Minority government or … something else?

In all the years that I’ve either written blog posts here or recorded podcasts, I’ve always had to reduce the list of topics to cover in order to meet the word/time limits I set for myself. This week has been the first I can remember where there has been very little to report. In fact, part of the reason I’m posting this Monday instead of over the weekend was in the event something interesting happened. Spoiler: something did, but it only worsened matters.

The Tweede Kamer may have returned this week to officially open the 2021/2022 parliamentary year, but all eyes were still on the deadlocked coalition negotiations. Between them, the VVD and D66 have rejected all feasible coalition options: VVD refuses to consider talking to the PvdA and GroenLinks unless they stop turning up as a bloc (they have no intention of doing this); D66 refuses to consider the ChristenUnie. Relations between Mark Rutte and Sigrid Kaag are said to be icy, which adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Kaag began the week with her delivery of the annual HJ Schoo address, wherein she clearly took a few indirect swipes at Rutte. The sense is that she is tired of Rutte’s intransigence and is looking to assert her position as the leader of the second-largest party in the Tweede Kamer.

Having now run through four sets of mediators, VVD stalwart Johan Remkes seems to be the last hope at some kind of breakthrough in negotiations. He has decided to follow the advice of his predecessor Mariette Hamer and begin by testing the waters for a minority government, starting with VVD and D66. This has had mixed responses from other parties. PvdA and GroenLinks have said they’re not inclined to provide much support to a minority government, especially if the CDA ends up joining in as a third party. Meanwhile, the ChristenUnie said they could imagine providing supply and confidence to a minority government of VVD, D66 and CDA – effectively a continuation of the previous government. Remkes has given himself a month to sort things out, indicating that he won’t hesitate to quit his role sooner if he doesn’t see any movement by the parties in question.

Over the weekend, the CDA held a party congress in which a motion was passed to declare the party’s opposition to the expansion of voluntary assisted dying laws to include a “fulfilled life”. This policy is the one D66 reluctantly set aside in order to convince the ChristenUnie to join the Rutte III coalition. It allows for people over the age of 80 to choose assisted dying for no other reason than that they consider their life to be complete or fulfilled. The CDA have made it clear they don’t see room for comprise in this matter, meaning they’ve effectively taken the same stance as the ChristenUnie. If D66 are going to apply the same response to the CDA as they did the ChristenUnie then they will have removed the CDA from consideration, meaning a minority government with the VVD is the only remaining option that hasn’t been rejected yet.

The alternative to all this would be to return to the voters – a new election could be organised well before the Christmas recess. However, the latest opinion polls suggest it won’t solve anything. The VVD would gain seats, but the CDA and D66 would be likely to lose ground, meaning that a coalition would need even more parties to reach a majority in the Tweede Kamer.

Of course, the first week back wasn’t just coalition manoeuvring – there were debates about the situation in Afghanistan, questions around why some newly-appointed secretaries were allowed to (temporarily) keep their Tweede Kamer seats in addition to joining the cabinet, and the usual clashes between far-right parties like the PVV and FvD versus almost everyone else. But in the context of the fact that this is now the third-longest period in parliamentary history where the country has been without a government, all these issues seem like sideshows.

Still at Square One

It’s been almost five months since my last post here, but to be honest, the overall picture hasn’t changed much. There is no new Dutch government, and in fact, negotiations for a new coalition haven’t even begun. The previous configuration of VVD/CDA/D66/CU continues in caretaker mode, with a new parliamentary year mere days away. The Rutte III coalition will have to deliver a caretaker budget on Prinsjesdag, scheduled for 21 September.

In my last post, I wrote how it looked like former PvdA Senator Herman Tjeenk Willink was about to be appointed as the new mediator. This did indeed occur, and on 30 April Tjeenk Willink reported back to the Tweede Kamer, having held meetings with all the party leaders. His report summarised the lay of the land among the parties in the context of the “Pieter Omtzigt, position elsewhere” revelations and the motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Rutte. A couple of weeks later, Mariette Hamer, former PvdA MP and current Chair of the Social and Economic Council, took over as mediator, with the aim of moving the process forward towards actual negotiations. With the summer recess lurking and little movement in this area, Hamer suggested that VVD and D66 should sit down and write an outline of a potential governing accord, which could then be used as a starting point for negotiations.

The problem is as follows: VVD and CDA would prefer that the current coalition with D66 and ChristenUnie continue for a second term, as the numbers are there for this to happen. However, D66 does not want to continue with ChristenUnie, given the disagreements between the two around medical-ethics. D66 agreed to put its policies in this area on ice last term, but does not want to do so again. Instead, D66 has advocated for PvdA, GroenLinks, or both, to take the ChristenUnie’s place. Before the election, PvdA and GroenLinks made it clear they would go into government together, or not at all. The VVD and CDA have refused to consider the option of both PvdA and GroenLinks, pointing out that they only need one of these parties for a majority in the Tweede Kamer. Attempts to separate the PvdA/GroenLinks bloc have been unsuccessful, and in an attempt to appease the VVD and CDA, they declared they would operate as one party in any negotiations, even floating the idea of merging their caucuses in parliament to ensure stability. This was still not enough for the VVD and CDA, who refuse to even enter talks with PvdA and GroenLinks, in the same way that D66 has refused to enter talks with the ChristenUnie.

