by Frederiek Wesel

More than a year has passed since the Dutch general elections took place. How are the Dutch voters going to approach the upcoming elections of the European Parliament? How do they see the European Union and political change? 

The current political situation in The Netherlands can be described as the frail political balance found after the earthquake caused by the 2017 general elections, in which the PVV, the Partij Van de Vrijheid (Party of Freedom) led by Geert Wilders shook the country by becoming the second largest party in the country. The PVV, known for its nationalistic, euro-sceptical and right-wing populist ideals, gained ground and became the second largest party thanks to the collapse of the former second largest party, the moderate left PvdA, Partij van de Arbeid (Workers party) which lost more or less 20% of its seats in the parliament and votes. The collapse of the left enabled the rise of smaller parties such as the already mentioned PVV, CDA, Christen-Democratisch Appèl (Christian Democrats), D66 (Democracy 66) and GroenLinks (Green left), who had been on the sidelines during the last government: Rutte II, as it is known in The Netherlands. 

In all of this, the leading party, the VVD, Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (People’s party for freedom and democracy) lost about 5% of its seats. The outcome in the general election was 83% which sees the following division of seats and votes (the Dutch system is direct proportional):

Party  Seats (%)  Gain (%) 
VVD  21.29  -5.29 
PVV  13.06  +2.98 
CDA  12.38  +3.87 
D66  12.23  +4.20 
GroenLinks  9.13  +6.80 
SP  9.09  -0.56 
PvdA  5.70  -19.14 
Others (six parties)  17.12  +6.58 

The government that emerged from this scenario is essentially an anti-PVV and anti-Wilders centre-right broad coalition, which sees VVD, D66, ChristenUnie and CDA, which is the only Dutch party member of the EPP, in government. This was somehow foreseeable from the electoral campaign, during which the leader of the VVD and this time, PM Mark Rutte made it clear he was not willing to form a coalition with the PVV in any case, although the failure of the centre-left was certainly not to be expected. In light of these results, one could think of similar results when it comes to the European Elections of next year. By doing so, he or she would probably be quite off, due to a multitude of factors such as of course the two-year gap in between the two elections, but most importantly due to the different type of voters which obey the call-up of the European elections. In this millennium in fact, the outcome of the European elections has never exceeded 40%, compared to Dutch general elections, which consistently attracted 80% of the population. This lack of participation coupled with a different voter base yields very different results, as one can for instance see by looking at the differences in the outcome of the 2012 general election and the 2014 European election.  

The VVD, at the time the first party in the country with 26.60% votes, obtained a meagre 11.39%. In fact, most parties that had a clear anti- or pro- European attitude performed better at the European Parliament election than at the general election compared to parties having a more neutral stance. In this light, looking back at the last general election, it is not hard to foresee a success of the Greens, namely GroenLinks, very popular among students and the Dutch youth. At the same time, it will not be unlikely to see the Eurosceptic PVV gain ground on the more moderate VVD. At the moment of writing (third of January 2019) all polls (latest of which dates 09-12-2018) still see the VVD as the first party in the Netherlands (26%), PVV second (19%), and third GroenLinks (17%). The CDA fares well enough in par with all the other relevant parties (13%). 

It is of course important not to rely too much on these projections and considerations, as there are many internal but mostly external factors that have already shuffled and will shuffle cards, for instance the “gilet jaunes” protests in France, the Brexit negotiations and the overall political situation in France and Italy.  The Netherlands is in fact a rather small country which has traditionally adopted a culture based on tolerance and acceptance, partly because of on the need to conduct trade with many different foreign powers. Maintaining a solid economy is in fact the best card the country can play, as its political and cultural influence on European and extra-European level is very limited, due to its limited size. Dutchmen take pride in their work and economic success and whilst tolerant, are vulnerable to external critics and influences, as they are seen as forces which shift the paradigm in which the very mobile Dutch society lives in. Being able to adapt quickly to the change coming from outside is what has made the country and its citizens prosper. Bismarck once said: “Holland annektiert sichselbst”, the Netherlands are annexing themselves, referring the lability and fragility of the Dutch culture, language and politics. In this sense, the future of Dutch politics is probably already written, but somewhere else, and it is only a question of time before it becomes reality. 

05 February 2019
This text was published in Bullseye issue 75