The Rutte government and gedoogsteun

So before it falls, let’s quickly describe the Rutte government now that it’s been in power for about a year and a half. The most important take-away for foreigners is that Geert Wilders does not sit in government. Instead he promised ... gedoogsteun.

We’ve run into a serious translation problem. I have found no directly equivalent English term for gedoogsteun. Still, some help from my Twitter followers unearthed the fact that both Canada and New Zealand have had a similar construct, but no specific name for it. Denmark, too, has made extensive use of gedoogsteun, but I don’t speak Danish and I doubt they translated their name for it into English.

Confidence and supply comes close, but it’s not quite on the mark. The New Zealand example states this as first and most important point:

Good faith and no surprises
All parties to this agreement will operate on a good faith and no surprises basis for the term of this Parliament.

The crucial fact of Wilders’s gedoogsteun is that he does not always operate in good faith and surprises form the basis of his parliamentary actions. Thus confidence and supply is not the term we want.

I’m not going to translate gedoogsteun for the moment. So the two or so visitors from outside the Netherlands should get used to it. (Distinguished English-speaking visitors are discouraged from trying to pronounce it, by the way.)

Facts and seats

Anyway. The facts. The Rutte government consists of VVD and CDA. That is, these two parties sent their best and brightest into government, and the parliamentary fractions have promised to abide by the coalition agreement. Together, VVD and CDA hold 52 of the 150 seats.

This is the first time since 1977 we’ve had a government that does not have an outright majority in parliament. Still, VVD and CDA negotiated gedoogsteun with Wilder’s PVV, which has 24 seats in parliament and brings government to a majority of 76 of 150 seats.

That’s rather a minimal majority. Any single defector would endanger government. So far that hasn’t happened yet (or other parties supported government), but there are dangers galore:

  1. First of all, Wilders could decide to pull the plug from government at any time. In fact, D66 leader Pechtold challenged him to do so and cause new elections when Wilders complained once more of not listening to the people. Government’s fate rests in Wilders’s hands. He likes it that way.
  2. Second, the CDA fraction has two “dissidents:” MPs Koppejan and Ferrier. They are said to be deeply unhappy with the Wilders coalition, and generally favour a left-wing course and matching coalition. Still, they haven’t ever actually withheld their support from government yet. Occasionally the left tries to woo them or remind them of their duty, but so far to no avail.
  3. Finally, the Senate. After the May 2011 senatorial elections VVD+PVV+CDA found itself wanting one single seat. Thus it was forced to ask for yet more gedoogsteun — this time from orthodox-protestant SGP: the ones that reject TV and women in politics, and close their website on Sundays. SGP influence is on the rise for the first time in the party’s ninety-year history, and this does not sit well with the part of the VVD electorate for which liberalism is not yet a dead letter.

Plenty of dangers. Let’s see how well Rutte steers past them. So far he hasn’t done badly.

Gedoogsteun

During the coalition negotiations it was clear Wilders would support most, but not all policies of VVD and CDA. The best example is the new Afghanistan mission.

The Balkenende IV government fell over an extension of Dutch military presence in that country, and politically it was a hot potato. Government wanted to take on a new “police training” mission, but Wilders refused to support it.

That left Rutte no choice but to shop around for other supporters. The PvdA was out of the question: it couldn’t flip-flop on the very issue that made it withdraw its support from Balkenende IV. Rutte had to create an alliance of convenience with several smaller parties.

In the end GL, D66, CU, and SGP helped the plan to a majority — and the process was rather visible and transparent for all. This has hurt GL: the party has historically had a strong pacifist tendency that is not easily squared with what’s essentially a colonial war. GL’s Kunduz vote is the cause of its slide in the polls. In fact, it’s the only party apart from CDA and PvdA that stands to lose seats right now, and the cause is clear and instructive.

Something similar happened to the pension age, earlier. Wilders refused to support its increase from 65 to 67, which forced Rutte to shop elsewhere for support, eventually ending up with the PvdA. That didn’t help the social-democrats’ standing with their traditional left-wing electorate.

Of course PvdA and GL knew they were courting trouble when they helped government to a majority. Still, their wish to retain their voters is balanced by the wish to seem coalition-worthy, especially when it comes to VVD and CDA. A left-wing coalition just isn’t in the books: it won’t get a majority, and even if it does the four left-wing parties won’t be able to form a government. That means they need either CDA or VVD. And that means supporting them every now and then.

Wilders understands this calculation very well, and it gives him another reason not to support government in these matters: apart from stressing his importance and giving his voters what they want, he damages a left-wing party in the process.

So far D66 seems immune to Wilders’s game, but that’s partly because the right topic to hurt the Democrats hasn’t come up yet. As to the SP, it supports most of Wilders’s populist ideas, so it’s less vulnerable to this particular trap.

Tension

Still, the Rutte government is experiencing stress. Tensions are mainly between PVV and CDA, and both PVV and VVD have played the game quite cleverly. The CDA has had ... issues, and is not in the best of health.

It took me a while to figure out how very clever Rutte has been to make a CDA man, former Maastricht mayor Leers, yet another Limburger, minister of Immigration and Integration. Minister of Wilders, in other words. If Wilders has any remarks to make on the insufficient measures government is taking to stop the tsunami of Islamic creepy migrants he addresses them to Leers.

Leers is in a tough spot. If he ignores Wilders he’s risking the coalition, but if he obeys he estranges the CDA’s left wing. Meanwhile the VVD stays out of the entire argument and looks mature and deliberate compared to its coalition partners.

Also, the vice-presidency of the Council of State will shortly become vacant. (Complicated; will explain later. But it’s a lifelong plum job in Dutch politics.) The only candidate for the seat so far is interior minister Donner (CDA), but his candidacy has drawn criticism, and the fact that it’s the interior minister who arranges the selection of a new vice-president made some fear for undue influence. Rutte moved the selection to justice minister Opstelten (VVD) to remove all shadows of doubt from the process. Still, one more affair that makes the CDA look bad.

More recently the VVD came under fire, too. Foreign minister Rosenthal was accused of being undiplomatic and only interested in sales of Dutch products as well as Israel. A recent poll showed VVD voters are getting a bit worried about the influence of Wilders and the SGP on policies. Still, for now Rutte performs splendidly according to his voters.

But Wilders, the dissidents, the SGP, and the serious trouble the CDA is in, they all form dangers to governmental stability.

Recently some political commentators declared the Rutte government dead. It would be good if government fell, but I’m not totally certain that it will — and even if it does it’ll take a few more months.

Will definitely be continued.

<— Government poll | New Politieke Barometer poll —>

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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