A recap of 2018/19 and what to expect next year
On 4 July the Dutch Parliament held their last plenary session before summer recess. Seems like a good moment for a quick recap of the political year 2018/19; who are the winners and losers? And what to expect next year?
Winners: Thierry Baudet and Frans Timmermans
On 20 March the Dutch took to the polls to vote for their provincial governments, which in turn are responsible for electing the senate. Euro- and climate sceptic Forum for Democracy was the biggest winner. The eccentric Thierry Baudet brought his party from 0 to 12 seats in Senate, which means they now share first place (12/75 seats) with PM Mark Rutte’s VVD. Consequently, the coalition government lost their majority in Senate.
On 23 May Frans Timmermans pulled his Labor’s EP-fraction to the number one position in the Netherlands by running as Spitzenkandidat for S&D – delivering a solid 6 seats. Over the last week however, it became clear that this is probably not enough to secure Commission Presidency – as the Council proposed Von der Leyen as Juncker’s successor. Despite heavy EP criticism, a majority is still expected to agree with Von der Leyen’s candidature. Along with S&D, the Greens in particular have taken a critical stance towards Von der Leyen. Next week, the EP will continue to debate the presidency.
Losers: Geert Wilders and some others
It is no coincidence that the Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders is the big loser this year, after many voters switched to Forum for Democracy. The Socialist Party – led by Lilian Marijnissen – has been in trouble for longer, having lost seats in four consecutive elections (national, municipal, provincial and European). In the past parliamentary year, the socialists surrendered five seats. They now have seven seats in the Lower House of Parliament, which is exactly a half of what they had in March 2017. Both the PVV and SP are now no longer represented in the EP.
This political year had a rocky start for PM Rutte, who desperately attempted to push his dividend tax reform. Losing support on all sides, it was Rutte against the rest. Central in the debate was the possible relocation of Unilever’s head offices to Rotterdam. Early October, Unilever CEO Paul Polman informed Rutte of the company’s decision to stay in London by text message – supposedly the final straw for Rutte to announce the dividend tax reform was off the table at last. This high profile twist is commonly known as the first real scratch on Rutte’s premiership.
Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate, Eric Wiebes (VVD/Liberal Conservatives) also had a rough year. The gas extraction dossier in the Groningen province proved to be too large for him to handle without receiving some serious blows to his position. Since Wiebes is also the minister responsible for the execution of the ambitious plans in the recently presented Climate Agreement – the Dutch are starting to wonder whether Wiebes will reach the finish line for this cabinet.
Speaking of which – 2019 saw one political casualty in the form of the state secretary responsible for asylum. Mark Harbers (VVD) was forced to take political responsibility once it became clear that his department knowingly obscured statistics related to crimes committed by asylum seekers. In such a controversial subject there was apparantly no room for error and he was succeeded by 72 year old Ankie Broekers-Knol (VVD), former chairwoman of the Senate.
What else happened?
After D66 (Liberal Democrats) leader Alexander Pechtold’s departure in 2018, CDA (Christian Democrats) leader Sybrand Buma resigned on 21 May. His successor, Pieter Heerma, has assumed the role until the next parliamentary elections planned for 2021. He has repeatedly stated he does not want to lead the party afterwards.
Parliamentary pressure: over the past parliamentary year, record numbers of debates (566) were held and motions (over 4000) were tabled. On the long term agenda there are even requests for debates originating in March 2018 which haven’t been dealt with yet. The parliamentary agenda has exploded, warned chairwoman Arib: “We’re driving ourselves and each other crazy.”
What to expect next year?
Budget day 2019: next up on the political calendar is ‘Prinsjesdag,’ or Budget Day, during which the Cabinet will present their new plans and proposed budgets for 2019-2020.
Next elections: if the Cabinet holds, the next national elections in the Netherlands will take place in May 2021 – but chances that Dutch voters would need to go to the polls at an earlier date. The challenging process of implementing the Climate Agreement, the new Pension Agreement, and major (geo)political shifts of balance will try and test the fragile coalition government, possibly to the point of breaking.