Given the lack of other options to investigate, Mariette Hamer, now holding the unwanted record for longest-sitting mediator (106 days), handed over her final report a few days ago and stepped down, suggesting that the next mediator should come from the VVD. At this stage, it looks like Johan Remkes is most likely to be that person. Remkes has been in politics for decades, serving in the Tweede Kamer, as minister in three different governments, and various other positions at provincial and local government levels.

Unless Remkes can somehow break the stalemate between these parties, there are only two options left: a minority government (as suggested by Mariette Hamer in her report), or new elections. The latter won’t do much to change the numbers in the Tweede Kamer, and Dutch politicians tend to be wary of minority governments. If a minority government ends up being the way forward, it would most likely be VVD/CDA/D66 or VVD/D66. The VVD would probably prefer the former option, and D66 probably the latter, given the last time they were in coalition with both the VVD and CDA (2003-2006), the party was almost wiped out at the next election.

Some smaller stories from the spring and summer:

Pieter Omtzigt resigned from the CDA in June and will continue as an independent once he returns from sick leave. This occurred after his submission to a CDA post-mortem on the election was leaked, meaning that his frank but confidential commentary on what had gone wrong for the party was now public. His submission included a claim that he had been promised the position of lead candidate should Hugo de Jonge step down (Omtzigt was runner-up to de Jonge in a leadership race in mid-2020). Instead, Wopke Hoekstra was offered the role.

After yet another bout of infighting, Liane de Haan quit 50PLUS in early May, continuing as an independent and leaving the party without any representation in the Tweede Kamer.

Wybren van Haga, who joined Thierry Baudet’s Forum voor Democratie (FvD) some months before March elections, quit the party mid-May and formed a new group in the Tweede Kamer, taking two other FvD MPs with him. Apparently the “last straw” for van Haga was a poster the FvD released comparing the pandemic restrictions with the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. He has since started up a new party called Belang van Nederland (Netherlands Interests).

The Tweede Kamer has moved house while much-needed renovations are undertaken at the Binnenhof. The new building is about a kilometre away – the old offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs at Bezuidenhoutseweg 67. The Eerste Kamer has also moved, to Kazernestraat 52, the former location of the Dutch Supreme Court. It is a bit closer to the Binnenhof, but in another direction to the new Tweede Kamer location. It is estimated that parliament will not be able to return to the Binnenhof for 5-6 years.

Back again next weekend for an overview of the first sitting week of the 2021/2022 parliamentary year.

Mark Rutte: can’t live with him, can’t live without him(?)

Honestly, sometimes I regret not continuing my daily updates. Where we were last time? The Tweede Kamer was about to interrogate former investigators Annemarie Jorritsma (VVD) and Kajsa Ollongren (D66) about the “position elsewhere” comment in relation to Pieter Omtzigt (CDA). This session took place less than a week ago, but so much has happened since then it feels much longer.

What it all came down to was who said “position elsewhere” in relation to Omtzigt (all other controversial comments were eventually set aside). No one could remember, so the Tweede Kamer demanded to see all notes from the investigation process. Some notes were produced, but not as many as the Kamer expected, so the demand was renewed. It took so long to gather the information that the plenary session had to be adjourned until the next day, much to the disgust of many of the parties in the chamber.

Long story short: it was Mark Rutte. From a more detailed transcript of proceedings came his line: “you have to do something with Omtzigt: make him a minister”. This was presumably the comment which it turned out a note-taker present had translated to a “position elsewhere” for Omtzigt. The problem was, Rutte had been asked in front of cameras the week before whether he’d mentioned Pieter Omtzigt at all during his discussions with the investigators. He claimed not to have done so, and now this was exposed as being incorrect.  

A lengthy and occasionally fierce debate in the Tweede Kamer ensued, which wasn’t resolved until 3am Friday morning. News reports had fun making a supercut of the number of times Rutte denied lying in relation to not having made comments about Omtzigt, insisting it was a simple case of him having forgotten. The problem with this, as illustrated by Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks), is that Rutte has a history of having a faulty memory in delicate situations, most recently before this in relation to the childcare benefits scandal.

The end result was while a motion of censure against Rutte for his behaviour during the investigation phase was passed with only the VVD voting against, the motion of no-confidence which would have removed him as Prime Minister failed, due to the decision of D66, CDA and the ChristenUnie to join the VVD in voting against it.

So here’s the situation:

1) The VVD appear firm in their support for Rutte. They have good reason for this: 1.9 million people voted directly for him just a few weeks ago, as he led the VVD to it’s fourth successive election as the largest party in the country. There’s no obvious successor, and the party just spent the entire election campaign promoting a vote for “Mark Rutte” rather than a vote for “the VVD”. Across all the news bulletins and talk shows, various VVD establishment figures (former minister Henk Kamp seems to be popping up a lot) have expressed their full support for Rutte, suggesting a carefully co-ordinated plan to make sure no one doubts the party’s resolve in this matter.

2) As mentioned above, all parties except for the VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie supported a motion of no-confidence in Rutte. It would be bizarre and quite frankly, a blow to their credibility if one of these other parties suddenly turned around and decided to work with Rutte in a new government after all. The ChristenUnie has since said that even though they voted against no-confidence, they will not enter a new coalition with Rutte at the helm.

3) This leaves the VVD, D66 and CDA – together they have 73 seats, so they could put together a minority government and seek out parties to make up the numbers for each piece of legislation. Not ideal, but not impossible either. This assumes the CDA decides to play along – they could well decide that opposition is more appealing, leaving the VVD and D66 with their combined 58 seats to find those extra 18 MPs each time.

