Dutch elections 2017: Conservative turn with rejection of radical parties

Round-up of the elections: Liberal-Conservative turn for the Netherlands

Despite losing some seats, the current PM and leader of the People’s Party for Progress and Freedom (VVD), Mark Rutte, comes out as the clear winner of the consultation. While this is mostly good news for Europe and the liberal order, a closer look at the results and how we’ve got here is needed to understand the likely policy of the next Dutch government. In order for Rutte’s VVD to remain the first party, it had to give in to the pressure from the far-right and stiffen its discourse vis-a-vis the governance of the EU and the Eurozone. It remains to be seen if Rutte will maintain a more “Euro-critical” discourse now that the elections are behind him, but the fact that his party did lose seats in absolute terms and that the European elections, where the anti-EU parties usually perform better than in general elections, are just 2 years from now gives an indication that things are more nuanced than they look through the cup of yesterday’s victory.

This report looks at the positions of the Dutch parties on EU governance and forecasts the likely positions of the next Dutch government.  It also addresses the implications of yesterday’s results for the upcoming elections in key EU countries, such as France, Germany and Italy. 

This is the third victory in a row for the Liberal Conservative party, which does not seem to suffer too much from its long permanence in government. Usually, the wide political offer for Dutch electors makes it difficult for a party to cling to power for too long, as dissatisfied voters can easily find an alternative to parties in government.

At the same time, this is a big defeat for VVD’s junior coalition partner, the Labour Party, which lost more than 20% of votes and handed over the leadership of the centre-left to the Green-Left party. The poor score of the centre-left party also undermines the clout of the first VP of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans (a member of the PvdA), who is not likely to pursue a second mandate as the Dutch Commissioner. Also the position of the head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem (also from the Labour Party), is now at risk.

In addition to the Green-Left, social-liberal D66 and the Christian Democrat CDA also performed well, although, in the case of the latter, the latest polls were suggesting the possibility of an even stronger performance.

Yesterday’s results are also a lackluster performance for the Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders. Although there were some inflated and excessive expectations regarding the performance of the PVV, it is true that this anti-Islam and Eurosceptic party had led the polls for several months and, until the recent weeks, it was expected to collect more than 20% of votes (it ended up with only 13%).

Nevertheless, when looking at the overall outcome of the elections, we notice an overall shift to the right in the Dutch political landscape, also considering that parties such as VVD and CDA have already hardened their discourse about migration and the multicultural society during the electoral campaign, as a way of countering the rise in the polls of Wilders’ party. VVD is also critical on the European Defense Union and the establishment of a budgetary capacity for the Eurozone. The Christian Democrats are very critical about the Ukraine-EU agreement and their leader even promised to scrap it in case of a victory in the elections. Therefore, the next Dutch Parliament will be more Conservative than the previous one, which also means that not every proposals coming from Brussels will be welcomed.

Good leadership and clear positions on social values boosted the performance of the pro-EU Green-Left and D66, but this can hardly been depicted as a success for the social liberals forces, given the dramatic fall of the Labour Party.

Our previous report on the Dutch elections outlined the policy impact of the potential coalitions emerging from the consultation.  The next government will be either a centre-right coalition (VVD, CDA, D66, CU) or a centrist arrangement (VVD, CDA, D66 and Green-Left), although other alternatives are still possible, depending on how the consultations will play out. Dutch government will be more unstable than in the past, given the increased number of parties within both the government, but also the Dutch political landscape as a whole.

As outlined by our previous analysis, a centre-right government would be the most homogenous on economic issues (shared free-market attitude), whereas tensions might arise on social issues, in particular between D66 and the Christian Conservative parties. In case of a coalition with the Green-Left, the political views of the coalition will be more mixed, although tensions might arise on economic issues, as well as on trade.


Dutch vote should not be seen as a referendum about the EU

However, it would be simplistic to frame this election as a victory of the European Union and a defeat for Euroscepticism. Obviously, the vote has clear implications for the European Union and the almost certain participation of the pro-European D66 will enhance the pro-European credentials of the next Dutch executive. 

Nevertheless, political observers should not fall in the trap of interpreting every political consultation in Europe as a referendum about the EU. The European Union was hardly an important subject during the Dutch electoral campaign. The diplomatic row with Turkey and the shift to the right in its rhetoric about the integration of migrants can better explain the success of VVD than its rejection of Euroscepticism (as mentioned before, VVD is one of the least friendly towards Brussels among the Dutch mainstream parties).

All in all, the predictive power of this election for future consultation is rather limited given the different cultures and political landscapes of European countries. As the US and UK- based media were wrong in forecasting a success for the anti-EU forces and expecting the Dutch to follow the political trends of the Anglophone world, European media should avoid making a similar mistake, when expecting other European countries to reject populist rhetoric in the same way as the Dutch did.

For this reason, particular attention should be paid to the next election in France and Italy, where economic woes mingle with a general disaffection for mainstream political parties, whereas the outcome of the next German elections, despite the expected weak performance of fringe parties, will be key in determining the future of the Eurozone.