Tag Archives: the netherlands

2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 2

Read part 1 here:

As Prime Minister Rutte had announced in his press conference on Saturday, when Parliament reconvened on Tuesday, 24th April, his Chancellor (Finance cabinet minister) Jan Cornelis de Jager started doing the rounds with all opposition parties. He was surprised when, arriving in the meeting room of the D66 parliamentary party, he found the leaders and Treasury spokespeople not only of D66, but also of GroenLinks and ChU sitting there to confer with him on a new Dutch budget package for Brussels.  In telephone (and email) rounds on Sunday, and meetings on Monday, the top people of these three parties had hammered out a common set of adjustment proposals to put to the Rutte government. Mr. De Jager played along finding this convenient, but also conferred with all other opposition parties. Dutch Labour (PvdA), back then still a big party in parliament, refused to join the “Kunduz” trio because they thought Netherlands shouldn’t strictly adhere to the 3% GDP norm (Dutch Neokeynesianism was invented by the PvdA in the late 1940’s).

Within two days of furious negotiating, on Thursday April 26th, the coalition government parties VVD and CDA, and the trio D66, GroenLinks and ChU had hammered out the outlines of an adjusted package. Coincidentally they together represented 77 of the 150 Commons seats; another orthodox protestant party SGP, 3 MP’s) joined it, and the “Kunduz Coaltion” or “Spring Agreement” package was agreed by the Second Chamber that evening. It was sent off to Brussels immediately, only just before the EMU/SGP.

The priorities of the three opposition parties shone through in the adjustments made.

D66 got the raising of the state pension age from 65 to 67 years of age (a point we had been hammering away at in opposition from 2007 onwards) and reinstatement of the low VAT tariff for theatrical performances; ChU got cuts on subsidizing palliative care for the dying removed. Being three decidedly internationalist opposition parties, we also got the 0.7% GDP norm for development aid reinstated; and being three just as decidedly green parties, we got green measures inserted (coal-fired electrical power plants started paying coal tax along with all other enterprises; investing in/subsidizing home isolation and durable ways of building houses and edifices). D66 and GroenLinks even got VVD and CDA to start diminishing Mortgage Interest Tax Relief on private home-owners (a sacred cow until then). We had to swallow some other things of course (raising the upper VAT tariff from 19 to 21%; scrapping tax freedom from employee allowances for home-work travel expenses). But we (D66) were proud as Punch that we helped the Netherlands adhere to EMU norms we entered into under the Maastricht Treaty and EMU agreements. ECSC/EEC/EU founder Netherlands remained a faithful member, losing the PVV obstructionists (who since withered in opposition).

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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.

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What a start of a new coalition! D66 both the biggest (Dutch) progressive and the biggest Liberal party

In my previous postings about the D66 contribution on entering the new Dutch coalition government (here and here), I noted that D66 surprised everybody in Dutch politics by being able to have some profiling, and indubitably progressive programmatic points in the coalition agreement. Also, D66 was the main provider of women (cabinet) ministers; and they are highly qualified women politicians!

A brief “tableau de la troupe” of the new Dutch government…

It consists of two Liberal parties: the progressive, pro-European D66 and the more eurosceptical, car-owner oriented VVD (with prime minister Mark Rutte); and two Christian Democrat …

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Reflexions on the “how to exit Brexit” debate at the Autumn Conference

As always, I quite enjoyed attending the LibDem Autumn Conference and its fringe meetings. The only suggestion about fringe meetings I would like to make (as a member of D66, 27.000 members; we’ve always had one member one vote at our halfyearly conferences) is: if it is about the three issues Social Liberals care most about: Europe, Education and the Environment, having some fringe meetings in the plenary sessions hall (or a secondary big hall, like at the back of Bournemouths BIC, where the Prospect interview with Clegg was moved to) so that every interested member gets a change of …

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Social Liberals: winning against Populism because we have “street force”

First of all, on behalf of the tens of thousands D66 party members (over 25.000; and we’re gaining members every week for the past year,  our heartfelt congratulations to the Lib Dems on passing the 100.000 members threshold. And you’re not done yet, I know.

