Party profiles — VVD

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 close this series with conservative-liberal current ruling party VVD.

Full name
Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie
Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy
Party leader
Mark Rutte, since 2006
In parliament since
1948; predecessors since the 1880s
Catch-all party
Current seats
Polls (August 2020)

Since 2010 the VVD has taken over the CDA’s traditional role of ruling party, picking coalition partners at will (though not from the leftmost wing), becoming vaguer in terms of ideology, and having the most corruption scandals of all parties.

Still, it’s doing quite well so far. It appears that the 2021 elections will confirm this position. Party leader and prime minister Rutte is poopular amont right-wing voters, and maybe even among people in general due to his handling of the Corona crisis. The only question is if he will be available for a fourth term.

For more information and some history please re-read the 2010 profile I wrote.

Rutte’s position

Tradition dictates that a prime minister serves for three terms at most. Ruud Lubbers (CDA), so far the longest-serving prime minister (1982-1994), resigned after twelve years and three governments in the top job, and Balkenende (CDA; 2002-2010) did the same after three governments, though in his case they lasted for only eight years.

There’s no law, though; Rutte could theoretically go on serving until he dies of old age, provided the VVD members continue to vote him party leader and the voters in general continue to vote the VVD the largest party.

Part of the reason Lubbers and Balkenende resigned was that voters started to get tired of them — especially Balkenende. Right now, voters do not appear to be tired of Rutte yet. So that’s no reason for him to step down.

Around the start of his current government there were persistent rumours that Rutte would step back at the next elections and would be succeeded by VVD parliamentary leader Klaas Dijkhoff. Back in December 2019, though, Rutte said he doesn’t “necessarily” see Dijkhoff as his successor. Translation: I don’t want a crown prince at my side who is eager to plant a dagger in my back.

The VVD site is clear about the procedure. Rutte will decide on his position in Autumn (elsewhere I found a 1 December deadline), and after that VVD members decide whether he or someone else becomes party leader.

I fully expect Rutte to want to continue his tenure, and I fully expect the VVD to elect him. His position is very strong right now, and it seems likely the VVD will end up with roughly the same amount of seats as they hold today, making them the only medium-large party in the country.

If he would resign, and would wait with his announcement until December, the VVD would be forced to have either a leadership election (and they only need to look at the CDA to see the immense risks in that), or a new leader would be parachuted by a hazy backroom committee, but that would break the promise of an election.

All in all it’s much more likely that Rutte stays tham that he goes.

Rally round the flag

The rally-round-the-flag effect
Parties Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept
VVD 24 35 34 42 39 37 37
CDA+D66+CU 32 31 33 32 36 36 36
PVV + FvD 33 26 27 25 26 28 29
50Plus 10 9 6 1 1 1 1

As the prime minister’s party, the VVD profited from the rally-round-the-flag effect caused by the Corona crisis. 6 months ago, just before the crisis hit, the VVD was at about 24 seats in the polls. Over the next few months this number rose steadily to about 40, although in the last months the effect seems to have ended and the VVD dropped back slightly to about 37 seats.

Where did these seats come from? This is a surprisingly hard question, because the temporary rise of the VVD coincided with the unrelated implosion of 50Plus that set about 9 seats’ worth of voters adrift. It may appear as if the VVD won a lot of seats from 50Plus, but the real story is more complicated. Likely some 50Plus voters went to non-voting, others to the left, while simultaneously some left voters went over to the VVD, or to other coalition parties, while voters of the other coalition parties went over to the VVD. I’m guessing here, but it was this sort of complicated voter movements that ultimately benefited the VVD.

Still, in the early days of the VVD’s rise, when 50Plus’s demise wasn’t yet so pronounced, the VVD got about half of its new seats from the populist PVV and FvD. A bit of underbelly-related shouting is all good and well in normal times, but if something really serious happens you prefer a serious party.

The other coalition parties hardly lost any seats, and from about three months ago actually won some. So CDA, D66, and CU did not profit from the rally, but did not lose seats over it either.

Still, it’s too early to draw conclusions. The VVD profited from a rally-round-the-flag effect, but this effect will likely be over by the time the elections are held. Right now Wilders’s PVV, especially, is on the rise again, although FvD is not. I expect the right block (though not necessarily the VVD) to lose a few more seats to the left.

The demise of 50Plus is likely to be more important than the VVD’s temporary gains in the long run, since it permanently frees up about 6-9 seats that have to go somehwere.


Despite the slight decline the VVD’s position going in to the 2021 elections is quite decent. Rutte’s popularity will help — the rule of thumb is that the leader of a party being prime minister gives it about 10 seats. This is one more reason I think that Rutte will continue as party leader.

The VVD has been able to realise quite a bit of its free-market-based ideas and plans, not only in the past ten years under Rutte, but essentially reaching all the way back to Van Agt I in 1977. It was helped by the CDA, D66 and PvdA — as you know, I see this help as the prime cause of the PvdA’s downfall.

Therefore it is interesting that brand-new CDA leader (and health minister) De Jonge, in his first major speech, denounced neo-liberalism and predicted 2020 would go into the history books as the end year of that ideology. Errr .... maybe. In typical CDA fashion he remained vague about what is to supplant free-marketism. More solidarity, he said. Sure, but what does that mean? Do not expect an answer in the foreseeable future.

Still, the fact remains that the CDA feels it has something to win by attacking the VVD from the left. Does this indeed mean the end of neo-liberalism? If the VVD is kept out of the next coalition ... maybe. If, as seems likely, VVD and CDA once more form a coalition we will have to see. I do expect Rutte to pay some lip service to the idea that neo-liberalism has gone too far, although he probably won’t do anything about it — unless he needs a lot of left-wing parties for the new coalition.

The other interesting part of the VVD's ideology is to what extent it will copy PVV and FvD in anti-migration rhetoric. The current answer is “quite a bit, but without the really nasty stuff” and I think that will continue to be the answer for some time. The PVV (though not FvD) is on the rise again, and the VVD will want to win those voters back.

Recently, after the burning of the Moria camp on Lesbos in Greece, the VVD was forced to agree to take in about 100 children, but on the condition that 100 fewer refugees from other categories were granted asylum. This is the sort of behaviour we can expect from the VVD, and it’s aimed squarely at extreme-right voters.

Wooing extreme-right voters is one thing. Actually forming a coalition over right, as the VVD did with Rutte I (2010-2012), is quite another. I currently do not consider such a coalition likely. VVD+PVV+FvD do not have a majority, even if Wilders and Baudet agree to sit in the same government. The CDA, and perhaps one more party (SGP?), will be needed for a majority. Since the CDA caused itself huge problems with its decision to participate in Rutte I, I do not expect the christian-democrats to go for a repeat performance.

So the VVD and Rutte will likely stay in power in a coalition with CDA for sure, and two or three of the following: PvdA, GL, D66, CU. Although coalition negotiations will be complex, this is not a bad position for the VVD to be in.

<— Party profiles — CDA | Baudet resigns as FvD leader —>

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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