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The “day after” election day (March 18, 2021) it’s safe to expect that Mark Rutte, the current Prime Minister, is one step closer to fulfilling his ambition of being the longest serving Prime Minister of The Netherlands in history. His conservative-liberal party (VVD) won convincingly as expected, with a remarkable second place for FvD (Eurosceptic) and a close third for D66 (Liberal Democrats). This being the first general elections in an EU Member State under COVID-19, the voter turn-out of 79,3% is higher than expected. The definitive result is expected Friday next week.
Today (March 18) at 14.00 party leaders will meet for the first time in the House, to decide on the very first steps of the complex Cabinet formation process. In 2017 this formation process lasted over 225 days. On March 31, the new MPs will be inaugurated. Please find an overview of the election results at the bottom of this update.
Election results: a win for the right
- Leading up to the general elections, the polls already predicted a shift to the right. Mark Rutte’s popularity, strengthened by his role as ‘crisis manager’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite the fact that he is heading a care-taker Cabinet, resulted in the expected win for his VVD (+3 seats, 36 total). The second largest party in parliament is now D66 led by Sigrid Kaag, who performed remarkably well during the election campaign and secured an additional 5 seats, putting them at 24 total, followed by Freedom Party (Right-wing) leader Geert Wilders (-3 seats, 17 total).
- Leader of the CDA (Christian Demcorats) and current finance minister Wopke Hoekstra did not live up to expectations, and lost 4 seats, putting them at 15 total. Earlier in the campaign he, like many other party leaders, attempted to position himself as Rutte’s rival for Prime Minister – but he ended up in fourth place. Right-wing eurosceptic party Forum for Democracy (FvD) led by Thierry Baudet, on the other hand, did very well despite the implosion his party suffered starting in fall 2020, when party dissidents split off and continued their campaign under ‘JA21’. FvD gained 6 seats and ends at 8 – as it stands they are the party to gain the most seats in these elections.
- The entrance of three political parties is remarkable: Volt (pan-European, 3 seats), JA21 (Conservative Liberals, 4 seats) and BBB (Farmer’s party, 1 seat) will make it into the House of Representatives. The parties on the left of the political spectrum were, as expected, not able to position themselves as a potential threat to the power of the VVD and other right-wing oriented parties during these first COVID-19 dominated general elections. For example, the GroenLinks (Greens) lost 7 seats, the SP (Socialist Party) 5 seats. Overall, most political parties – including the VVD – have positioned themselves more to the political left.
International Impact – more Rutte!
- With Angela Merkel on her way out, following Rutte’s win, he is now officially the EU’s second longest-serving leader (following Orban). And Rutte has done much for the positioning of the Netherlands in the EU. Vacating the empty space left by the UK, Rutte has managed to expand Dutch influence on EU budgets and fiscal issues. Rutte has increasingly been found at odds with his French and German counterparts, for example on the common borrowing scheme for COVID-recovery.
- In general, the Dutch like to think of Rutte as a manager. And it is precisely his managing abilities which influence the way the Dutch look at international cooperation. While in Brussels Rutte is known to (at least attempt to) appear constructive towards the EU – it is hardly a policy point for Rutte back home. The only real way Rutte emphasizes the need for European cooperation in his home country is in immigration policies. Pro-EU sentiments are the terrain of Liberal Democrats D66 and political newcomer Volt – not Mark Rutte’s VVD.
- Whether or not current Finance Minister Hoekstra returns to the international stage depends largely on whether his CDA will take part in the next coalition government. In 2020 Hoekstra became unpopular among member states requesting the Commission to investigate southern European economies, and why they lacked fiscal leeway to respond to the COVID-pandemic adequately.
What’s next: the formation of a new Cabinet
- Now that the new members of the House of Representatives have been elected, the formation of a new Cabinet starts. This year no less than 16 political parties secured a seat in the House (total: 150 seats). The previous Cabinet, Rutte III, was formed by four parties VVD, CDA, D66, and Christian Union.
- The House will first designate an ‘Envoy’, who will examine which parties are ready to form a coalition and which obstacles must be overcome. Following this, an ‘Informer’ is asked to explore and negotiate with potential coalition parties about the common goals and the key policy themes of the future Cabinet. After this phase, the Coalition Agreement between the new coalition parties forms the basis for the Cabinet’s policy measures for up to four years (until a next general election is held).
- VVD is in the lead for this formation process, and D66 is a likely coalition partner, especially after this huge win. Wopke Hoekstra’s CDA is likely as well, despite their slightly disappointing election result. This means we are looking at a Cabinet much like the previous one – possibly without the need for the Christian Union’s 5 seats this time around. These three parties have a slight majority which would make them a solid first attempt at a coalition, and the most likely combination to succeed.
Source: Public Matters