Monday

19th Aug 2019

Dutch coalition talks lengthiest in 40 years

  • It is not unlikely that outgoing finance minister Dijsselbloem will present a budget, even though he will not be carrying it out (Photo: Ministerie van Financiën Nederland / Valerie Kuypers)

The four parties negotiating a coalition deal in the Netherlands will break a record on Friday (21 July), the 128th day since the Dutch elections.

It will be the longest period needed for a coalition deal to be concluded since the 1970s, when the longest coalition talks took 208 days.

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Dutch outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte, a Liberal, hopes to secure a third term. "That hope has not reduced, it may have been increased a little bit,” said Rutte.

The previous post-1970s record had also been set by Rutte. His first centre-right coalition was established in 127 days, while his second was formed in just 54 days.

The current record is held by the talks leading to the 1977-1981 coalition government, led by prime minister Dries van Agt, a centre-right Christian Democrat. The so-called formation period between elections and the establishment of the government took 208 days, the longest in modern Dutch history.

The second-longest formation period was 163 days, and resulted in the 1973-1977 government with centre-left Joop den Uyl at the helm of one of the most left-wing coalitions the country has ever seen.

Fragmented parliament

The reason why the formation is taking so long this time, is that the elections in March resulted in a very fragmented parliament.

Four parties are needed for a majority.

The parties participating in the talks are: Rutte's Liberals, the centre-right Christian Democrats, the centrist liberal-democrats D66, and the ChristianUnion, an orthodox christian party with progressive views on migration and climate change, but conservative views on medical-ethical issues.

Two previous attempts at a coalition with a left-wing green party, instead of ChristianUnion, failed.

D66 and the ChristianUnion hold particularly different views on areas such as euthanasia, but there are also varying views on the EU.

D66 is proudly pro-EU, whereas ChristianUnion is mildly eurosceptic.

The Liberals and Christian Democrats are positioned somewhere in-between, with the Christian Democrat's leader, Sybrand Buma, taking some surprisingly eurocritical positions in the election campaign.

According to former finance minister Gerrit Zalm, who is mediating the talks, there is good reason to be optimistic, but he also stressed at a press conference on Wednesday that the negotiators are not there yet.

They will now take a break until 9 August. Reporters for daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad noted on Wednesday that, if there was no genuine deal in sight, the holiday break would have been the moment to announce that talks had collapsed.

Dijsselbloem

Meanwhile, Rutte's previous coalition is continuing to run the country as a caretaker government.

That also means that, for the time being, finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a centre-left politician whose party will not return in government, continues to chair Eurogroup meetings in Brussels.

It is also not beyond the realm of possibilities that Dijsselbloem will be presenting the annual budget on 19 September.

That budget can be amended by parliament, but as long as no new finance minister is in place, it will be up to Dijsselbloem to prepare the draft.

But since the budget needs input from all ministers, including the centre-left ones on their way out, a clash in the caretaker government is not impossible.

The centre-left Labour party's leader and caretaker deputy prime minister, Lodewijk Asscher, has been profiling himself as an opposition figure.

Fortunately for the country, the economy is in a good state.

On Thursday (20 July), Statistics Netherlands announced that unemployment has dropped to 4.9 percent of the labour force, the first time the figure has been under 5 percent since 2011.

The statistics bureau's consumer confidence indicator went up to 25 points, “significantly above its long-term average over the past two decades”.

Consumer spending was 2 percent higher in May 2017 compared to May 2016.

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