Amsterdam formation — the sequel

The local Amsterdam formation, which I last reported on a month ago, has taken some strange turns. In the last installment we saw that big winner D66 was talking with GL in order to come to an agreement, after which a third party would be invited to join the nascent coalition. This has not happened.

The national angle

Before we continue with the story, a bit of perspective. The Amsterdam negotiations are always followed by the rest of the country because Amsterdam is the largest municipality, and Amsterdam politicians, especially of the PvdA, have a tendency to appear in national politics later on. This time is extra special, because unusual coalitions are being tested, and the results of the Amsterdam negotiations may point the way to the results of the national ones after the next elections (officially slated for May 2017, but possibly much earlier if government falls). So the national party leaders, especially D66’s Pechtold and the SP’s Roemer, are rumoured to be involved in the background. How much of that is true is something we’ll never find out, but it’s a fairly safe guess.

The real crux of the national angle is whether anyone can cooperate with the SP. The socialists are pantingly eager for governmental responsibilities, but so far no other party has been really eager to create a coalition with them. Can D66 work with the SP? Can the VVD? If the answer turned out to be Yes, even at local Amsterdam level, it would increase the chances of the SP in the next national coalition negotiations. On the other hand, D66, GL, VVD, and PvdA are known to be able to work together if required. Still, GL and VVD have some things to duke out, and here, too, the Amsterdam negotiations could be harbingers of national things to come.

The negotiations

Now back to the story. D66 and GL came up with a coalition document, and it was quite a break with the PvdA-dominated past. More green stuff (for GL), less social housing and more commercial housing (for D66), and parking costs, which are rumoured to be the third- or fourth-highest in the world, would go up even more. My personal feeling about this document was that GL and especially D66 would give up on the latter point in order to placate the VVD and give it something to show to its voters, after which we’d settle for a D66+VVD+GL coalition without the PvdA.

At first, this coalition seemed to be in the works. When D66 and GL were done they announced that they were going to look for the third party, with D66 preferring the VVD and GL the PvdA. Since D66 was the largest party and its election victory can be explained as a desire to do away with the PvdA, the VVD got first dibs. Nothing surprising here.

So then the three parties started their negotiations, and late last week something unexpected happened: GL ceased negotiations because it couldn’t live with the VVD’s demands (possibly related to housing and parkting fees) and with D66’s tendency to support the VVD. Back to square one.

The latest news is that D66, VVD, PvdA, and SP will hold four-party consultations with D66 luminary Thom de Graaff, who has been appointed “informer;” theoretically-impartial negotiation leader. The first conclusions are expected later this weekend, or possibly next week.

So six weeks out from the elections it’s still totally unclear what kind of coalition Amsterdam is going to get.


Anyway, what are the conclusions here? First of all, the rift between GL and VVD is somewhat unexpected. In the past years GL has been moving steadily rightward, and back in 2010 there was talk of a national coalition containing both parties. However, more recently GL started tacking back to the left, where its actualy electorate is, and it seems that this has put strain on the relation with the VVD. That’s not good for GL’s national ambitions.

Secondly, D66, as the big election winner, is kind-of responsible for the smooth conclusion of the negotiations. It could be that the Democrats will be accused of being unable to do so, which could hurt their national standing. Also, it becomes clear that its move to the right is no coincidence and that they prefer the VVD to GL (or SP). That means that a centre-left coalition after the next elections becomes less likely.

The VVD is coming through fine; it hasn’t compromised its principles much yet, has gotten an assist from D66, and is generally in good shape. Whether that good shape will translate to national success depends on the elections: right now the VVD is in disastrous shape in the polls.

The PvdA, finally, has done its best to be humble, helped by a change-over in local party leaders. Although the PvdA being humble on its home turf is a weird sight, it seems to be working in the sense that nobody is annoyed with them at the moment, and they seem to accept that, if they become part of the coalition, they’ll have to listen to other parties. How long that humble streak is going to last is anybody’s guess.

Finally, the SP. Of all parties, it stands most to gain from successful Amsterdam negotiations. If it would be accepted by D66 and VVD it would help the socialists immensely in future national negotiations. Right now I’m assuming that the VVD does not want to form a coalition with the SP on any conditions, but the Amsterdam negotiations might conceivably change that. And in any case it would be the first time the SP is part of the ruling coalition in one of the big cities.

So plenty of hopes and aspirations are riding on these negotiations. We’ll see how it turns out. It might still take a few weeks.

<— Amsterdam update | The Amsterdam coalition —>

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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