4) While sending the VVD to the opposition benches might be tempting, it is also a recipe for new elections within the next few months – although increasingly this looks like the most likely outcome anyway. Sigrid Kaag (D66) would be the obvious choice for Prime Minister if Rutte and the VVD were pushed to the side, but she would have to deal with a rainbow coalition of at least seven parties from all parts of the political spectrum. I highly doubt this is what Kaag imagined when she spoke of her ambition to become the first woman Prime Minister.

What’s next? The caretaker government will continue as is for now. Tamara van Ark (VVD) and Wouter Koolmees (D66) have been set aside as investigators – in fact, this entire phase will be skipped, given that everything is already out in the open anyway. Instead, as I finish this post, the Tweede Kamer is poised to appoint Herman Tjeenk Willink as mediator to begin coalition negotiations. Tjeenk Willink was a PvdA Senator during the late 80s and most of the 90s. He assisted as mediator in the formation of the Rutte I and Rutte III cabinets and so knows how to handle these delicate situations. And if none of this works? Back to the polls. But we’re not there yet.

“Position Elsewhere”

They were almost there: after two days of meeting with the various party leaders, Annemarie Jorritsma (VVD) and Kajsa Ollongren (D66) were back at the Binnenhof last Thursday to meet Mark Rutte and Sigrid Kaag separately in order to work out where to begin coalition negotiations.

Two things then happened in quick succession. Firstly, Kajsa Ollongren announced that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. Earlier in the week, CDA minister Mona Keijzer announced she had tested positive to the virus. Despite cabinet meetings being conducted with the appropriate physical distance between attendees, the rest of Keijzer’s colleagues headed off to get tested. Only Ollongren’s test came back positive, although she showed no symptoms. In any case, this resulted in talks being suspended until it could be decided how best to proceed. However, this state of limbo didn’t last long. Ollongren left the Binnenhof not long thereafter, face mask on and carrying a large stack of papers, of which the top page had the text facing outwards. A press photographer captured the shot, and sent it back to to be published online. Then someone zoomed in on the page of notes, and everything went sideways.

The notes were for the most part not hugely interesting, except for two comments which raised a lot of eyebrows and hackles. The first one suggested that despite regular statements to the contrary, PvdA and GroenLinks wouldn’t continue to insist that they enter the coalition together or not at all. While this has caused some irritation, the second comment has proven to be far more damaging: “Positie Omtzigt, functie elders” (status Omtzigt, position elsewhere), a reference to incredibly popular CDA maverick Pieter Omtzigt, who looms large as a key figure in coalition negotiations, despite currently being on medical leave. A very generous reading of this phrase could be that Omtzigt needed to be allocated an important role, but more obvious one would be to move him to a position where he wouldn’t be able to cause much trouble.

Understandably, the CDA were not impressed by this, pointing out that these kinds of comments were beyond the scope of the investigators’ brief. The next question was where this suggestion came from: Rutte and Kaag were quick to state that neither of them had anything to do with it. Both know how important the CDA is to the next coalition, and Rutte in particular needs to keep Hoekstra interested and onside. This has seen an increase in tension within the CDA: the party’s president left after the poor election result, and a successor has yet to be chosen. And with Omtzigt out of the picture for the moment, Hoekstra is in the unenviable position of having to assert authority within the party where there are still questions about what exactly Omtzigt’s ambitions are, as well as keeping up the pressure on Ollongren and Jorritsma (failing that, Rutte and Kaag) to fully explain the Omtzigt comment.

Given this messy state of affairs, Jorritsma and Ollongren announced they were stepping down from their positions, describing the situation as untenable. Two ministers from the current cabinet have taken over as new investigators: Tamara van Ark (VVD) and Wouter Koolmees (D66). They will have to start again, speaking to each of the 17 party leaders individually.

In the meantime, Jorritsma and Ollongren are set to face questions in the Tweede Kamer on the 31st, which sets up the awkward scenario of Rutte and Kaag (technically members of the Tweede Kamer again) potentially interrogating Jorritsma and Ollongren on matters relating to their own conduct.

Not long ago, Rutte expressed his hope that coalition negotiations wouldn’t take very long. That ship has well and truly sailed.


Also on the 31st, the members of the new Tweede Kamer will be sworn in, which means that on the 30th, those who won’t be returning had a chance to farewell their workplace. Some big names are leaving politics, mostly by choice. They include:

Klaas Dijkhoff (VVD, 2017) – It’s a strangely early exit for the VVD caucus leader in the Tweede Kamer, given he was considered to be the most obvious successor to Mark Rutte. But Dijkhoff has decided to return the private sector, although given his age (late 30s), it’s entirely possible we’ll see him back around the Binnenhof in years ahead.

Pia Dijkstra (D66, 2010) – Formerly the television news reader for the 8pm bulletin on NOS, one of Dijkstra’s key areas of interest in her political career was expanding voluntary assisted dying legislation to cover some situations where someone has decided their life has been “completed” rather than needing to have a terminal illness or suffering from an incurable disease. It’s more nuanced than that, but the legislation is something D66 will be pushing hard for in the next term of parliament.

Lodewijk Asscher (PvdA, 2017) – In a parallel universe, Asscher would still have been at the head of the PvdA, preparing for another spell on the opposition benches or maybe even another tilt at a ministerial post after serving a full term as part of Rutte II. However, while his decision to take responsibility for the childcare benefits scandal may have played a role in bringing down Rutte III, most of the others who were on the scene at the time decided to continue in politics, and don’t seem to have been punished by the voters for it. Given the lackluster election result, this may be a “what if” scenario playing out in the minds of some PvdA members for a while.

