Whose fault will it be?

The negotiations for a right-wing VVD+PVV+CDA government have hardly gone on for a few days, and the participants are already positioning themselves to blame someone else if they fail. Right now Wilders is in a better position in the blame game, and that could be dangerous.

Granted, the situation is complicated. Largest party VVD has been forced to talk to biggest winner PVV first, and Wilders has to pretend to be happy with that, while deep in his heart he’d prefer to stay in the opposition. The two parties will definitely need the CDA, but newly-minted leader Verhagen is keeping a low profile, citing the disastrous election result as a reason to stay “humble.” (The CDA claiming humility is like a tiger claiming a vegetarian diet. Possible, but not very likely.)

Besides, according to the other parties both PVV and CDA could be instable, and that would be a serious problem with a 76-seat majority. Every vote counts, literally. The fact that the SGP has offered to support the government helps a little — two votes’ worth, to be exact.

I do not believe in this purported instability. Both PVV and CDA are far more stable than is suggested.

On the PVV side, the single thing that happened was Hero Brinkman’s call for more internal democracy, and the general possibility that there will be undisciplined people among the 15 new PVV MPs. That’s possible, I suppose, but it ignores the fact that Wilders has been very strict on party discipline, and that the Brinkman incident is the single example of dissent in the PVV ranks in the past three years. Wilders started picking new candidates a year ago, and I’m morally certain that he’s made sure the newcomers all accept his leadership. Besides, without Wilders at the top of the party list none of those newcomers would have been elected.

On the CDA side, the large number of party prominents that reject a coalition with the PVV is quoted as evidence for instability. While it’s certainly true that part of the CDA doesn’t like the PVV for beans and would prefer a different coalition, when it comes to staying in power the CDA has always been extremely disciplined. Besides, none of the critics actually sit in parliament. And if the party leadership decides that a PVV coalition is good for the country (and the party), everybody will comply and toe the party line.

Still, claiming instability in another party allows one to shift the blame for failed negotiations to that party. The PVV will certainly want to blame the CDA, while the VVD will certainly want to blame any or both of the other two. So the three parties have a definite incentive to accuse the others of instability. In that light it’s curious that nobody has called the VVD instable yet.

In any case, today Rutte and Wilders, chaired by informer Rosenthal (VVD), are supposed to talk coalition. Wilders, however, wants Verhagen to also sit in on that conversation, because a coalition without the CDA is impossible. Wilders also offered to talk directly to Verhagen, without either Rosenthal or Rutte. Yesterday, however, Verhagen said that PVV and VVD should talk to each other first and bridge the gap between their party programmes.
(Source: Volkskrant | Telegraaf)

Verhagen clearly tries to wriggle out from having to state anything. It would be far better for him if PVV and VVD decide they have too little common ground to form a coalition. On the other hand, it would be far better for Wilders if he can blame the CDA for not wanting to talk to potential coalition partners — the most serious sin in the Dutch political system.

What the VVD wants is not entirely clear. But Rutte is once again saved by circumstances: if PVV and CDA fight against each other, the VVD can stand in the middle looking disappointed at the impossibility to rule with coalition partners like these — and switch to Purple-green.

Still, the point of this round of negotiations is to prove that Wilders doesn’t want to sit in government. Both VVD and CDA stand to win from proving that, so I hope they’re cooperating behind the scenes. It would be very bad for the CDA if it takes the blame for the failed negotiations: a voter conduit between PVV and CDA has opened during the elections, and they now compete for the conservative-nationalist voters. The very fact they’re competing shows that these voters distrust the CDA, and taking the blame for the failure would only increase that distrust.

But right now Wilders has the advantage. In the popular eye it’s the CDA that’s demurring and endangering a right-wing coalition, while Wilders is playing the moderate who wants to talk to everyone. That’s not the way to prove Wilders is unfit for government.

If the negotiations continue on this track, the CDA might lose them as badly as they lost the elections.

Still, that assumes the CDA is stupid, and it’s not. Therefore I believe that later this week the CDA will join the negotiations after all, hoping to shift the blame of failure to Wilders once more. Any other outcome would be very bad for the country (and the CDA).

<— Step 1: right-wing | Provincial scores —>

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 Bryan on 15 June 2010 | Permalink

Everyone knows once a coalition is formed the blame game won't matter. But playing out the right-wing option is very important to Rutte.

Bottom line, a Paars Coalition won't give Rutte his VVD budget.

The truth is, take away the global economic boom years of the 90's and Paars really wasn't the greatest government. Under current economic conditions there simply is not enough money in Holland to support the patchwork of special interest groups that would need to be placated to form "Paars Plus".

