Netherlands Election 2017 – Coalition building

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Now that the post-election parties have ended, the political parties in the Netherlands now have to address the challenge of forming the next government. The questions on the leaders’ lips will be who are their parties willing to work with and, perhaps more importantly, who would be willing to work with them.

The previous coalition, made up of the centre-right VVD and the centre-right Labour Party, is now no longer viable; the number of seats they held together have fallen from 79 to 42. As a result, a different government is required to achieve the 76 seats needed for a majority in the House of Representatives.

The election results mean that a three-party coalition is not possible, as it would fall short of a majority, so a deal with four or more parties must be achieved. So what possible coalitions could be formed?

VVD/PVV/CDA/CU – right/far-right coalition

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On paper, such an arrangement of the parties could work. The VVD and the PVV have worked together in the past, with Wilders’ party providing support for a VVD/CDA coalition. However, this collapsed two years in after a dispute over austerity cuts.

The inclusion of the CDA and the CU (Christian Union) would, in theory, also work, as the VVD have often been in coalition with the CDA and the policies of both Christian parties would appeal to Wilders’ message of protecting Dutch culture and values. The coalition would also only be 1 seat shy of a majority in the Senate, the Dutch upper house, with 37 seats.

In reality, though, such an arrangement is very unlikely. All the major parties have stated they would not enter a coalition with the PVV, meaning that it is almost certain that Wilders will remain in opposition and making this four-party coalition deal an impossibility.

VVD/CDA/D66/CU – centre/centre-right coalition

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With the smallest majority possible, this deal would work but would require complete compliance by all MPs on all matters to pass legislation. As previously mentioned, the VVD and the CDA have both worked together in the past, and were also in coalition with D66 after the 2003 election.

The influence of the CDA and D66 would make this a fairly moderate coalition, but the inclusion of CU may cause some friction, especially over the issue of abortion and the tolerance of soft drugs (areas which the CDA also agree with them on). This arrangement would also have a majority of 1 in the Senate, which would help in the process of passing legislation.

The only significant issue with this arrangement is how small the majority is, and the support of other parties may also be needed as a back-up, whilst not including them in an official coalition agreement. Support from the SGP (Reformed Political Party) which, combined with CU have been described as the VVD’s ‘most beloved opposition parties’, could be a way of doing this, but would also make the coalition more centered around Christian values and beliefs.

VVD/CDA/D66/PvdA – ‘purple plus the Bible’

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Similar to the previous arrangement, this also includes the Labour party, the VVD’s coalition partners in the last government. Although the term ‘purple plus the Bible’ was coined in the last parliament, for their agreements in the Senate for support from D66, the CU and the SGP, the same phrase could be applied due to the support from the CDA, a party that also believes in Christian democracy. This four party coalition would also provide the same majority as the last VVD/PvdA government, as well as a strong majority in the Senate.

Whilst this arrangement of the parties would also be fairly moderate and there is some history of the parties working together successfully, there will be some in the Labour Party that may be unwilling to re-enter government with the VVD after being punished by the electorate for doing so.

VVD/CDA/D66/GL – left/right coalition

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This arrangement would also be fairly moderate, with the inclusion of the left-wing GroenLinks balancing out the rhetoric of the VVD and (to an extent) the CDA. Although this arrangement would provide the strongest majority out of the deals presented here and would also provide a slim majority in the Senate, it is unlikely that GroenLinks would enter an arrangement with the VVD, having seen the collapse of the Labour Party for doing exactly that.

CDA/D66/GL/SP/PvdA/50PLUS – left-leaning rainbow

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The only coalition dominated by left-wing parties, this arrangement would hold 79 seats in the House of Representatives, holding the same majority as the previous VVD/Labour administration, and would hold 45 of the 75 seats in the Senate. Such an arrangement would include six different parties; the CDA, D66, GroenLinks, SP (Socialist Party), the Labour Party, and pensioners’ interests’ party 50PLUS.

This is also the only coalition which would see Mark Rutte replaced as Prime Minister, with either CDA Sybrand van Haersma Buma or D66 leader Alexander Pechtold likely taking on the role, as their parties both have the largest number of seats with 19 each.

Whilst a deal like this could be possible with some negotiation and concessions on all sides, the large number of parties involved in making it work mean that such an arrangement could quickly become unstable. A slight alternative could be to exclude 50PLUS as an official coalition partner and instead making a support agreement between them and the then five-way coalition. Such a deal could also work with the PvdD instead of 50PLUS, but would still run into the same issues of numerous parties having to compromise on a variety of issues.

 

Whilst there are several roads to reach the 76 seats for a majority, the most likely based on the results is a VVD/CDA/D66 coalition, supported by the Christian Union, either as a coalition partner or through a confidence-and-supply deal.

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