Madeleine van Toorenberg (CDA, 2007) – Despite an unsuccessful tilt at the leadership in 2012, van Toorenberg has been a key member of the CDA in the Tweede Kamer, specialising in areas like justice, security and counter-terrorism. She ends her parliamentary career as the deputy leader of her party in the chamber.

Joël Voordewind (CU, 2006) – Among other things, Voordewind made a name for himself as an effective and passionate advocate for refugees and asylum-seekers. In his earlier days in the Tweede Kamer, he worked with the PvdA to introduce legislation which banned smoking in restaurants and cafes. As a former aid worker, international development remained high on his agenda throughout his political career.

Bram van Ojik (GL, 2012) – The 2012 election was the worst in GroenLinks history, with the party crawling to just four seats. Van Ojik, who served in the Tweede Kamer for GroenLinks from 1993-1994 before a stint as the Dutch ambassador to Benin in the early 2000s, took over the leadership and set about mending bridges and healing the hurt within the party. He handed over the leadership to Jesse Klaver in time for the 2017 election, but will be remembered as a key figure who helped GroenLinks out of its darkest hour.

Henk Krol (50+/PvdT/LHK, 2012 ) – It’s been quite the ride for Krol, leading 50Plus to some strong results over the years before departing and eventually setting up his own party in an attempt to avoid yet more infighting. It wasn’t enough – he managed less than a third of the votes needed for a seat.

Of the 150 members of the Tweede Kamer, 68 won’t be returning: 45 because they decided not to re-contest or weren’t selected by their party, the remaining 23 because they weren’t re-elected.

The Investigators

NOTE: This post was written earlier this week, before Annemarie Jorritsma and Kajsa Ollongren stepped down from their role as investigators. I will endeavour to put up something on that later this weekend. Suffice it to say, I have been wondering whether I should just have continued with my daily posts.

Even though we won’t know the full results, candidate by candidate, of last week’s election until later today (Friday), the number of seats per party are pretty much locked in, and the process of coalition negotiations can begin.

Historically, the leaders of each elected party would visit the reigning monarch one-by-one, carrying with them a letter explaining their interpretation of the election results. This practice was ended after the 2010 election, as part of the ongoing process of distancing the monarchy from the political scene. These days, a trusted figure (usually an ex-minister) from the party with the largest number of seats is appointed as the verkenner, which technically translates as scout or explorer, but in reality is closer to investigator. Their task is to investigate and suggest potential coalition configurations on the basis of their discussions with the party leaders. The same principle applies: party leaders present a letter with their advice to the investigators as they discuss the election and the next steps over a cup of coffee (or tea). Previous investigators were outgoing VVD Minister Henk Kamp in 2012 (who would continue in the cabinet for another term), and in 2017, outgoing VVD Minister Edith Schippers (who subsequently left politics).

This time, we’re in the unprecendented position of having two investigators: Annemarie Jorritsma (VVD) and Kajsa Ollongren (D66) – in some ways a reflection of D66 now being the second largest party in the Tweede Kamer, but also perhaps a play by the VVD to make them more accountable to this coalition. Ollongren is an outgoing Minister in the now-caretaker cabinet, while Jorritsma was a Minister in the Paars governments from 1994-2002, subsequently Mayor of the city of Almere from 2003-2015, and now sits as the leader of the VVD in the Eerste Kamer. Over two days, they spoke to all the leaders of the 17 parties in the Tweede Kamer, beginning with Mark Rutte (VVD) and ending with Caroline van der Plas (BBB).

So far, some of the more obvious options for the next coalition government include:

VVD / CDA / D66 / ChristenUnie

Tweede Kamer: 78 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 32 (no majority)

PROS: The parties have worked together for the last four years surprisingly well: plenty of political commentators weren’t sure whether Rutte III would even make it halfway.

CONS: The dynamic within the coalition will inevitably change. D66 will assert itself more, which will bring it into conflict with the ChristenUnie on matters such as end-of-life legislation. On the flipside, D66 and ChristenUnie will be able to work well together on addressing climate change, something the CDA and VVD are less enthusiastic about. These parties don’t have a majority in the Eerste Kamer, so they will need to find allies each time they put a bill through the Tweede Kamer, or put off contentious legislation and hope they win a majority between them at the next provincial elections in 2023.

VVD / CDA / D66 / PvdA / GroenLinks

Tweede Kamer: 90 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 42 (majority)

PROS: Clear majorities in both chambers, so passing bills shouldn’t be an issue. D66 will be relieved to have some allies on the left, while PvdA and GroenLinks both have a chance to atone for previous missteps.

CONS: Neither the VVD nor the CDA would be happy to see both PvdA and GroenLinks in the cabinet – one of them would be more than enough as far as they are concerned. VVD supporters in particular think GroenLinks is far too radical to govern with.

VVD / CDA / D66 / JA21

Tweede Kamer: 76 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 36 (no majority)

PROS: Mark Rutte could appease the more conservative VVD supporters. JA21 doesn’t look like it will be as loud and provocative and PVV or FvD, although their policies are remarkably similar.

CONS: Can’t see D66 agreeing with this unless JA21 throws out most of its policy platform. The two parties are each other’s polar opposites in so many areas it is hard to see where they could ever find much common ground. If D66 were forced to compromise too much, they would be crushed at the next election, as a fair number of their gains came from 2017 GroenLinks voters.

