Dutch Sausage-Making

Our expatriate Dutch correspondent H. Numan sent us an email today with an overview of the current state of political affairs in the Netherlands:

Dear Baron,

A very difficult election ahead.

We all look forward to seeing Geert Wilders becoming prime minister. Regretfully, that isn’t likely to happen. Not even when the PVV becomes the biggest party Allow me to me explain:

The Netherlands always has had coalition governments. No single party is big enough to form a majority government. The parliament holds 150 seats. For a majority government one needs at least 76 seats. It won’t be strong majority government with just 76 seats, though.

However, there is another factor that is usually left out of the calculation. The Netherlands is a monarchy. Normally the Queen is purely head of state and not much more.

But during elections the monarch has a special privilege: she is the one who will decide who will become informateur and later formateur. The monarch, nobody else, decide this. She does not have to explain herself why she choose a particular person. Just a very general statement will suffice.

The job of the informateur is to gather information, and present a list of likely coalition governments. Usually, but not always, the informateur becomes later on the formateur. The job of the formateur is to actually form a cabinet. Almost always the formateur will become prime minister.

The usual procedure is to choose the informateur from the biggest party. If the election is a clear one, no big deal. But more often than not the election results aren’t that clear. Suppose the Labor (PvdA) Christian Democrats (CDA) and Conservatives (VVD) are pretty much the same in size, it can to be tough to form a government. Especially if they all have conflicting non negotiable items on their agenda. It’s not unusual for negotiations to last over 6 months.

And now the real power of the monarch comes into play. If she prefers, say, a socialist government, she will appoint a socialist informateur. This has happened in the past under our previous queen Juliana. The PvdA came in second in the elections. It looked like a Christian Democrat-Conservative government was in the making. However, the Queen gave the job to Joop Den Uyl (PvdA) who was able to form a Socialist-Christian Democrat government.

All the queen had to say was that she thought it most likely Den Uyl would form a government.

This queen doesn’t like Wilders one little bit. Or the PVV for that matter. She made this — indirectly and not so indirectly — publicly known on several occasions.

– – – – – – – –

A week ago she invited 50 members of parliament for a nice cuppa tea at the palace. Just for some informal chitchat. What is discussed is confidential. Parliamentarians are not supposed to divulge what’s going on. But one did. Boekestijn (VVD) spilled the beans. Her Majesty talked about several subjects, one of them being to be very careful with new parties. Especially parties that cause damage to ‘social cohesion’.

Two days later Mr. Boekestijn resigned his position as member of parliament for the VVD. Completely voluntarily. (Want to buy a bridge?)

This royal tea party hasn’t taken place over a decade. All of a sudden it was revived. One can only wonder why.

Supposing the PVV can cross this hurdle, it isn’t in the government by a long shot. Because a coalition must be formed. And that won’t be easy.

The CDA is not a problem, provided they remain larger than the PVV. If the PVV gets bigger than the CDA they won’t play ball. They don’t have to be picky, as everybody is willing to join the CDA. The CDA controls the outcome of the coming elections no matter what.

The PvdA is desperate to remain in government. They have to, if only to save what little face they have left. So the PvdA will be amendable to any demand made by the CDA.

Likewise, the Socialist Party (ex-Maoists) and the Green Left party (GL) (ex communists) are getting desperate. They haven’t been in any government so far, and lower party cadre is getting tired. During municipal elections recently the Green Party won several seats in various cities. But they can’t fill those seats because their candidates declined to take them.

Femke Halsema (GL) made statements she will not be shy of government responsibility this time. She has to. It cost the GL dearly when they left the negotiations very early last time.

Do it again, and she might as well open a classic car dealer ship. Femke loves antique extremely polluting cars very much; she’s the proud owner of a Mercedes Diesel from the 70’s. No filters, the real McCoy.

Another player is D66. A kind of ‘what do you want this time’ party. It swells and it shrinks with the seasons. Last election they lost big time, just 3 seats left. But they are the most ferocious opponent of Wilders and that gives them about +20 seats in the polls. D66 announced no matter what, they won’t work with the PVV.

So, what’s left? The VVD. The party where Wilders came from. Not much left there: about 15 seats in the polls. The Christian Union, currently 6 seats, likely to remain stable. The CU are left-wing fundie Christians. Everything left over is small fry.

But there is more. Given the current crisis, the next government must be a government that will raise tax. Ever heard about a government that reduces costs? Neither have I. The present government is pushing legislation to raise the retirement age form 65 to 67. The PVV is diametrically opposed to both. They want to reduce costs and invalidate any legislation to raise the retirement age. Not much of an encouragement for the CDA to invite the PVV to the table, what?

Generally speaking we can have a CDA-PvdA-GL-SP government. A firm majority, but highly unlikely to happen. Too damn close to North Korea.

Another option is CDA-PVV-VVD-?? A weak majority. Will at best happen if the CDA is bigger than the PVV, which is doubtful.

CDA-D66-PvdA-CU is a very likely bet. A weak majority, but assured to carry on the good work of the present government.

There are more options possible, but as far as I can see the PVV is going to be in the opposition again. Looking on the bright side: if you think it’s difficult to form a government with three parties, try four. The coming election will likely create the need for a 4 party government. They are notoriously unstable. Few are able to sit out the ride.

I think Wilders is smart enough to prefer to wait a bit. Better to be the biggest and most aggressive opposition party than join a very weak government that will almost certainly collapse. You have seen what the PVV can do with just 9 seats; what can they do with 40?

Best regards,
— H. Numan

9 thoughts on “Dutch Sausage-Making

  1. Sounds a little like Israel, where the President is tasked with picking the party leader to form a government. That is why Netanyahu is the current Prime Minister, even though Livni and Kadima had one more seat in the last elections than Likud.

