Negotiations to watch — Amsterdam

When I started the Negotiations to Watch series I didn’t think the Amsterdam negotiations would bear watching. However, they have evolved into a curious situation that has the potential to hurt D66.

So an extra Amsterdam bulletin is in order. Besides, monitoring such negotiations will be a useful practice run for June and July, when this blog will mainly discuss the national coalition negotiations.

PvdA
15 seats
VVD
8 seats
GL
7 seats
D66
7 seats
SP
2 seats
CDA
2 seats
RA
1 seat
PvdD
1 seat
ToN
1 seat

Usually Amsterdam politics are relatively boring. The PvdA is all-powerful, as in all big cities, and there is no extreme right to spice things up, either. Verdonk’s ToN ran in the elections, but won only one seat.

With the current council the PvdA, taking the initiative as the largest party, needs two out of three medium-sized parties to form a coalition. But which two?

Before the elections the city was ruled by a PvdA+GL coalition. The PvdA lost 5 seats, and with it the coalition majority. Originally, like in Den Haag, the plan was that D66 would reinforce the existing coalition.

Simultaneously the city lots its mayor when Cohen accepted the national PvdA party leadership and immediately resigned from his post. A proper mayoral appointment can take months, certainly when it comes unexpected, and therefore the plan was to make local PvdA leader and long-time alderman Asscher temporary mayor.
(Source: Telegraaf | NRC)

As far as I’m concerned this is a totally sensible solution. Asscher already was vice-mayor, so there will be no transition to speak of.

Still, there are some procedural problems. As mayor, Asscher cannot become alderman after the negotiations have ended. Some constitutional trickery is required here; a PvdA man will be named alderman, but as soon as the new mayor is appointed and Asscher steps down, this anonymous social-democrat will suddenly discover he’s needed elsewhere, and Asscher will be named his successor. This procedure is not absolutely blemish-free, but it’s a reasonable one nonetheless.
(Source: Parool)

D66 disagreed, however. Local party leader Telleman attacked this scheme as typical PvdA power politics. “It’s shocking to find that apparently the republic of Amsterdam is owned by the PvdA,” she said. Her statement is true, but not shocking. Frankly, I did not understand at all why D66 would want to break on such a minor point.
(Source: Telegraaf | Parool | Trouw | Volkskrant)

There is some truth in D66’s allegations. The PvdA decides who else can play, and although that’s not very democratic (see also the CDA nationally), it’s how things are. Telleman might have tried to form a coalition without the PvdA, like VVD+GL+D66+CDA, but that never seems to have been an option.

Instead, D66 formally excluded the PvdA, and with that itself. After all it’s impossible to enter the Amsterdam coalition if you refuse cooperation with the PvdA. Little constructive thinking, here.
(Source: Trouw)

Anyway, less than a week after it walked away from negotiations, D66 returned. In addition to the PvdA informer, a second one from D66 was appointed, and once more the two parties declared themselves the “axis” of the future coalition. Asscher’s position and D66’s problems with that would be part of the discussions.
(Source: Volkskrant | NRC | Algemeen Dagblad)

Who was to become the third coalition partner? GL or VVD? Politics as usual: the PvdA would select one. But at least D66 could now help the PvdA take that decision.
(Source: Parool)

But again Telleman turned. She returned to her original point of view that Asscher’s position was untenable: he could not be both mayor and PvdA party leader. Thus negotiations within the “axis” broke down once more.

The PvdA, now thoroughly tired of the Democrats, announced it wanted to continue negotiations with VVD and GL. Bye bye, D66.
(Source: NRC | Trouw)

D66’s moves are incomprehensible even to me, and I’m a lifelong Amsterdammer with more than average political knowledge and interest. Sure, Telleman had a point of sorts, but why would you want to sacrifice coalition participation in the name of an abstract ideal that nobody cares about? Asscher’s appointment is logical from a political point of view, and the man in the street doesn’t care a hoot about all this.

I’m sure glad I voted SP and not D66.

D66 members didn’t understand, either, and severely criticised Telleman. Under pressure from the base D66 seemed to say that it was ready to re-open negotiations, but the PvdA politely refused. It was absolutely impossible to guess what D66 was up to, a party spokesman declared, and the social-democrats had had enough. PvdA+VVD+GL it was going to be.
(Source: Volkskrant)

But now GL began to squirm. Local party leader Van Poelgeest suddenly demanded pre-consultations with only the PvdA on some “essential issues.” Only after this extra round would GL agree to negotiating with the VVD. More complications.
(Source: NRC)

This weekend Ivar Manuel, who had lost the internal D66 party leader election to Telleman, tried to depose her out of disgust with her odd behaviour. He was voted down by the majority of the D66 fraction in council, but still Telleman resigned on Sunday. She “takes her responsibility” for the failure of the negotiations.
(Source: NRC | Volkskrant | Trouw)

As far as I’m concerned this is the only good decision she has taken. Telleman has turned the coalition negotiations into a farce.

A while ago a friend told me that the professionalism of the average D66 councillor is stupendously low. Since he is a PvdA member himself I discounted most of his words as intra-left rivalry, but after Telleman’s nonsense tactics I’m forced to reconsider.

Even worse, all this was widely reported in the national press. All other big-city negotiations are in the secret stage, where careful informers try to tackle one point after another in calm negotiations where the press is expressly not invited. Therefore journalists were eager to report the very public arguments in the capital.

D66 has gone down quite a bit in the national polls lately, and people are starting to wonder whether the Amsterdam debacle has anything to do with that.

It might. It’s certainly not the only factor, although it is curious that D66 loses to the right, and not to the PvdA, as you’d expect in a budding prime-minister race where large PvdA sucks the smaller left-wing parties dry. Moderate centrist voters disgusted with curious Amsterdam spectacle abandon D66 for CDA or VVD? Maybe, but not two seats’ worth of them.

Anyway, Telleman’s antics are a problem for D66 right now. Since she herself has disappeared from the stage, the problem may go away.

And hey, if GL doesn’t want to cooperate with the VVD, why not swap it for D66 under its new leader? Thus the Democrats might end up in the Amsterdam coalition after all.

Dutch politics can be peculiar sometimes.

<— Quick update — Den Haag | New polls —>

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.

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Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Jasper Woudenberg on 13 April 2010 | Permalink

Part of the problem for D66 was that the mayor position is supposed to be positioned above party-politics. From that point of view Asscher, who was the of the face of the Amsterdam election campaign and was supposed to lead the negotiations on behalf of the PvdA afterwards, was a poor candidate. I think most will agree this manoeuvring by the PvdA won't win any beauty contests, though most people probably wouldn't make to big of an issue out of it. However, add to this that increasing accountability and transparency in Amsterdam Politics was the prime subject of D66' campaign, and you have an issue.

I can understand this problem, even though it takes some time explaining properly. However, the constant mind changing afterwards I don't understand. That probably was the reason for Telleman to step back.