VVD / CDA / D66 / PvdA or GroenLinks

Tweede Kamer: 82 or 81 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 34 or 36 (no majority)

PROS: Comfortable majorities with either party in the Tweede Kamer, but they’d still need to find another party in the Eerste Kamer. (Ideally, whichever one of PvdA or GroenLinks isn’t in the cabinet could be this fifth party.) D66 would be happy with either PvdA or GroenLinks. VVD and CDA would definitely prefer PvdA.

CONS: Before the election, PvdA and GroenLinks made a pact that they would go into coalition government together, or not at all. The PvdA wants to avoid a repeat of 2017, when they were reduced to a rump after governing a full term with the VVD. The thinking is that the greater the number of left-wing parties in cabinet, the more they can influence the direction of the government, hopefully leaving less for their competitors (i.e. SP, PvdD) to criticise.

Mark Rutte seems to be steering the conversation to “I’ve picked the CDA to join the coalition, now D66 gets to pick one party to join as well”, meaning that the end goal will be to have either PvdA or GroenLinks, and preferably the PvdA. The question will be which of those two parties will be more keen to govern.

Rutte came out and suggested that JA21 deserved to be considered, especially given their numbers in the Eerste Kamer. However, he also knows what D66 thinks about this. It will be more a case of being able to tell his supporters “look, I tried”.

Once Jorritsma and Ollongren have spoken to all the party leaders, they will compile a report which will suggest the configuration of parties that appears to have the best chance of forming the next government. It will then be up to the Tweede Kamer to appoint an informateur or mediator to begin convening negotiations between these parties.

The Results, Reshuffled

As we wait for the final results this coming week and the beginning of coalition negotiations, this post is an attempt to present the outcome in a few different ways, taking things beyond the basic party level.

Government 78 (+2) vs Opposition 72 (-2)

Let’s start with the breakdown which is the easiest to explain: government vs opposition. When the VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie signed their coalition agreement in 2017, together they had 76 seats in the Tweede Kamer, the smallest possible majority. Thanks to the gains of VVD and D66 more than offsetting the losses of the CDA, this configuration could continue for another term with an increased majority. The last time this happened was 1998, when D66 lost 10 seats, but coalition partners PvdA and VVD gained 8 and 7 seats respectively, and thus the Purple government under the leadership of Wim Kok (PvdA) continued for another term. This kind of thing seems less likely today – but I’m going to write a full post on coalition negotiations later this week, so I’m keeping my counsel until then.

Quadrants (Conservative-Left, Conservative-Right, Progressive-Left, Progressive-Right)

It’s almost impossible to plot Dutch political parties on a left-right spectrum without a lot of qualification, so I’ve opted for a quadrant system: and even this by no means perfect. Dutch politics is so layered ideally you’d want to create some kind of three dimension model to be able to plot all the parties correctly.

Conservative-Left (PVV, ChristenUnie, 50Plus): 23 (-7)

Conservative-Right (VVD, FvD, CDA, SGP, BBB, JA21): 65 (+9)

Progressive-Left: (SP, PvdD, GroenLinks, PvdA, Denk, Bij1): 36 (-9)

Progressive-Right (D66, Volt): 26 (+7)

Before I go any further, I’d just like to emphasise that each of these categories is still pretty broad: for example: the ChristenUnie and 50Plus are far closer to being centrist than the PVV, and D66 and Volt are only moderately to the right economically speaking in my judgment. I’m basing these on what the Kieskompas (an online political quiz) claims, with a bit of modification where I disagreed with where the party was placed. Full disclosure: I moved ChristenUnie from a moderate Progressive-Left to a moderate Conservative-Left position, and D66 with Volt across from Progressive-Left just over the border to Progressive-Right.

In any case, the results are pretty clear: the right-wing parties made gains at the expense of the left, with a smaller gain to the conservative forces if you cut the chart that way. The main reason why it isn’t easier for forces on the Conservative-Right to put together a coalition is because PVV and FvD are under a cordon sanitaire, and JA21 is currently quietly being assessed as to whether it should be added to this list. This sends 25-28 seats to the opposition benches before negotiations even begin.

Insiders 90 (+) vs Outsiders 60 (-)

Insiders (VVD, D66, CDA, PvdA, ChristenUnie, SGP): 90 (+2)

Outsiders (PVV, SP, GroenLinks, FvD, PvdD, JA21, Volt, Denk, Bij1, BBB, 50Plus): 60 (-2)

Another way to frame this would be parties which have either governed in some form at the national level, versus those who have only been on the opposition benches. There two exceptions to this categorisation: the PVV and the SGP. The PVV were in a supply-and-confidence agreement with the VVD and CDA from 2010 to 2012 before Wilders withdrew his party because he did not want to support elements of that year’s budget. You could argue that this was governing, and in a way it was. However, while Geert Wilders himself is very much an insider in the Binnenhof, he positions his party as that of an outsider in order to appeal to his base. In hindsight, it is clear that the agreement with VVD and CDA was probably doomed to failure once the PVV didn’t become fully-fledged members of the coalition with ministers and all the accompanying responsibilities.

The SGP on the other hand, helped prop up Rutte II (VVD/PvdA) when defections saw the coalition lose its majority. It became part of the “Constructive Opposition” alongside D66 and ChristenUnie, giving Rutte’s cabinet the numbers it needed to pass legislation through both chambers of parliament.

