Start of the formation

Today the government formation officially started. “Scout” Edith Schippers (VVD) talked to all thirteen party leaders in order to find out which coalitions they deemed most logical after the elections. Their replies are being shared openly, and give a first indication as to what’s going to happen.

Nowadays parliament itself leads the government formation, where until 2010 this was a prerogative of the Queen. Up until 2010 she would receive all party leaders, who would tell her which coalition they would favour. Now that job falls to a “scout,” health minister Schippers (VVD) who was appointed by parliament last week. She will not return to parliament or government after the formation, but she is still a member of the largest party. That makes sense.

Also, her findings are being reported almost as soon as they are in. In 2010 and before this was Not Done — the palace secret protects any discussion with the Queen (now: the King). Frankly I can’t remember whether the same was done in 2012, but back then it was pretty clear that VVD and PvdA were headed for a coalition, and the only questions were who would get which departments and who would lose or gain which policy (or talking) points at the negotiation table.

Incidentally, since the negotiations are likely to be complicated, some observers predicted even before the elections that the King would return as an impartial arbiter. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but it’s one of the many details we need to keep an eye on.

In principle Schippers talks to the party leaders in order of size, but there are a few exceptions to this rule based on the availability of the party leaders. Anyway, here’s what the leaders said:

Rutte (VVD)
VVD+CDA+D66. That’s unsurprising, but this coalition would not have a majority. Thus either GL or CU (or, much less likely, PvdA) would have to join the coalition. Rutte did not state a preference here, which is probably wise. He’ll have to be able to negotiate with both GL and the CU.
Klaver (GL)
Klaver stated that GL wants to enter the coalition, but preferred a “christian-progressive” one, by which he probably means the four left-wing parties D66, GL, SP, and PvdA, with the CDA and CU. Yes, these six parties would have a majority, but a six-party coalition instead of a four-party one is a tough sell, and besides it’s unlikely the CDA will be overjoyed by governing not only with GL, but also with the SP. So this is more a first move in the formation game than a practically feasible plan.
Buma (CDA)
Buma feels a coalition without the VVD is “illogical,” and also opts for VVD+CDA+D66. He did not state a preference for GL or the CU, either, though observers tend to feel that the CDA would prefer fellow christian party CU. When asked whether he thought a coalition between CDA and GL was feasible he did not really reply.
Pechtold (D66)
VVD+CDA+D66+GL. That’s clear. Obviously D66 prefers fellow progressive GL to christian CU. He further stated that “in this coalition the progressive centre would be supported from both sides,” which likely means that only D66 is a progressive centre party, and that GL from the left and VVD and CDA from the right would support D66. Or something.
Wilders (PVV)
VVD+PVV+CDA+50Plus+SGP+FvD. From his perspective this is the best option, but I doubt CDA and VVD want to throw themselves at the mercy of the new Forum voor Democratie, which has zero track record for pretty much any political action.
Wilders also felt the 1.3 million PVV voters shouldn’t be excluded. That would be a lofty feeling if he hadn’t implictly excluded the 1.2 million D66 voters.
Roemer (SP)
CDA+D66+GL+SP+PvdA+CU; centre left. Roemer admitted that this is not the most logical option, and that other options should be investigated first. Roemer doesn’t have an important role to play in this formation, and he knows it.
Asscher (PvdA)
Yesterday Asscher, supported by the PvdA member parliament, made it known he will not enter any coalition. Today he repeated that, and suggested a VVD+CDA+D66+GL coalition.
Removing oneself from the negotiations is not unusual for a party that just lost as many seats as the PvdA. In addition, any coalition with VVD and PvdA would feel like a continuation of the previous government, but with a few more parties added for padding.
Overall a spell in the opposition is exactly what the PvdA needs, especially while electoral competitors GL and D66 have their hands bound in the coalition. Thus Asscher’s preference for D66 and GL in the coalition.
Segers (CU)
Also VVD+CDA+D66+GL. He argues that since the CU did not win, it should not participate in the new coalition. That would make more sense if we didn’t have only two serious alternatives. Apparently he wants to throw GL to the lions and see what happens before committing the CU. In any case, politely refusing a coalition now won’t hinder him a lot later on, when it might turn out the CU is needed anyway, and it allows him to be suitably modest right now.
Thieme (PvdD)
VVD+D66+GL+CU+PvdA+PvdD climate government. Entirely in line with the animal-rights party’s overall ideals, but not very practical — as she herself doubtless knows. This is more about posturing for her voters than about a serious proposal. Then again, this year is weird.
Krol (50Plus)
Wants a government that will reinstate 65 as pension age. Again posturing for his voters. He call Wilders’s proposal interesting, but declines to name a specific coalition.
Van der Staaij (SGP)
Centre-right, which sounds as if he didn’t make a choice between GL and CU, though the CU would be the obvious choice. Doesn’t feel the SGP has a role in the formation for now, though the possibility of supporting a right-wing coalition like the one Wilders wants could be an option later on.
Kuzu (DENK)
The centre-left six-party coalition, with the note that this outcome is unlikely. Kuzu adds that he thinks the negotiations for VVD+CDA+D66+GL will end in failure, which is an unusual thing to say (though that doesn’t mean he’s wrong).
Baudet (FvD)
A partyless government composed of specialists with CDA MP Omtzigt as prime minister. This is a very unusual advice; a partyless government hasn’t occurred since shortly after World War II. This government should be supported by the Wilders coalition of VVD+PVV+CDA+SGP+FvD.

What are we to make of all this? It’s clear we’re headed for a VVD+CDA+D66 coalition, though the question whether GL or CU should give it its majority remains open.

The question behind the question is whether Klaver should join this coalition. D66 was most outspoken; and that’s logical given than if D66 would be In and GL Out, the next elections would see quite a few disaffected D66 voters moving to GL. It’s always best to have your closest competitor with you in government so that they’ll be equally tarred by the brush of compromise. Something similar goes for the PvdA.

We see the same dynamic on the right. VVD and CDA do not want a coalition without the other. Buma was a bit more outspoken here than Rutte, but neither wants to be In while the other is Out. That effectively spells the end of Klaver’s progressive/christian coalition.

(Still, all this leaves open the question where disaffected centre-right voters will move if VVD, CDA, and D66 are all culpable for whatever decisions the new government is going to take.)

Tomorrow Schippers will hold talks with VVD, CDA, D66, and GL. She, too, sees that this combination is the most logical one. Does Klaver want to duck out? If so, how will he do so without appearing unconstructive? (Being unconstructive is a serious sin in Dutch politics — see also Wilders, Geert.)

One observer called it negotiating while keeping your eyes firmly on the emergency exit. That’s what the four parties are going to do tomorrow.

<— Aftermath — the European angle | Formation news —>

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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(Add your own)

1 Posted by Fredrik on 21 March 2017 | Permalink

What if the final count gives 50Plus another seat?

2 Posted by ppk on 21 March 2017 | Permalink

That depends on which party loses the seat. Anyway, we'll know in an hour, at the official announcement of the results.