By Gaelle Legrand
IN March, Dutch voters will head to the polls to elect their next government.
While Mark Rutte, the leader of the conservative-liberal party VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) will likely be voted in again to undertake a fourth mandate, the country’s tradition of coalition could see new entrants.
Moreover, as the populist vote is still very much present in the Dutch political landscape, questions remain over who could represent the far-right voters after the many scandals struck the newcomer nationalists FvD (Forum voor Democratie) this year.
Royal Holloway University of London’s Professor of Politics Joost van Spanje told Redaction Politics: “A lot of things can happen but VVD is probably going to stay in power.
“They’re in a very good position, they’re the only relatively large party right now.”
Although Rutte has received criticism from his opponents, Professor van Spanje observes that he still holds a lot of approval following his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
VVD has been in power since 2010, in coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and a support deal from Geert Wilders’s right-wing PVV (Party for Freedom) until 2012, then with PvdA (Labour Party) until 2017.
Since that last election, where it gained 33 seats at the House of Representatives, the Rutte’s party has been ruling in coalition with Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), Democrats 66 (D66) and Christian Union (CU).
“VVD is now governing with three other parties and they will probably need to look for three parties again,” said Professor van Spanje.
“But in 2017, Prime Minister Rutte repeatedly said ‘Never again with Wilders’ and also in the Christian Democrats, there really is a lot of hesitation of trusting Wilders again.
“Then, there’s FvD and the party leader of the Christian Democrats, Hugo de Jonge, has actually said that he would never govern with FvD.”
Although Wilders’s party is currently credited with winning 25 seats in Parliament in the latest polls, making it the second choice out of thirty parties, its chances to sit in government have decreased after the 2012 budget disagreement where he left the coalition, refusing to implement austerity measures.
PVV promotes the dominance of the Judeo-Christian and humanistic culture, takes a strong stance against Islam, calling for a Quran ban and a shut down of all mosques in the Netherlands and is highly anti-EU but it also defends the freedom of the LGBTQIA+ community.
“No matter what you think of the man, he’s very competent in the sense that he doesn’t do or say very strange things. But then suddenly, the problem for Wilders is that he left, he blew up the coalition in 2012,” said Professor van Spanje.
“There was the opportunity for FvD to attract PVV voters. A lot of people were concerned with immigration and such and they were really looking for an alternative.
“At one point over the course of 2017/2018, almost 60 per cent of voters of PVV went to FvD.”
The new FvD was originally founded in 2016 as a think tank campaigning against the European Union.
In a 2019 interview with Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, FvD leader Thierry Baudet said: “I am ideologically against the EU, against the internal market, against the open borders, against the euro, against the whole thing.”
For Professor van Spanje, the success of the party in the 2017 and 2019 elections is like no other.
He said: “Unexpectedly, it received two seats in Parliament, which is quite impressive because historically since 1948, only one in ten newborn parties managed to do that in their first election.
“Its leader, Thierry Baudet and its number two, Theo Hiddema, came into Parliament.”
“Two years later, they even got the most votes of all parties in the regional election.”
While the Eurosceptic party started 2020 with a strong forecast of 9-10 per cent of the votes in the polls, several controversies around Mr Baudet have pushed its chances to the ground, leading him to resign last month before being reinstated.
Among them, ‘fascist’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ statements were found on a group chat of the young wing of the party in April, as well as glorification of terrorists like Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarrant.
Last month, a letter revealed statements made by Mr Baudet at a party dinner where he allegedly took the defence of the party’s youth wing and accused the billionaire George Soros of being behind the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor van Spanje said: “It’s just an account of this evening, which is not entirely new but still, people suddenly saw how furious this man is.
“Now, he’s basically on his own, he managed to keep hold of the very undemocratic party, together with maybe two or three others who are also very controversial persons.”
If a coalition between the far-right and the conservatives is unlikely, VVD might look towards smaller parties gaining attraction.
Although The Netherlands holds a green image with its bicycles, waste management and sustainable infrastructure, the country is also very much reliant on fossil fuels and intensive farming.
Nonetheless, the appetite for greener measures could match those of neighbouring countries, as results in the polls from D66 and GroenLinks (GreenLeft) have shown a constant progression with 12 to 14 potential seats.
Professor van Spanje said: “All across Europe, the Greens are really surging but we don’t hear much about it. In so many countries, they have been on the rise. It’s gradual but really impressive.
“In the Netherlands, they’re a bit lagging behind, but the GreenLeft is getting more and more votes and might be doing pretty well, maybe even enter into a coalition government.
“In many other countries, they have already, Austria, Sweden, Germany, but never in the Netherlands, so this might also be an important development.
“It would be something new and a new current that finally gets into government.”
The Dutch General Election will take place on March 15, 2021.
Professor Joost van Spanje is also an Associate Professor of Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam and the author of ‘Controlling the Electoral Marketplace: How Established Parties Ward Off Competition’.
This article was amended on December 14, 2020 to include the full members of Rutte’s first administration.
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