Some of the outsiders could end up moving to the insiders column after a while, particularly Volt if they hang around. But as they’re new and have no governing experience at any level, they stay in the outsider column. GroenLinks is keen to move across to the insider column, but may have messed up their chance for the time being by not participating in the last government when invited to do so by D66. Traditionally the SP has not been particularly interested in governing, especially where the VVD is involved, but that might be shifting. For the insider parties, the more the merrier, because it makes coalition-building a lot easier, but sometimes making the jump from outsider to insider is more than a party and its members can handle.

European Parliament blocs

European People’s Party (EPP): CDA, ChristenUnie

Socialists and Democrats (S&D): PvdA

Renew Europe (formerly ALDE): VVD, D66

Identity and Democracy (ID): PVV

European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR): JA21*, SGP

European Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA): GroenLinks

The Left (formerly European United Left/Nordic Green Left): SP**, PvdD

*The FvD has no seats in the European Parliament any more – the three MEPs it elected in 2019 have joined JA21.

**The SP lost all its MEPs in the 2019 election, but normally it sits in this bloc.

As for the new parties, I can make a few educated guesses. Currently Volt has a German MEP who sits with the Greens/EFA, but I imagine the pan-European party would aim to have their own bloc in the future. Bij1 could sit with the Greens/EFA or The Left, probably the latter. Lastly, the BBB is tricky; I expect they’d be inclined to be independent at first, but might end up in the EPP – it’s difficult to say for certain until we’ve seen more of their positions.

This is probably the more useful way to look at the results for other Europeans. I haven’t put seat numbers next to the parties because I don’t want people to confuse them with the numbers in the European Parliament, which are of course different. However, it’s pretty clear that the parties in Renew Europe were the big winners of the election, and we’ll have to wait until 2024 to see what FvD can reclaim from its breakaway group JA21.

Election Results Overview (18 March)

With around 90% of votes cast now counted, it’s now pretty clear what the new configuration of the Tweede Kamer will look like, barring a last minute shift of a seat or two. I’m going to give a quick reaction to each party’s results, and return here over the weekend with a post about what the next government might look like.

VVD: 35 seats (+2)
A couple of months ago polls had the VVD at over 40 seats, but this is still an outstanding result from a party which has been in government for a decade. No party has finished first in at four consecutive Tweede Kamer elections since well before the Second World War. Mark Rutte will undoubtedly continue as Prime Minister, and most likely break the record held by the late Ruud Lubbers (CDA) for longest sitting PM (1982-1994).

D66: 24 seats (+5)
Not quite the 27 seats that it looked like it could be at the start of the evening, but nevertheless this result equals the record set at 1994 election under the leadership of party co-founder Hans van Mierlo. Sigrid Kaag’s performance on the campaign trail was underrated by the polls, but it is highly likely that she gained a lot of support in the final days as undecided voters turned to her party as the most progressive challenge to the VVD.

PVV: 17 seats (-3)
Geert Wilders remains at the head of the largest party on the radical-right, but it was a flat result for him across the board. The VVD even outpolled the PVV in Wilders’ home province of Limburg. He will remain the largest opposition party with his relatively stable number of rusted-on supporters.

CDA: 15 seats (-5)
It’s fair to say that the CDA were bracing for some kind of loss given how poorly Wopke Hoekstra performed during the campaign, but this was probably a bit more than they were expecting. The party seems to be stuck in the role of junior partner to the VVD on the centre-right, and it may well take the retirement of Mark Rutte before the CDA can dream about returning to past glories.

SP: 9 seats (-5)
It shows just how bad this election was for traditional left-wing parties that the SP lost five seats but will still end up the largest party in this grouping (if only in votes rather than seats). The SP hasn’t gained seats at an election since the provincial elections of 2015, and have lost votes at the last four Tweede Kamer elections. While Marijnissen is a promising leader and will most likely continue for another term, the party will need to review its approach as little seems to be going their way at the moment.

PvdA: 9 seats (0)
It didn’t help the PvdA that their lead candidate Lodewijk Asscher left politics weeks before the election in the wake of the childcare benefits scandal. In hindsight, he may as well have stayed, given that the matter barely played a part in the campaign. Lilianne Ploumen didn’t make much of an impact either way, and suffered from being excluded from debates she would normally have been present at given the PvdA’s long history of being the largest party on the left (until 2017). Keeping their nine seats may feel like a disappointment in the context of the polls and the party’s expectations, but in the context of this election it’s by no means the worst outcome.

FvD: 8 seats (+6)
The biggest winner of the election ran the most eye-catching campaign. After a bout of infighting and an attempted coup within the party that left many wondering whether Thierry Baudet was done with politics, he threw caution to the wind and went on a tour of the country, appearing at rallies where he called for the lockdown to end. Let’s just say that following coronavirus restrictions was somewhat optional as far as Baudet was concerned: he didn’t wear a mask and regularly shook hands with supporters. Taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s playbook, he downplayed the dangers of the virus and suggested that the upcoming election might be rigged against him. Most countries which have had to endure lengthy lockdowns will recognise the virus-sceptic, anti-lockdown activist – Baudet told them what they wanted to hear. The question will be whether he can keep these voters at the next election, when the pandemic will most likely be a somewhat distant memory.

GroenLinks: 7 seats (-7)
From the biggest winner to the biggest loser: the hype and razzle-dazzle around Jesse Klaver in 2017 which resulted in GroenLinks’ best Tweede Kamer result to date did not repeat itself in 2021 and the party lost more seats in a single Tweede Kamer election than ever before. While Klaver has said he wants to continue as leader, he will need to work out how to present the party as a serious competitor, rather than a place to park a protest vote to show dissatisfaction with a larger party on the left.