If we look to our Spanish and French social-liberal, pro-EU sister parties, Ciudadános and Macrons movement “En Marche”, they too are booking spectacular results in gaining members, and getting members active on the street. According to the French Wikipedia and the Economist, En Marche (EM) claimed 88.000 members in October 2016, and  250.000 now.  The Economist reports about EM-activists canvassing the British way in Strassbourg streets (and elsewhere).

That is the big difference I noticed in the Dutch European elections (2014) and our recent General Elections (March 2017):

  • whereas D66 activists were visible on the (high) streets and at train station entrances handing out leaflets months before (and until) election day,
  • other progressive parties (PvdA/Labour, GreenLeft, and old-style Socialists\SP) were strangely absent, where they dominated the scene until about ten years ago,
  • the center-right parties (VVD/NatLibs and CDA/Christian Democrats) and PVV never were very active in that way.

D66 has also started canvassing the British way in “friendly” neighbourhoods, talking to people on the doorstep; but we seldom hear that from other Dutch parties. Only PvdA/Labour appears to do that, and the Socialists/SP say they do it.

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LibLink: Nick Clegg: The EU is facing a liberal insurgence. Now is not the time for Britain to leave

Nick Clegg has been writing for the Independent in the wake of the Dutch elections in which the racist populist Geert Wilders didn’t do as well as expected. He recounted a family gathering in the Netherlands at Christmas time.

What was striking when we were talking about the Dutch elections, however, was almost everyone around the table wanted to cast a vote that provided the best guarantee of keeping Wilders out of power. For most, that seemed to point towards supporting Mark Rutte, the affable and skilled Dutch PM, even if they’d never voted for him before.

It worked and the lesson, he finds, from D66’s success is not to pander to populism. Be yourself.

The polarisation of politics along new lines – no longer left vs right, but now open vs closed – is mobilising voters against right-wing populism. We are witnessing the beginnings of a liberal backlash against the backlash against liberalism. Of course, it wasn’t just Mark Rutte’s VVD which benefited, but other parties too.

D66, the second Liberal party in the Netherlands (lucky Dutch to have two liberal options) did well, surging to almost level pegging in the polls with Geert Wilders and adding seven seats to their tally in the Dutch Parliament. D66 are, ideologically, most similar to the Liberal Democrats in Britain. Alexander Pechtold, their experienced leader, told me when we met how he was going to run an unapologetically pro-European campaign. He was not going to bend to the populist times. His decision paid off handsomely.

And he sees the chance of reforms that would make British voters want to stay in the EU.

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Observations of an ex pat: Trump lost on Wednesday

I am not talking about the court ruling on version two of his travel ban. Neither am I talking about the mounting incredulity over his wiretapping claims and tax returns.

I am talking about an event that took place 3,843 miles away from the White House on the other side of the Atlantic– the Dutch general election.

Trump’s man was  Geert Wilders. The anti-EU, anti-immigration, racist leader of the Netherlands’ Freedom Party  who has bounced in and out of the Dutch courts on hate crime charges.

There was never any question of Wilders winning a majority in parliament and forming the next Dutch government. Their proportional representation  system makes that a virtual impossibility for any political party.

However, Wilders’ Freedom Party was tipped to win more seats than any other Dutch party. He failed, miserably. And he failed with 80 percent voter turnout—up 5.5 percent from the 2012 elections.

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May’s “Hard Brexit” causes tensions in previously strong UK-Dutch relationship

Despite all the sugar-coating in her speech, the “Hard Brexit” announced by prime minister May didn’t go down well with Dutch businesses, many of whom have done business with Britain for decades.

The combination of the threats uttered alongside the Hard Brexit option, and a series of recent stories in Dutch newspapers about extradition letters being sent to Dutch housewives by Tory immigration ministers, seriously changed the way many UK-loving Dutch think about being in Britain, and British policy attitudes.

That point was today brought home to me, when I met a friend whose family had been visiting the Lake District every summer for decades. He told me that he didn’t feel as welcome in England as he used to, seeing the way the May government is treating our mixed-married compatriots who also love Britain. He pointed out that May’s “walk away” threat puts British-Dutch couples in complete limbo. 

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