Campaign Update (12 March)

Usually, a debate between the two largest parties in a parliament is a battle of left vs right, or progressive vs conservative – in any case, two opposite visions of the future of the country. This does not apply to the current political scene in the Netherlands. The two largest parties after the votes are counted are likely to be the two largest parties after the 2017 election: the centre-right VVD and far-right PVV. So while the media regularly puts Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders head-to-head as though they are the top two candidates to be the next Prime Minister, everyone knows that Rutte is the only real candidate. The PVV is effectively under a cordon sanitaire since the failed attempt by the VVD and CDA to govern with Wilders in a supply and confidence role from 2010 to 2012. And if the VVD and CDA want nothing to do with Wilders (the same applies to Thierry Baudet of Forum voor Democratie), then the seats he wins will always be in opposition. These debates do nothing for the vast majority of the country who don’t see Wilders as someone who could ever have the top job.

Did the CDA overestimate the appeal of Wopke Hoekstra? I’ve already written about some of his missteps and poor debate performances, but with only a few days left in the campaign and the party showing no sign of moving in any direction in the polls, he really doesn’t seem to be the boy wonder his party thought he was. Would sticking to Hugo de Jonge have been a better choice? Or maybe the maverick Pieter Omzigt, who appears to have a cult following both within the CDA and in the wider community. It wasn’t too long ago that Hoekstra was being touted as the big challenge to Mark Rutte. Now his biggest challenge is to stop his party losing seats next week.

Most parties agree upon the need to take action on climate change, but the question of how much action and what action to take still varies quite a bit. The independent government agency Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving or PBL (roughly translated: Institute for Environment & Planning) offered parties the opportunity to have their climate policies analysed to see how they would impact CO2 levels. The VVD decided not to submit their plans, so GroenLinks did so on their behalf to consultancy Kalavasta, perhaps hoping for evidence that the VVD was nowhere near as climate-friendly as they may have claimed. The results were released by Jesse Klaver at a press conference in Nieuwspoort, a media centre next door to the Binnenhof. While GroenLinks’ plan was estimated by the PBL to reduce carbon emissions by over 50% by 2030, according to Kalavasta’s analysis the VVD would only manage a 41% reduction in this timeframe. This would fall short of the Climate Accord agreed upon by the cabinet and Tweede Kamer in 2019. “Climate-betrayal”, declared Klaver. Former D66 leader Rob Jetten joined Klaver on stage, declaring that Rutte’s signature on the climate agreement was worthless. The VVD saw it differently, claiming that a number of assumptions in both the PBL and Kalavasta analyses were questionable in terms of how they calculated the subsidies set aside for renewable energy.