US parties, Dutch parties

A few American readers confessed confusion over the issues and didn’t understand my use of the word “liberal.” Exactly how do policies of Dutch parties compare to the Democrats and Republicans in the US? This entry tries to give some anwers to those questions.

I’m not going to say much about the programme of the Dutch parties; that’s mostly because I want to wait for the publication of the party programmes which is expected somewhere in April. Instead I’ll do a rough comparison of the two US political parties to the Dutch situation.

First of all, some rules that you’ll just have to get used to:

  1. European politics as a whole are somewhat more left-wing than American politics. Take the entire American political spectrum, from froth-mouthed proto-fascists to beady-eyed left-wing activists, and shift it several places to the left. That’s the first step.
  2. Secondly, “liberal” means moderate right wing. Back in the 19th century both US and Europe had left-wing liberals and right-wing conservatives. In Europe, the socialists emerged in the late 19th century, and they kind of pushed the liberals to the right and forced the conservatives to merge with the liberals or die. In the UK the socialists and conservatives destroyed the liberals instead. The US, though, never had socialism, so the right-shift of the liberals never took place, and 19th century names still apply.
  3. To make it more complicated, when talking about cultural stuff such as gay marriage, “liberal” means the same as in the US. All non-christian parties, whether left or right, count as liberals here, so these issues find VVD deficit hawks and SP state spenders in the same camp.


Projecting the Republicans on Dutch politics is actually rather easy, as long as you first split them into their component parts: deficit hawks, neocons, christian value voters, and proto-fascists.

Essentially, the Dutch multi-party system gives one or more parties to each of these groups, except for the neocons. We’ve got VVD for budget hawking, CDA for christian values, and Wilders’s PVV for proto-fascism (or rather, proto-proto-fascism). Find your favourite right-wing topic, and there’s a party for that.

I feel that splitting the issues over several parties makes politics actually easier to follow than just throwing them all into the meat grinder of one huge catch-all party. Still, suppose you’re a christian-value deficit hawk. Do you vote CDA or VVD?

Deficit hawks

Deficit hawks have it easy: the VVD. Opinions on state spending are more or less what you’d expect: the left wants more, the right wants less. If you read “left” or “right” anywhere, just project it on deficit and budget issues and you won’t go wrong very far.

When a right-wing CDA+VVD government comes to power it always tries to cut spending on welfare and other left-wing talking points somewhat. This rarely succeeds beyond a token effort, because the CDA has a (smallish) left wing that is more PvdA-like in its state spending ideas. Despite being small, this left wing is needed for a majority. Besides, CDA and VVD need a third party for a coalition, and that party likely comes from the left.

The extreme right parties used to be more-or-less budget-hawkish, too, but recenly Wilders has started tacking hard to the left. I’ll return to that phenomenon in a later entry.


As to neocons, we don’t have them. Sure, there are some right-wing CDA or VVD members who feel we should follow the US wherever they lead and smash up the filthy [enter name of enemy-du-jour here]. Still, they don’t have much of a following, not even in their own parties, and most of them have emigrated to the US by now.

In 1713 the country voluntarily withdrew from international politics because an 100,000 man army was just too expensive. Since then it has been involved in a general European war only twice, resulting in the French (1795-1813) and German (1940-1945) occupations. The latter was especially bad, but still the thrifty Dutch merchants from left and right are unwilling to spend a lot of money on an army.

Besides, we’ve got the US to do the dirty work for us, right? (And yes, there is a strain of hypocrisy here.)

If the US would withdraw its military umbrella from Europe, we Europeans would have to defend ourselves, and in the end I think we would succeed, though not without endless political debates, the left-wing deploring increased military spending, etc. It might even be healthy to remind everybody that the world is not perfect.

As to the specific Dutch situation: if the US withdraws I feel we should revert to the wise policies of our 17th- and 18th-century ancestors and hire Germans to die for our fatherland. There’s plenty of them, and they can fight.

Christian value voters

Value voters have it easy: they can choose between christian parties CDA, CU, and SGP.

The SGP, and until very recently the CU, are witness parties: they see membership of parliament as a way to bear witness to their orthodox-protestant faith. Of course, since then the CU has had to take responsibility for governing the country, which might change its ideological make-up somewhat. Stay tuned.

The CDA is more complex, since it is not only a christian values party but also a social-economic centre party. Different voters stress different aspects of the CDA’s complicated ideological make-up.

