4th Dec 2023


'Bestaanszekerheid' — the buzzword of the Dutch election

  • Household electricity prices in the Netherlands increased the most of all EU states in the first six months of 2023 (Photo: Unsplash)
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Since the Dutch election campaign got underway, there has been a buzzword gaining momentum: "Bestaanszekerheid", which could be translated as 'livelihood security'.

The Dutch go to the polls on Wednesday 22 November, following the resignation of prime minister Mark Rutte in July after 13 years in office and the collapse of his coalition government over how to handle migration.

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  • Over one million people will live in poverty next year if no further government action is taken, the Dutch bureau for Economic Policy Analysis estimates (Photo: Unsplash)

In the wake of the multiple crises Europe has faced, most notably the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, rising prices for everything from energy to food and housing are making it harder for citizens to make ends meet.

Despite its higher than average income, the Netherlands is no exception, and so the cost of living crisis is at the forefront of political parties' and trade unions' messages.

"What is important and positive [in this elections] is that many more political parties, and not only the leftwing parties, are aware of the fact that people's social welfare is under threat," Patrick Fey, member of the board of the CNV Trade Union Federation, told EUobserver.

Household electricity prices in the EU increased the most in the Netherlands (by a staggering 953 percent) over the first six months of 2023.

Earlier this year, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) estimated that over one million people will live in poverty next year, if no government action is taken.

"The new government will have to come up with new policy very quickly to ensure that these people do not have to choose between food on the table or heating their home," Dutch MEP Agnes Jongerius (S&D/Partij van de Arbeid) told EUobserver.

And so far, despite some increases, wages in the Netherlands have not kept pace with the higher cost of living.

The gross hourly minimum wage in the Netherlands is €12.12 for a 38-hour week and €12.79 for a 36-hour week.

Compared to the 60 percent of the median wage set by the EU's minimum wage directive, a Dutch worker should instead be earning €16 per hour.

In this context of high inflation, profits and wealth should also play a role in the election, says the largest Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), which is demanding that profits and wealth be taxed at least as much as labour.

"If you make money with money, you should be taxed as heavily as when you are making money with your work," Bas van Weegberg, executive national board member of FNV, told EUobserver.

Add to this the difficulty of finding affordable accommodation in the country and the picture becomes bleak.

"A house is a primary necessity," Jongerius said. "We need to take back control of our housing market and make sure everyone has access to affordable housing".

However, housing, an issue that affects the younger generations the most, is not a priority for all political parties in the Netherlands.

Public investment under pressure

"What we've seen is that our public services have had a hard time during the neoliberal cabinets and the last decade of austerity," van Weegberg said.

For public services such as education and healthcare, the mantra of 'doing more with less' is no longer valid, given the shortage of workers in these sectors and the future demographic challenges of a shrinking working-age population and an ageing society.

Dutch trade unions are calling for structural investments and changes in order to attract and retain the required staff and ultimately provide a good quality service to the taxpayer.

Such complex and pressing issues require a long-term perspective that has been missing, the unions stress.

"Work pressure and labour market shortages cannot be solved with arbitrary instruments such as cuts, privatisation and efficiency improvements," according to a letter by the CNV sent to the leaders of all political parties in September.

High workloads or labour shortages are not unique to the public sector. The picture is similar in various professions that do not offer good salaries and contracts, work-life balance or career prospects.

And with environmental targets on Europe's roadmap for the coming years, policymakers are also facing new challenges, as seen in recent years with the Dutch farmers' protests.


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