The Dutch national elections took place more than 100 days ago and yet we don’t know what the new government will look like. After coalition talks with the green party (GroenLinks) collapsed as a result of disagreements on migration policy, the conservative Christian Union (ChristenUnie, CU) came into view as a possible fourth government party. Earlier we reported this possibility (i.e. a coalition between VVD, D66, CDA and the Christian conservative parties: CU or SGP) was most likely to emerge – based on the average scores of the latest polls at that moment and the convergence of policy agendas. Now that the Christian Union is indeed having talks with the other potential government partners, and stands a chance to become the fourth partner in government, it is time to take a closer look at what the Dutch so-called ‘Bible Belt’ party stands for. This report also reveals where the CU agrees and disagrees with each of its potential coalition partners.
Conservative and green
The Christian Union holds deeply conservative views on ethical issues, since its positions are directly inspired from the Bible, whereas the party is leaning more to the left on socio-economic and environmental issues. CU is, for example, open to welcoming asylum seekers and pursues green policies. The party was founded in 2000 as a merger of two protestant parties (GPV and RPF) and the theological principles of charity and stewardship are at the core of its doctrine. In the European Parliament, CU is in the same European political group as another testimonial Dutch party, the Calvinistic Reformed Political Party (SGP). Peter van Dalen is an MEP for CU and Bas Belder for SGP (both member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group). However, their common European affiliation does not necessarily mean that the two Parliamentarians always vote in the same way.
CU is more progressive than its potential coalition partners on migration
We compared the votes of CU with some of its possible future coalition partners, i.e. the Dutch parties with the largest representation in the European Parliament: CDA in EPP and D66, VVD in ALDE. We have assessed the convergence rate between these four parties, which measures how often they voted in the same way on a number of key votes.
MEP Peter van Dalen (CU) voted in favour of some environmentally ambitious policies, despite the opposing views of the majority of his political group colleagues. For example, Van Dalen endorsed ambitious proposals on the landfill of waste and, just like the MEPs of CDA and D66, he supported higher targets on renewables, energy efficiency and emission cuts. Furthermore, contrary to the ECR group line, van Dalen asked to address the legal shortfalls in the term climate refugee, including an international definition. The voting behaviour of CU on environmental issues in the European Parliament confirms thus the engagement of the party to deliver a greener economy, which indicates that on this matter CU sees eye to eye with both D66 and CDA.
CU is also rather progressive on migration policy. This reflects the third point of the Christian Union party manifesto, which states that the party pursues an open policy towards asylum seekers based on the rights of migrants and refugees. In the case of the EU agreement with Turkey, van Dalen voted in favour of a statement that expressed concerns on the way Turkey is dealing with the increasing number of refugees, such as the use of detentions and deportations to the place of origin. The other major Dutch parties rejected the criticism of Turkey’s refugees’ management: CDA voted against the critical amendment, whereas D66 and VVD abstained. The Christian Union, together with CDA and D66, also backed provisional asylum measures in favour of Italy and Greece, whereas VVD abstained.
However, the Christian party has also some reservations regarding the freedom of movement. Interestingly, van Dalen (CU) backed an amendment rejecting the Commission’s proposal on visa liberalization for the citizens of Ukraine. In fact, although CDA, D66 and VVD supported visa liberalization, the Dutch delegation showed a very strong opposition (proportionally, compared to other EU states) to this Commission’s proposal: 36% of Dutch MEPs voted in favour of the amendment rejecting the visa liberalization for Ukrainians. In 2016, Dutch electors rejected an EU Association Agreement with Ukraine in a referendum. The issue dogged the outgoing government for several months, although a solution was ultimately found.
CU’s Eurosceptic views are likely to generate headaches in the Hague
The Christian Union is overall relatively Eurosceptic and not very keen on supporting further EU integration. This is particularly relevant with regard to the discussions about further cooperation on a European Defence. The potential cabinet would be divided on this issue, as only CDA and D66 backed the establishment of a European Defence Union, whereas VVD abstained and CU voted against.
The manifesto of the Christian Union explicitly mentions the loss of sovereignty as a result of EU membership and states that even a departure from the Eurozone should be considered. The position of CU vis-à-vis the European Union resonates with the vote of MEP van Dalen against introducing a budgetary capacity for the Eurozone (as visualised below). However, also other potential members of the next governing coalition are not keen on far-reaching reforms of the Eurozone. Both CDA and VVD voted against a Eurozone budget, while only D66 supported it. On this basis, we can expect strong opposition by the potential future Dutch government to the proposed reform of the governance of the Eurozone.
As outlined previously, a centre-right government would be most homogenous on economic issues as they share a free-market attitude. The four parties found consensus as regards encouraging ISDS (Investor-state dispute settlement) in trade agreements. However, voting data also shows that tensions are likely to arise between these parties on social issues.
Contrary to the other Dutch conservative protestant party (SGP), CU explicitly mentions the equality between men and women in its manifesto. Still, CU is deeply conservative and, as a result of that, some of its positions are difficult to accept for the most progressive members of the proposed coalition. The three ‘big’ parties (CDA, D66 and VVD) supported an amendment stressing the need to ensure that woman have access to abortions. Not surprisingly, CU did not endorse this statement.
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