With the campaigning for the upcoming general elections on 9 June nearing its final stages, it looks like we’re in for yet another episode of one the finest institutions of Dutch politics: endless coalition talks. Having a system of proportional representation and 19 parties fighting for a voter’s attention, it’s rare for two parties, never mind one, to win 76 of the 150 parliamentary seats.
And even then, coalition negotiations can take what feels like forever. The average period for forming a cabinet is 72 days, with a stupefying 208 days being the absolute record. That was back in 1977 and it didn’t even result in the installation of a new government. The rest of the world – save for Belgium – must think we’re mad.
The reason why hammering out a coalition agreement is usually such a painstakingly slow process is that every detail is being negotiated. Compare that to Britain, where a coalition government was recently installed after only five days of negotiations. The Conservatives and LibDems agreed on a few headlines and started governing the country.
It’s so much more effective than the Dutch way. During the coalition negotiations in the Netherlands, it is considered inappropriate for the outgoing government to take decisions on important issues. Especially in times like these, which require powerful leadership to guide the country, that tradition will effectively paralyse the political decision-making process.
65 or 66?
With the latest polls and the positions of the various political parties in mind, we may fear for the worst. At least three parties will be needed to form a parliament majority and workable coalitions are hard to find.
Mark Rutte’s VVD (Conservative Liberals) are way up in the polls and seem to have their minds set on their natural partner, outgoing prime minster Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrats (CDA), plus the Freedom Party (PVV) of political terrorist Geert Wilders.
The problem is that the Islamophobic freedom fighter has laid down a make-or-break point in the form of the state pension, which in his view people should keep on receiving once they’re 65 and not, as VVD and CDA want, at a later age.
Foes Turn to Friends
Rutte could also turn to the Progressive Liberals of D66, but their leader Alexander Pechtold, in his turn, has formulated another make-or-break-point, in that he wants to do away with the fiscal benefits for house owners. Something VVD and CDA are fiercely opposed against.
In the end, however, all these firm positions will turn out to be negotiable. Every party that will be part of the next coalition will only partly fulfil its election promises. Former enemies will be the greatest of friends behind the cabinet table. Let’s just hope that Wilders will not be one of them.Tweet