There will be general elections next March, and the dozen-plus-a-few Dutch parties are preparing for them. It’s time for another series of party profiles. We’ll go in order from small to large according to the August 2020 polls.
Today we’ll continue with orthodox-but-not-quite-as-orthodox-as-the-SGP christian CU, which is also the smallest current coalition partu.
On the whole, entering the coalition in 2017 was a good move for the CU. It was invited when the negotiations between VVD+CDA+D66 and GL had failed. It agreed, mostly to shore up its governmental credentials, which were already decent after its participation in the 2006-10 Balkenende IV coalition.
For more information and a bit of history please re-read the 2010 and 2012 profiles I wrote.
The CU’s main problem in the coalition is D66, the most aggressively secular party in the country, which had an ambitious ethical program that included easier laws for euthanasia. This, of course, is wholly against the CU’s core principles. Then again, the CDA can generally be counted on to support the CU in its objections, while the VVD (more specifically, prime minister Rutte) wants to save the coalition. So all in all the CU didn’t expect huge trouble, and on the whole it was right.
At a practical level, the CU is considered to have done well enough. It has the headache department of Agriculture, and farmers have become quite angry at new nitrogen-reduction rules. CU minister Schouten, herself a farmers’ daughter, was tasked with keeping them in line. She didn’t do a perfect job, but she didn’t do terribly either. Still, an angry subsection of the farmers is ratching up its protests, and Schouten might still be damaged by them.
Update: Schouten withdraws a proposal to reduce nitrogen in livestock fodder. So the farmers' lobby won - for now. Not necessarily bad news for the CU, but there might be some fall-out.
This is how the CU in government is seen: it’s not brilliant, but it can be counted on to plod on and help where possible. Between this coalition and the 2006 one, the CU has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that it is a government-worthy party. That’s important, because so far the only other members of this group are the (former) four large parties VVD, CDA, PvdA, and D66. And once you have proven yourself, you can expect to be called on again, which would give the CU rather more influence than its small size would suggest.
Thus the CU has found its niche in Dutch politics and is unlikely to be dislodged.
One thing the CU will not get is large amounts of new voters. In the end you have to be an active christian in order to support the CU. Even worse, the current poll result of 6-7 seats could well be too positive because, like SGP voters, CU voters are very loyal and always turn out. Thus, the number of CU seats depends more on the turnout among secular party voters than on their own. If enough secular voters don’t give a preference in the polls, this leads to an inflated number of seats for the CU (and SGP).
It has its orthodox calvinist core sewn up (except for the parts that vote SGP). But once you go outside this group the pickings become slim. The only groups that could give the CU more seats are catholic voters (who vote CDA or populist) and evangelical voters (who don’t vote).
From 2006 the party has been working on catholics and evangelicals, but it has not yet achieved a breakthrough. In 2015 it decided to remove the Three Forms of Unity, the bedrock writings of Dutch calvinism, from its party principles because catholics and evangelicals don’t subscribe to those.
In contrast, the Three Forms are still very much present in the SGP. I cannot judge to what extent the removal of the Three Forms puts off traditional CU voters, but I assume the party leadership can, and decided it’s worth the risk. It will put off the SGP, though, but apparently the CU doesn’t care enough.
That brings us to the only drawback of this parliamentary period: the CU’s relation to fellow orthodox-calvinist SGP is deteriorating. In the past, the CU (or its predecessor parties RPF and GPV) cooperated with the SGP as a matter of course: small calvinist parties in a sea of secularism have to stick together. That is changing.
The core problem is that the SGP is steadily moving toward the proto-fascist right and supports the anti-Islam movement, while the CU positions itself more toward the centre, and is even centre-left in some respects. Their shared calvinist principles are becoming less and less important to both parties.
The proceedings after the 2019 European elections are the clearest example of the growing rift between CU and SGP. As always, the two parties participated with a common list, with the number one slot for a CU candidate and the number two slot for an SGP one. As always, they won two of the 26 Dutch seats.
Until that moment, the CU-SGP had been a member of the national-conservative ECR fraction in European parliament. However, in the 2019 elections the FvD also won three seats, and also wanted to join the ECR (mostly because big competitor Wilders is a member of the other right-wing fraction, ID). All other ECR members, including the SGP, were fine with this, but the CU MEP did not want to share a fraction with a proto-fascist anti-Islam-and-immigrants party, and voted against the FvD. That initially led to CU-SGP leaving the fraction. Later on, the CU and SGP members decided to split up, with the SGP one rejoining the ECR and the CU one joining the CDA in the broad centre-left EPP.
Whether this deterioration of the CU-SGP relationship is going to have a massive impact is unclear. The next elections are the national ones in March 2021, and the two parties always enter those with separate lists. We’ll likely get a first indication of their relations in the 2022 municipal elections, where custom dictates they create a joint list in not-very-christian cities.
During the 2018 municipal elections they had separate lists in Amsterdam, which led to the CU getting one out of 45 seats and the SGP getting zero. Although it’s unlikely that a common list would have given them a second seat, it’s still a sign of the times that they refused to join up. In 2022 they might run separate lists in more municipalities. Then again, this will likely hurt the SGP more than the CU, so maybe this is deliberate policy on the part of the CU.
<— Party profiles — SGP and PvdD | Party profiles — SP —>
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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