PvdD: 6 seats (+1)
A modest but welcome gain for the environmentalist/animal rights party, fighting its first Tweede Kamer election without founding leader Marianne Thieme. The PvdD is never really counted as part of the left because they feel out of the box a lot of the time and occasionally go against traditional left positions. Nevertheless, they continue to be a party that brings the surprises both in terms of policy and the support they manage to gather from unusual places.

ChristenUnie: 5 seats (0)
The small Christian parties have the most loyal supporter base, as evidenced by the fact that the ChristenUnie spent four years as the smallest party in a coalition where they undoubtedly had to support bills they weren’t exactly that keen on, and have come out as they went in. Whether they will continue for another term in a Rutte-cabinet is another question, but having successfully participated in two of the last four governments is an impressive result for a small party.

JA21: 4 seats (+4)
Well, well – look who’s back. It’s been a long while since Joost Eerdmans (former CDA member, former LPF MP, former OneNL co-founder, former Leefbaar Rotterdam leader and former FvD member) held a seat in the Tweede Kamer, but this time he’s at the head of JA21, formed with other disgruntled FvD members after some of Baudet’s antics in relation to offensive WhatsApp messages. The party is expected to sit quite closely to the FvD and PVV in terms of policy, but with fewer of the frequent provocations that Wilders and Baudet engage in.

SGP: 3 seats (0)
What did I say about small Christian parties and loyal supporter bases? If there’s one constant in Dutch politics, it’s that the SGP will have 2 or 3 seats in the Tweede Kamer, and here we are again. Regardless of what you think of the SGP, they clearly represent a (small) portion of Dutch society and have done so for over a century, so they’ve become part of the political furniture.

Volt: 3 seats (+3)
While there are familiar faces in JA21, Volt’s debut in the Tweede Kamer was impressive given their lack of name recognition, both in terms of the party and its candidates. Nevertheless, the pan-European party, seen an alternative to the traditional left, made the most of their limited media opportunities and ran a solid campaign on social media.

Denk: 2 seats (-1)
A bizarre bout of infighting mid-term didn’t help this party led by former PvdA MPs; neither did some of their more provocative moments and perceived support for the regime of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their supporter base is primarily voters with migrant backgrounds in the major cities, which is a fairly limited pool.

50Plus: 1 seat (-3)
Speaking of infighting: it’s a minor miracle that 50Plus made it back to the Tweede Kamer at all. They lost their popular leader Henk Krol midway through the term, then had a messy internal struggle last year when presumably they should have been focused on other matters. And then the lead candidate and number three on the ticket publicly accused each other of going against party policy with less than a fortnight to go before election day. Those 70,000 or so 50Plus voters who still stuck with the party despite all this probably deserve the award of most loyal voters of this election.

BIJ1: 1 seat (+1)
After a few attempts, former television presenter Sylvana Simons will enter the Tweede Kamer at the head of a party which is probably best described as intersectionalist. It seeks to eliminate all forms of discrimination and has radical-left/anti-capitalist leanings in its social and economic policies.

BBB: 1 seat (+1)
The Boer Burger Beweging (Farmer and Citizen Movement) snuck into contention for a seat in the Tweede Kamer in the last week or so of the campaign when they started appearing in polls. Unashamedly representing the regional and rural areas of the Netherlands, this party is seen as part of the backlash against the last cabinet’s plans to tackle nitrogen run-off produced by farming and seek a reduction in the number of farm animals overall.

It’s going to be a fascinating few years, as always.

Campaign Update (17 March – Election Day)

This is it – election day. Over 9,000 opened at 7.30am local time, and will close at 9.00pm. At this time, the exit poll results will be announced, and then later the actual count will start trickling in from the smaller councils. Ipsos has already warned that the margin of error in this year’s exit polls may be larger than 2017, where GroenLinks was overestimated by two seats. As of 10.30am, turnout was at 30%, including postal ballots, which are already being counted.

The final lead candidates debate last night produced one moment which is being endlessly repeated in the media today: a clash between Geert Wilders (PVV) and Sigrid Kaag (D66) – the leaders of two parties who don’t see eye-to-eye on much. Wilders brought up Kaag’s visit to Iran during her tenure as the Foreign Minister (with a focus on trade and international development). While Kaag was in Iran, she wore a headscarf and bowed to Ayatollah Khomeini. “That was treachery,” declared Wilders, highlighting how violently Iranian authorities cracked down on women who took off their headscarves in public in protest against the repressive regime. Kaag fought back, saying that the law required her to wear a headscarf, and that she there to advocate for regional stability and the security of Israel. “Traitor,” repeated Wilders several times, clearly looking to throw Kaag off course. It didn’t quite work, but no doubt the supporters of both PVV and D66 will be steeled to attend the polls as a result of this.

Here is the final Peilingwijzer alongside the 2017 results:


What’s next? I’ll be back in about eight hours for a live-tweeting session as the results come in. My Twitter feed will be visible on the homepage of this site, or you can look me up on Twitter itself: @dutchpoliticsEN

Then I’ll return with one more update here tomorrow after the dust has settled for a quick overview of the results, and then a longer, more considered follow-up over the weekend.

Happy election day!

