Dutch Liberals Surge, Christian Democrats Collapse

There’s a sort of odd ratchet effect in the Anglophone media’s coverage of anti-immigrant politics in the Netherlands. When Pim Fortuyn’s political movement broke through in 2002 that was widely reported, but when it collapsed in 2003 nobody cared. Similarly, when Geert Wilders’ new anti-immigrant party surged to first place in the public opinion polls, that got reported. When it sank back to third or fourth place, nobody reported that. And now that the election’s been held and Wilders finished third you get headlines like “Surge for Dutch anti-Islam Freedom Party”.

But the bigger story is probably about the political party that actually took first place in the election, the VVD, a center-right liberal party (the Dutch also have a left-liberal party called D66). VVD has often participated in coalition governments, but the Netherlands hasn’t had a liberal prime minister since World War One and now they almost certainly will.

What comes next is the negotiations over forming a coalition for which I’ll defer to Erik Voeten:

To say that coalition formation is going to be rough would be an understatement. Most within the VVD either want a coalition with the CDA and PvdA or with CDA and PVV. A coalition with the PVV would be a minimal one, making it dependent on whatever motley crew of individuals Wilders has managed to put together (always a problem with parties that suddenly become very large). This will make the CDA pause as they just lost half their seats. They may well think that it is not so great to be a junior partner in a coalition government: Better to sit this one out and bounce back (which is what they did the only other time they lost this bad in 1994). The PvdA has rejected any possibility to govern with the PVV and prefers a “purple coalition” with the VVD, D’66 (a centrist liberal party with 10 seats), and the Greens (left, 10 seats). This is hardly ideal for the VVD. They would be outnumbered by parties of the economic left when they campaigned so hard on economic reforms from the right. The ball is in the VVD’s court. Given that the PVV won so substantially, it would be difficult for the VVD not to at least have talks with them. Of course this puts the CDA in an odd power broker situation given how badly they were beaten up. For what it’s worth, the election markets now put the chance of a purple coalition at 60% and have the CDA/VVD/PVV coalition at 10%.


I wonder if the rules allow for the possibility of a Danish-style center-right VVD/CDA minority government that would depend on occupying the central position in parliament and the impossibility of effective collaboration between PVV and the left-wing parties in order to stay in office. You’d try to get PVV votes for your economic reforms, and then just not give them cabinet seats or policy concessions on their nuttier agenda items like banning the Koran or taxing headscarves.