreign politics. They stated that if they are elected part of the next government, they will strive to reduce the Dutch contribution to the EU.[2] This accounts amongst others for the Liberal Conservative party (VVD), the Labour Party (PvdA), the Socialist Party (SP), and the PVV.
The results of the elections testify for a rather complex and dispersed picture of the political landscape in the Netherlands. There are seven parties with 10 or more seats. The focus on economics has been one of the main reasons why the VVD led by Mark Rutte came in first with 31 out of 150 seats in parliament. The VVD became the biggest party in parliamentary elections for the first time in its history. The party was followed by the PvdA of former mayor of Amsterdam Job Cohen with 30 seats. The PvdA lost three seats, much less than expected in the year preceding the elections. Besides Rutte, another major winner was Geert Wilders’ PVV, who came in third with 24 seats (before 9). The biggest losers were the Christian Democrats (CDA) who lost almost half of their seats (from 41 to 21).
At the time of writing, the formation of a new government is ongoing. Three options seem most likely. The first option is a right wing government with the VVD, PVV and the Christian Democrats (CDA). The CDA is the party of disengaging Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who resigned as party leader after the 20 seat loss. This is also the reason they are hesitant to step into a right wing government, besides the fact that the party is divided on whether they want to rule with the PVV.[3] The second option is a neither-right-nor-left coalition formed by the VVD, PvdA, the Liberal Democrats (D66), and the Greens (GroenLinks). Until eight years ago the VVD, PvdA, and D66 also ruled the Netherlands, but now they need an extra party for a majority in parliament. The third, less likely, option is a cabinet in which VVD, PvdA and CDA join forces, although difficult in the light of earlier tensions between the PvdA and the CDA in the previous government. Either way negotiations will be tough, since the VVD is in favour of a hard-hitting economic reform policy whilst the other parties, especially PvdA, want to spread the budget-cuts over a longer period.[4] Parties seem moreover lukewarm with regard to cooperation with the PVV, because of its strong positions and because of its lack of seats in the Parliaments’ Upper House. Either way it will be a major first challenge for the new and young Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and it is not even certain that he will take up this position.

[1] M. Grevelink/J. Rood: Het Nederlands buitenlands beleid in de verkiezingen: een analyse, Online publication, Instituut Clingendael, Den Haag, 2 June 2010.

[2] See the websites of the different political parties, available at: (last access: 22 June 2010); Gera Arts/Marko Bos: Het Europa-gehalte van de Nederlandse verkiezingsprogramma’s, Internationale Spectator, 64(6), p. 328-331.

[3] NRC Handelsblad: CDA wil nog niet praten met VVD en PVV, 16 June 2010.

[4] NRC Handelsblad: Cohen: Wij zitten aan lage kant met bezuinigingen, 26 June 2010.