    President Peres felt Likud had a better shot at forming a government.

    Personally, I think the entire parliamentary system is absurd, but that is just the American in me talking 😉

    And even our system has saddled us with a veritable ark of freeloading bums in DC.

    My family left the Netherlands for New Amsterdam in the 1630s, so as a very distant son of the Dutch I wish you all the best.


  2. Matt, the comparison to the Israeli situation is a good one. The difference is that it is new to the Netherlands and Israel is used to it since the 1980ies.

    Do not count on Mr. Wilders taking charge in The Netherlands. Our political system and society is splintering and is increasingly paralysed.

    Not that the state has much to offer to bribe the populace. The Dutch state is more or less broke. Perhaps Mr. Wilders should not even want to be in charge.



  3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: American democracy is the best because it is the simplest. You won the most votes? Congratulations, you are the new
    president. No coalitions, no snap elections, no kings or prime ministers making back room deals, the best. Too bad there is no serious counter-jihad candidate who can take advantage of that simplicity,

  4. Goddfrey – Money seems to play a bigger part in the American version of democracy than it does in any other. I recognise the problems with parliamentary democracy but at least it gives the smaller guy a chance. That can’t happen in America and whereas the domination of establishment parties is coming under increasing assault in Europe, America’s ‘republicrats’ appear as untouchable as ever.

  5. I couldn’t agree with your analysis more, here in Limburg in the catholic east of the country it used to be Cda in the country and Pvda in the towns. At the last election for the European parliament Geert was polling between 20% and 30% over all. He got 33% in Venlo his home town. He has certainly got the other parties worried we even had Walter Bos from Pvda in Venlo a couple of weeks ago handing out roses and testing the water. I don’t think he was a happy Bunny. I am certain that they will try and cripple him with the his trial in February. He should be al right though with Bram Moscovits as his Attorney. He has certainly got public opinion on his side, if they do get him out of his function as leader of the PVV it will be a home goal as his no 2 Fleur Agema is a very atractive young women about 34 who can be just a blunt as Geert. Next year is going to be a very interesting year in Dutch politics, especially if the economy tanks which it has not done so yet. I also have too agree with you that Femke Halsema doesn’t like him and the feeling is certainly mutual, he does tend to dismiss her with a curt yes or no when she asks him questions in the parliament. I doubt she will survive the next election if the Green bomb. I am certain Geert knows that the chances of him being Prime Minister this time round is next to nil as they certainly will for a cordon sanitaire His only hope this time is to try and win as many seats as possible so as to make the formation of a Government as difficult as possible. I personally think that he has a chance of 40, but that’s my top estimate. I am quiet looking forward too the blood letting next year. The formation of the next Government could take months if he really does get a large no of mandates. The last one took over 4 months if I remember correctly and Geert wasn’t even in the running. We live in interesting times.

  6. Money may play a part in American democracy, that is true. But inherited royal titles do not. In truth I find I simply can’t understand it at all. I realize this is in large part a personal failing. My mind just isn’t flexible enough to wrap around the idea that intelligent Western people would agree to be ruled by one family in perpetuity in the 21st Century.

    I can almost understand the ‘figure head’ idea, like Britan has, but then it always turns out they actually *do* have significant powers.

    As an American we are broght up believing in democracy from birth. We vote on everything, all the time. We learn about our revolution, about throwing off the monarchy, in very positive terms. We are instructed in the founding of our Republic, which is without classes or loyalty.

    So at age 50 I’m just not able to sympathize with monarchy.

    As for our Dutch friends, I hope it works out for you. Have you considered a new Constitution without royalty? I think you might find it invigorating to move to a real Republic.

    I see the Aussies are trying to shed their ties to England and the monarchy. I support that. Most Canadians seem to prefer the monarchy to a pure Republic. Their choice, of course, but I think it’s foolish.

    Yours, Zeke, American Citizen (not a Royal Subject)

    PS: We own and carry our own guns here, too.

  7. Checks and balances, Zeke. Checks and balances. The monarchy exercises a fair bit of power but in the ideal republic of Plato, such power is held in check by the landed gentry, the philosophers and the commoners. Or something like that. The point is that everyone has their eye on everyone else.

    The monarch does wield power, but the treaties that collectively form our constitution mean that – in theory – the royal prerogative is exercised through parliament by the will of the people. The monarch is held to be subject to a higher power than his own self, and has to keep the mob happy regardless or he might lose his head. The Bill or Rights and related documents establish that there is no absolute power in the Monarchy, that the monarch is a citizen subject to the law as any other – establishing the rule of law, that all men are treated equally and that justice is blind.

    For a very long while the power og the state was distributed between the Lords, the people through Parliament and the Monarchy and was restricted by the Bill of Rights and the Acts of Settlement amongst others, which prevented the monarch and, by extension, parliament as represented by the executive from raising taxes without an act that gained assent by the representatives of the people. The fact that most “laws” passed in the last twenty years are really just taxes levied by local government through statutory instruments and disguised as criminal fines demonstrates how far gone this system has become, but that’s because the people have been remiss in keeping their government in check. Ignorance or apathy about the provisions of our constitutional documents and the legitimate limits of the power of the Parliament and Monarchy have allowed it to grow well beyond its defined limits.

    You Americans are under the same illusion, except in your case the mechanism used to strip away your freedoms has been the commerce clause in your constitution. You think that a piece of paper with the words “the constitution” written on it will protect you but it won’t. You have to protect it, and from here it looks like you lot haven’t been doing a very good job either. Monarch or president, elected or not, if the people on top are talking about death panels and enriching themselves at the expense of the people they govern then you’ve failed in your duty just as badly as we appear to have failed.

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