From politics past to present principles

14th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

Diane Lemieux examines how the history behind the platforms of each of the Netherlands' four largest political parties helps explain the public image they have today.

A study by researchers from the Vrije Universiteit and the University of Amsterdam indicates that each of the political parties in the Netherlands is associated with a particular issue, rather than a particular position on a variety of issues.

Christian Democrat CDA

It all comes down to one thing - winning votes

The CDA was originally a fusion of one Catholic and two Protestant parties. It has a strong support in the Catholic south and protestant north and east of the Netherlands.

The CDA and the other, small denominational parties were the principal instigators of the pillared system in the Netherlands; the system whereby the Catholics, Protestants and 'other' or non-denominational groups in society each had their institutions (including schools, hospitals, labour unions, cheap housing facilities, newspapers etc) which were equally recognised and sometimes financed by the government.

The CDA's supporters are older than the Dutch average which is, for instance, the reason for the importance of the pension debate. They insist, for example, on the importance of the certainty of the state pension scheme and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has made norms and values a cornerstone of his campaigns.

Liberal VVD

In the Netherlands, like in much of Europe, the Liberal party is founded on ideals of the free market, rights and responsibilities of the individual and free choice (in contrast to American liberalism which sets itself off from conservatism in its endorsement of regulation for businesses, support for a limited social welfare state, and support broad racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance.)

The VVD is therefore a party which has more of a pro-choice position on issues such as gay marriages and euthanasia, for instance, than the denominational parties.

Historically, the liberals were not enthusiastic supporters of the pillared system, particularly separate, government-funded schools. Especially where it comes to the organisation of the economy, the VVD fought against the influence of special interest groups on issues which were of general interest.

Today, while the party recognises the social successes of the pillared approach of the Dutch system, the party has been far more critical about the effect of the rise of Islamic schools as a divisive system in society.

Under current leader Mark Rutte, the VVD continues to support tight fiscal discipline, reduced government expenditure and paying off the budget deficit. Finally, it would like to see further liberalisation of sectors such as the housing rental system, health services and energy.

Labour PvdA

The PvdA is the social democratic party. It has had three prime ministers since WWII who largely established the tone and face of the party.

The first was Willem Drees in the 1950s who created the basis of the pension scheme in the country. The second was Joop Dan Den Uyl in the 1970s who is largely responsible for having established the generous welfare system which exists today.

It is a result of Den Uyl's policies that the term 'Dutch disease' was coined, meaning a country which becomes suddenly rich because of huge gains from a natural resource (gas in the case of the Netherlands) and that allows other segments of the economy to stagnate while spending lavishly on an increasingly large bureaucracy and social benefits.

In the 1990s, the third PvdA prime minister, Wim Kok, slowly began 'slimming down' the welfare state. In recent years, as the opposition party in Parliament, the PvdA has been fiercely against further cuts to the welfare system.

Socialist SP

Currently the fourth largest party, the SP started in 1972 as a Maoist, working class party.

Its platform included the principle that large companies should be nationalised, the Netherlands should leave NATO, the monarchy should be abolished and that top incomes should not be

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