For Rutte it probably is best to be right-wing or right-center, the gains by D66 and GL make them potentially dangerous for becoming self-important and duplicitous.

A big factor in how this plays out is to what extend Rutte and Wilders can trust each other over the next couple of weeks.

2 Posted by Joost Diepenmaat on 15 June 2010 | Permalink

@Bryan

AFAICS the VVD is the only party that *probably* won't be too much affected by getting in a coalition with the PVV (given its voters). Wilders might have a pretty strange mix of left- and right-wing policies in his program, but he can easily throw the more left-wing points away if and whenever he wants. The question really is just "does Wilders actually want to go in a coalition where he's not the biggest party?"*.

But that won't give them the majority they need. CDA seems to be the "best fit", except that IMHO the CDA can count on losing another 50% of its voters if they go along with this. They'd have to get some *really* good assurances that their supporters will accept before they'll even consider joining a PVV+VVD coalition.

* My gut feeling over the last months has been that Wilders end-game is to stay out of government while blaming the other parties until he's clearly the largest party.

3 Posted by CTerry on 15 June 2010 | Permalink

I agree that right-wing or centre-right would be best from Rutte's POV, but I simply cannot see where a functional majority for either is coming from. The simple reality is that the PVV is not a viable coalition partner, 76 seats is too small a base, and that any combination of VVD and CDA requires either an unworkable patchwork or coalition partners who are simply unworkable. Alas we are talking about the Netherlands. Rutte is not going to get his budget, in its complete form. He will have to compromise, but as it is the Netherlands that is what will be expected anyway, and while he will not be happy, often the nature of a compromise is that no one gets what they want.

If D66 or GL become "self-important or duplicitous" it will effect them badly in the future. Both in polls and perceived government worthiness by other parties. Being perceived to have broken a coalition unless it is seen that other parties are going back on their word in some way is rarely a good move. When D66 did it prior to the last election they almost got wiped out. The memory of that is still fresh in D66 minds.

4 Posted by Bryan on 15 June 2010 | Permalink

Purple-Green is the easiest coalition numerically, if PVV is too toxic to be in government.

But Rutte can't like the prospects of a VVD led version of Purple-Green. Trying to be the point person for economic policy with 50 seats (PvdA, D66,GL) to your left sounds more like capitulation than compromise when you try to draw up the budget.

5 Posted by CTerry on 16 June 2010 | Permalink

Oh I am 100% certain that he can't like it at all, but the fact is that the VVD is the most right-wing party on economics policy, and no matter what it does it will have to compromise to its left or capitulate as you put it. The fact is, however, that he and coalition partners that share his views did not win nearly enough seats to make anything but Purple-Green viable. The PvdA is bound to not like the situation either, and it will not enjoy having the majority of the government to its right. The last period of Purple government ended with it halving in size. Purple-green is only a preferred option for D66.

At the end of the day no coalition except Purple-Green looks anything close to a functional government. My own preference would be for a Cohen-led government, but I am not going to attempt to manufacture a majority for the PvdA that does not exist. This is going to be the first choice of hardly anybody, but at this point there's not really any other choices.

6 Posted by Robert on 16 June 2010 | Permalink

Why isn't anyone talking about a center-left coalition. When you really break down the numbers, the right got 78 votes and the left also got exactly 78 votes (counting PvdD and SGP). Why isn't PvdA preparing and threatening PvdA, CDA, SP and GL/D66. One could argue that there would just be too many parties involved, but something like 40% of PvdA votes had D66, SP or GL as their real first choice, so there is a lot of support overlap. Ugh, if only PvdA had one more seat, everything would be different.

7 Posted by CTerry on 16 June 2010 | Permalink

Why no centre-left coalition? Well because the CDA, while in the Dutch centre leans more to the right than the left. The last government was also Christian centre-left and is widely seen as a disaster. The SGP is also generally seen as being clearly on the right (in fact they have offered to join a coalition with the VVD, PVV and CDA). Even if the PvdA had gotten one more seat I still think Purple would be inevitable.

8 Posted by Newbee on 16 June 2010 | Permalink

"The CDA claiming humility is like a tiger claiming a vegetarian diet. Possible, but not very likely."

Love it!

9 Posted by CTerry on 17 June 2010 | Permalink

Well the right-wing coalition idea appears to be well and truly dead. PVV clearly trying to aim the blame at the CDA, VVD remaining above the fray. So probably onto purple-green next I guess.