Formation: the current status

The formation of the new government has reached a very vague stage where nobody is certain what is going to happen.

Two weeks ago the VVD+CDA+D66+GL talks failed, when the parties, who refused to blame one another, announced that especially on migration, but also on climate and income, their viewpoints were too far apart to reach a compromise. It’s clear that they were mostly talking about the differences between VVD and CDA on the one hand and GL on the other, but nobody actually came out and said so. There was no point in blaming parties you might need to form a coalition with at a later stage.

It was widely expected that orthodox reformed but not right wing CU would be swapped in for GL, but that took a while to actually occur, and the talks have officially failed already.

The initial failure of talks with GL was followed by a week where party leaders suggested new coalitions or excluded certain parties. Briefly:

Meanwhile informer Schippers (VVD) tried to remain upbeat and eventually got D66 and CU to talk to one another. However, after only a day of discussion (very quickly, in other words) the two parties concluded they didn’t see any way of coming to an agreement. In general D66 leader Pechtold was blamed for this outcome.

That is essentially where we are right now, although doubtless the party leaders are discussing opportunities and possibilities off-camera. Officially, however, the coalition negotiations have broken down entirely.

There are three trends here that merit closer study:

  1. Each party wants its closest electoral competitor to be in government. This especially goes for PvdA/GL/D66 and for VVD/CDA, and to a lesser extent for D66/VVD. If one of the parties in these groups were to remain in opposition they would quickly become more popular than their competitors, whose hands are bound in government due to the coalition agreement. A principled stance draws more voters than mushy compromise talk. This is why D66 wants GL in, why the PvdA refuses all talks, and why the CDA wants the VVD in.
  2. Speaking of principles: one outcome that becomes more and more likely is new elections. Therefore it is very important that no party is seen to be moving toward a compromise. All parties want to keep their ideological hands clean, since the first one to make dirty hands is likely to be punished in the next elections.
  3. Who will take the blame? After the initial talks failed GL seemed to get some of the blame, but meanwhile the blame game has shifted towards D66, which rejected the CU. Still, the blame game is not being played to the utmost extent right now, since all parties know they might need any of the others in a coalition later on. So let’s call it a polite and understated blame game.

Blame bearers GL and D66 are both from the left block (although D66 is still moving towards the centre, but that doesn’t matter right now). Therefore it is interesting that in the last few days some journalists are attempting to shift the blame to the VVD. The VVD is the largest party, prime minister Rutte wants a third term, so it should start the compromise game by sacrificing something on the altar of the coalition. Whether this trend continues is unclear, but the press has stopped fixing the blame exclusively on left-wing parties.

What’s next? Nobody has the faintest idea. The most likely outcomes are renewed VVD+CDA+D66+GL talks, or a VVD+CDA+D66 minority government, or new elections.

The problem is that we can’t call new elections right now. It’s just too soon: ten weeks is not very long for a Dutch government formation, and the general feeling is that parties should try again. Also, it would be wise to hold the next elections only after the German elections of September, so that ours won’t have Europe-wide populist implications but are just about our internal political struggles. So even if the solution turns out to be new elections, party leaders will admit this in September at the earliest.

Still, they have to fill up the time between now and then. That’s why I feel that renewed talks with GL will be the next step. However, in the current climate the VVD must be seen to make a concession somewhere. Once that happens GL leader Klaver can in good faith resume negotiations.

That does not necessarily mean these negotiations will succeed — wasting some time is about as important as the talks themselves, and VVD, CDA, and D66 can always opt for a minority goverment. That will likely fall fairly quickly, but at least the parties are seen to be doing something.

In other words, the voters’ verdict of March is impossible to interpret, and even if we get a Rutte III government it will likely fall fairly quickly, with new elections in 2018 — unless the VVD makes major concessions to GL, which all in all does not seem very likely.

So let’s restart polling and figure out who will win the next elections. (Current status: polls essentially unchanged from the March result, with one interesting exception.)

<— Formation fail | Formation: Tjeenk Willink to the rescue —>

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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