2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 1

I never in my wildest dreams thought it possible that, after the English Civil War, any English or British parliament would intervene while a government was collapsing (and straining under an EU deadline), grab the reins and impose its preference. But that’s what I’ve just been watching live on the March 25th late BBC News and Newsnight.

It reminded me of the only instance in Dutch politics when, with an EU/EMU deadline looming, the government lost its majority; with the party giving confidence and supply stalking out and staying out, and opposition MP’s saved the day.

In this two-piece article, I’ll explain what happened; I think it goes to show that with responsible opposition parliamentarians involved, parliament taking the initiative from an amputated government can be positive. 

It was 2012, two years into the first (Mark) Rutte government ( with ministers from VVD (car-loving Liberals) and CDA (Christian Democrats), and with Geert Wilders’ PVV giving the support to make up a majority (76 of 150 Commons seats) but without ministers. VVD and CDA had a coalition agreement; PVV supported most of it, but abstained on the foreign bits: (1) Dutch ISAF participation in pacifying Afghanistan (in Kunduz province and (2) European politics: anything remotely related to growing an “ever closer union” as professor Desmond Dinan describes it in his EU history handbooks, starting with EMU. And the PVV got our development aid lowered below the UN norm of 0,7% of GDP.

In 2011, Rutte got the foreign bits of his policy through parliament with the support of D66 (social liberals), GroenLinks (centrist-progressive Greens) and ChU (Orthodox and green protestants); this was afterwards called the (opposition part of the) “Kunduz coalition”.

Being a faithful EMU member in the Greek EMU crisis, and under the EU’s Stability & Growth Pact, the EMU rule book, we had to submit the outlines of our 2013 Dutch budget-package to Brussels and the ECB in Frankfurt by the end of April for clearance: did we adhere to the tough EMU/SGP budgetary norms we were subjecting Greece, Spain and Ireland to?  If we missed the deadline or didn’t adhere to norms, a EMU fine of a billion euros threatened.

Because we had some overruns in departmental spending and other problems, cuts had to be made. So from March 5th 2012, the leaders and leading ministers of VVD, CDA and PVV huddled together in the ceremonial Prime Ministers residence the Catshuis  to hammer out a budget with the necessary cuts. After a hiccup on March 28th (negotiations hitting a tough patch), talks resumed.

The Catshuis negotiations were in their final stages when on April 21th, Wilders decided he couldn’t stomach some proposed cuts after all; and stalked out for keeps.

 We at D66 were having our (one day) Spring Conference in Rotterdam when the news broke that the Rutte I government had collapsed, with furious recriminations in a live TV press conference from VVD’s Mark Rutte and CDA vice prime minister Verhagen at the irresponsible behavior of Wilders and the PVV.

 Rumour has it that that weekend, the party leaders from D66 (Alexander Pechtold MP), ChU (Mr. Arie Slob MP) and GroenLinks (Mrs. Jolande Sap MP) got into contact to save Dutch politics of incurring the EU wrath and billion euro EMU fine, by helping VVD and CDA to get a package (adjusted to some of our wishes) to send to Brussels.

Part 2 to follow tomorrow

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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  • Tony Greaves 26th Mar '19 - 5:09pm

    We are watching the UK constitution changing, bit by bit, day by day.

  • Steve Comer 27th Mar '19 - 1:07pm

    ….and changing for the better I hope. The Executive branch of Government has got more and more powerful in the last few decades and its about time Parliament was given the space to act as a representative institution.

  • Simon Banks 2nd Jan '20 - 11:22am

    Parliament intervening as described was common enough in the 18th century, though the expectation was that the King would find a Prime Minister (or partnership of two or three top men) which could contruct a government and enjoy broad support in parliament. With the hardening of the party system through the early and middle 19th century, both parliamentary and royal intervention became quite rare. However, parliament still could bring down a government. In 1940, after military humiliation in Norway, Chamberlain’s government comfortably won a vote, but enough Conservatives had defected for the PM to conclude he could not carry on and for him to resign. A flawed man, but much more honest than Mr Johnson.

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