By Famke Krumbmüller
The results of the closely watched Dutch elections are broadly positive, signaling a shift toward centrist policies, and making it unlikely that the new government will throw up roadblocks to management of the ongoing eurozone crisis. Pre-vote concerns that a government led by the Socialist Party (SP) could have weakened the Netherlands' support of the conservative northern camp led by Germany are now moot.
The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD -- also known as the liberals) secured a strong plurality in the lower house with 41 seats, up 10 from the previous parliament and the largest number of seats the party has ever controlled. The Labor party (PVDA) took second place with 39 seats (up nine). The Socialists (SP) remained steady at 15 seats, but most other parties saw their seat tallies decline sharply. The far right Party for Freedom (PVV) headed by the flamboyant Geert Wilder lost nine seats, down to 15, the centrist Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) lost eight seats for a total of 13, and the Green Left took three seats (down seven). The centrist Democrats 66 (D66) boosted their total by two, taking 12 seats in the new parliament.
The results likely make formation of a new government easier than had been anticipated. The expectation prior to the vote had been that one of the three major parties (VVD, SP, or the PVDA) would negotiate support from centrist parties to stitch together a working majority. Mark Rutte's VVD is likely to again form the basis of a coalition, but it will have to work with the PVDA in order to govern. But the VVD may add one or two other smaller parties in an effort to make legislative approval in the senate easier. A VVD-PVDA coalition would control 80 of 150 seats in the lower house, but only 30 of 75 seats in the senate. The CDA and D66 are the probable candidates, with the CDA somewhat more likely given that its 11 upper house seats would secure a comfortable majority in the senate. But the CDA's reduced vote tally has eroded its negotiating leverage and one option is that a VVD-PVDA coalition negotiates CDA support in the senate only, rather than formally bringing it into the government. That scenario -- with only two parties in the coalition -- would make policymaking simpler, though a third party may reduce tensions between Labor and the Liberals.
The key signpost for future policy trends will be the cabinet formation process. Both Rutte (VVD) and Diederik Samsom (PVDA) know they need to form a stable government as quickly as possible, but the two parties must also work through a potentially acrimonious policy agreement process. In the end, future policy is likely to be somewhat more balanced between the left and right than it currently is and the next government could have the political wherewithal to approve needed and painful domestic healthcare and housing reforms. Nonetheless, with Rutte in line to return as prime minister, a high degree of continuity is likely. A long government formation process (which is common in the Netherlands) could be a signal of tensions though, and the agreement will signal how stable such coalition will be. Rutte's likely return as prime minister also signals that the coalition government will be pro-European and that it is likely to support ongoing fiscal rectitude, though the PVDA may push for some measures to stimulate growth.
Famke Krumbmüller is an associate with Eurasia Group's Europe practice.
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