Governance and Politics of the Netherlands

by Rudy B. Andeweg & Galen A. Irwin

Update 4: The failure of the experiment with contract parliamentarism

Formally, the Rutte 1 Cabinet was a minority cabinet, as the coalition of conservative Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrats (CDA) did not have a majority of seats in either House of Parliament. However, it had a contract with the Freedom Party (PVV) entailing agreement on some policies (most notably immigration) and a promise by the PVV not to support a motion of no-confidence. This gave the government a majority in the Second Chamber on many (but not all) issues. In the Senate, support by the PVV was not sufficient but here they were often supported by the orthodox protestant SGP. There was no formal agreement with the SGP, but it can be no coincidence that the VVD suddenly stopped pushing for extending opening hours of shops on Sunday, etc.

There were three major policy areas where the PVV had made clear that it would not support the government: lowering the pension age, European integration (especially rescue packages for the Greek economy), and sending Dutch troops on international missions. On the first two issues, the cabinet eventually managed to obtain the consent of the largest opposition party, the Labour party (PvdA). On sending troops abroad, Labour continued to oppose a proposed police training mission to the Afghan province of Kunduz. A motley collection of small parties (the orthodox protestant Christian Union, the progressive liberal D66, and the Green Left) helped the cabinet get a majority (nick-named ‘the Kunduz coalition’).

Gradually, however, it became more difficult to maintain this new form of executive-legislative relations for three reasons. First, even with PVV support, the coalition had a very narrow majority (76 seats) in the Second Chamber. Formally, this majority was lost when one MP split away from the PVV, but this MP announced that he would continue to support the cabinet. Nevertheless, this created uncertainty for the cabinet. Second, the rank and file of opposition parties such as PvdA and Green Left were very critical of the helping hand these parties had extended to the cabinet. The criticism contributed to the early resignation of the leader of the PvdA party, Job Cohen, and the party announced it would no longer help out the cabinet.

Third, and most importantly, the economic situation deteriorated, enlarging the budget deficit. The cabinet decided that new austerity measures were needed to meet the EU stability pact’s criterion of a maximum budget deficit of three percent. In effect this meant renegotiating both the coalition agreement between CDA and VVD, and the support agreement of these parties with the PVV. Negotiations started on March 5, 2012 and collapsed on April 21 when Geert Wilders withdrew from the negotiations and also ended his support for the cabinet. On April 23, Prime Minister Rutte handed in the cabinet’s resignation. Early elections were scheduled for September 12 (apparently to avoid having an election during the Summer months).

The lame-duck government still had to meet EU budgetary criteria. The Minister of Finance started looking for support in Parliament and found it in the same parties that had supported the mission to Kunduz.

A new government was sworn in on November 5, 2012 (See Appendix 6) which means that the Rutte 1 cabinet governed for 752 days.