The CDA represents both catholics and moderate-to-orthodox Dutch Reformed. The SGP is strongly tied to the ultra-orthodox wing of the Dutch Reformed churches. The CU is, too, but tries to broaden its base to evangelicals (who don’t vote), and catholics (who vote CDA). It’s uncertain whether that move will succeed.


The proto-fascist strain is also easy: Geert Wilders’s PVV. It’s not a coincidence that he’s been made very welcome in ultra-right wing US circles.

Still, Wilders is not a fascist, nor even a proto-fascist. True, he is absolute party leader and his policies are based on exclusion and demonisation of the Other, but further signs of fascism, notably mass meetings where the crowd can cheer the Leader, are absent.

As I said earlier, Wilders is tacking hard to the left when it comes to economic issues. A left-wing proto-proto-fascist? Strenger parties have existed in Dutch political history.


The situation on the Democratic side is more muddled, not least because US Democrats are less easy to define than Republicans. They mainly seem to be anti-Republicans: non-deficit hawks, non-neocon, non-christian-value, and non-fascist.

Basically, since the right wing of the Dutch political spectrum can be equated to the Republicans (shifted left!), you’d expect the left wing to be more or less equivalent to the Democrats. That’s true to an extent, but still an oversimplification.

As I said before, apart from a christian party the CDA is also an economically moderate party; roughly equal to the Democratic Blue Dogs (shifted left!), and it will occasionally ally with the left against the VVD’s economic plans.

The VVD, though deficit-hawkish, stands solidly on the side of the left wing when it comes to cultural issues. It is no coincidence that gay marriage and euthanasia were all allowed under the PvdA+VVD+D66 Purple coalition, when ethically conservative CDA was Out.

Many cultural issues have meanwhile been solved in the interest of the ethically liberal parties, and changes in conservative direction will not occur. Sure, the CDA would love to turn the clock back, but it will have to form a coalition with either VVD or PvdA, both of whom will defend the Purple gains. On the other hand, extension of these rights will not happen while the CDA is in power; it’ll take another Purple (or at least christian-less) coalition to make any changes in a liberal direction.

Even the extreme right is liberal in this regard; let’s not forget that extreme right saint Pim Fortuyn was openly gay, and one of his stated reasons for bashing Islam was exactly its anti-gay stance.

The PvdA is equal to the Democrats’ left wing (shifted left), while the Dutch democrats of D66 actually correspond best to the US Democrats’ centre (shifted left!). GL can best be compared to the US Green party.

As to the SP, even after a left-shift it’s off-the-scale left-wing in US terms, although it’s culturally much more moderate than the other left-wing parties. Real workers don’t care a lot about gay rights and such, although they’re not violently opposed to them, either.

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This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.


Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Alejandro Moreno on 26 February 2010 | Permalink

Why was the Purple government called Purple?

I imagine that right and left are typically coloured blue and red (perhaps not in that order), and the absence of a centre party would make a coalition "purple".

If that's the case, what's the centre's colour?

2 Posted by ppk on 26 February 2010 | Permalink

Purple = socialist Red + liberal Blue.

The CDA's colour is green.

3 Posted by Bryan on 2 March 2010 | Permalink

Good thoughts about what parties the Dutch would choose if they immigrated to America.

Deficit Hawks and Christian value voters would trend Republican. Labor, socialists and Green would have to make due as Democrats.

Of course, the distinctions between the 2 American parties are not as pronounced as between the different Dutch parties.

A recent example is President Obama sending more troops to Afghanistan, not exactly an anti-"Bush Doctrine" move.

But just like in Holland there is no Neocon voting block right now in America. With the end of the Vietnam/Cold War, foreign policy hasn't been as dominant in national elections. After the Trade Towers, "national security" is important to both parties and their voters. Other foreign policy is decided more discretely in Washington.

Sure we have opinion polls that influence elected leaders but no referendums on particular actions and certainly the government cannot fail because of a troop deadline date.

On the topic of defending the nation, while only a small number of Americans probably follow Dutch involvement in Afghanistan, I believe Americans share a very positive image of the Dutch, basically "Peace Corp with guns". A model, in fact, the U.S. military is trying to emulate. "Smashing up" is not an acceptable position, extreme circumstances require extreme measures may be tolerated.

Finally, about Geert Wilders, that he is willing to confront the establishment on