Campaign Update (16 March)

The last full day of campaigning has just begun in the Netherlands, culminating on another lead candidate debate . Participating parties will be: VVD, PVV, CDA, D66, GroenLinks, SP, PvdA and ChristenUnie – instead of being a lengthy free-for-all, the format will be based upon a series of head-to-head mini-debates; each candidate will take part in two of these. These eight leaders have been bumping into each all over the media, so what it comes down to at this point is who they’ve been matched up to – ideally someone they can contrast with and get a few good lines in rather than one of their allies with whom they mostly agree. The match-ups are as follows:

  • Sigrid Kaag (D66) and Geert Wilders (PVV)
  • Lilian Marijnissen (SP) and Lilianne Ploumen (PvdA)
  • Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) and Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks)
  • Mark Rutte (VVD) and Geert Wilders (PVV)
  • Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks) and Gert-Jan Segers (ChristenUnie)
  • Sigrid Kaag (D66) and Lilian Marijnissen (SP)
  • Lilianne Ploumen (PvdA) and Gert-Jan Segers (ChristenUnie)
  • Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) and Mark Rutte (VVD)

Unsurprisingly, some candidates benefit more from these one-on-ones than others. Hoekstra gets a rematch of his disastrous showing against Klaver and can attempt to challenge Rutte again. Kaag can present herself as the sensible centre against Wilders and then Marijnissen. Seger probably would have wanted a go at Hoekstra as the ChristenUnie has long questioned like how Christian the CDA is, and Ploumen would have preferred to face at least one of Hoekstra, Wilders or Rutte, but instead has to make do with Segers and Marijnissen. However, the final debate has proved to be a vote-changer in the past, shifting a few seats here and there, so you can expect the candidates to try to find some way to produce at least a few soundbites for news bulletins on election day.

Confusion with postal voting (for those over 70) has become serious enough for Minister Kajsa Ollongren (D66) to issue a direction to allow some incorrectly cast ballots to be counted anyway. If a voter placed the declaration card in the same envelope as their ballot, the vote will still be counted as staff are only supposed to check that the card has been signed and do not need to unfold the ballot paper until a later stage. With some councils reporting up to 8% of postal votes falling into this category, if no action were taken this could ultimately result in around a seat’s worth of invalid votes, be double the average amount in elections past. In a somewhat related matter, concerns have been raised about the turnout among prisoners (inmates can vote in the Netherlands unless otherwise specified in their sentence). Due to coronavirus restrictions, it won’t be possible to undertake the usual practice of establishing a polling booth in each prison, meaning that prisoners who don’t qualify for a postal vote can only authorise someone else to vote on their behalf. Setting this up isn’t necessarily a difficult process in itself, but arranging for a member of one’s family or friend is something which can be fraught for all sorts of reasons for those on the inside.

Lastly, today a new poll was released by I&O Research which has shifted the Peilingwijzer to confirm the trend of the VVD slipping back towards its 2017 result of 33 seats. The current range has them at 34-38 seats. D66 has improved their position, but are still heading for a small loss compared the 2017. In fact, the only parties which seem almost certain to gain are the PvdA, ChristienUnie, PvdD, FvD and the two newcomers: JA21 and Volt. The latter party in particular, is making waves and probably snapping up some traditional GroenLinks and other pro-EU voters. The Peilingwijzer gives them a chance of winning up to five seats, which would be an impressive debut. We can probably expect another poll or two tomorrow.

Campaign Update (15 March)

While the Peilingwijzer is the preferred of the national broadcaster NOS, it doesn’t actually cover all of the main polling organistions in the county. Peil.nl, owned by long-established pollster Maurice de Hond, withdrew permission in 2019 for its polls to be used for by Peilingwijzer in a legal dispute. For completion’s sake, I’m going to compare the latest Peil.nl poll with the most recent average by Peilingwijzer.


Given that Peil.nl’s latest poll is significantly closer to the present day (they will be releasing a new poll on election eve), it is worth at least looking at a couple of trends. The momentum around D66 and its leader Sigrid Kaag may indeed end up manifesting just in time for the election to the detriment of GroenLinks, who would lose almost half their seats. The suspicion that Thierry Baudet’s FvD is slowly on the up again as a result of his unconventional campaign is confirmed here as well, as is the sense that JA21 and Volt will be making their debut in the Tweede Kamer. Probably the most surprising difference between Peil.nl and the Peilingwijzer average is the relatively low number for the VVD and the relatively high number for the PVV, suggesting that even though Rutte’s party will most likely end up retaining its crown as the largest, it may not be by the thumping margin other polls suggest. If the upcoming polls from Kantar, IPSOS and I&O Research echo the Peil.nl numbers, then there has indeed been a late shift for a number of parties.

Sundays are usually the quietest day of the week, but this weekend the “Climate Alarm” rang out in cities, towns and villages across the country. At 2pm, tens of thousands across the country gathered in public places like parks and squares (1.5 metres apart) to bang pots and pans or play the musical instrument of their choice to call for more action on climate change. A number of political parties (mostly on the left) had representatives in attendance at their local rally.

Around 1,600 of the 9,200 polling locations were open today for the first of two days of early polling. As I’ve mentioned before, these are meant to be for those in at-risk groups who don’t other qualify for a postal vote. However, it appears that this won’t be checked, and with booths at six train stations open in mostly the Randstad area, other voters will also be able to cast an early ballot if they like. The Netherlands doesn’t have much of a history with early voting, so it will be a worthwhile experiment to see whether this is best left as a one-off, or whether having additional days to vote increases turnout.