Making up is hard to do

17th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

Labour leader Wouter Bos had a lot to smile about when his party benefited from a pronounced left-wing swing in the local elections. But attracting the right coalition partners to run the municipalities it dominates is proving to be a headache. We investigate.

The Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) scored an impressive victory in the local elections on 7 March. It is the biggest party in Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Rotterdam, as well as in many other cities and municipalities throughout the Netherlands.

Wouter Bos: can he win over rival parties?

Coalitions run the executive councils of these municipalities. Most commentators agreed the election result put Labour in the driving seat when it comes to forming most of these coalitions.

But to form a coalition, one or more rival parties must be willing to work with Labour. If not, the wheels of the coalition car are liable to fall off. There are indications in several places already that Labour is struggling to win over its opponents to form the 'broad coalitions' PvdA leader Wouter Bos is so keen on.

Sharp politics

Take the small municipality of Goes (population 36,000) in the south-west of the country. The local Labour Party celebrated on election night and was about to start coalition talks when it discovered the Liberals (VVD) had already hatched a secret deal with the Christian Democrats (CDA) and orthodox Christian group SGP/ChristenUnie.

The fact the deal was done on 8 March when the Christians were supposed to be praying for a good harvest added insult to injury.

Following a noisy public protest, the new executive apologised on Friday for the underhand move. But its act of contrition does not include letting Labour share power.


Bos likes to see himself as the Dutch Tony Blair - the Tony Blair before the war and the scandals. Bos isn't a radical; he has positioned himself in the middle ground: more social than socialist and more democrat than ideologue.

The Socialist Party also did very well in the local elections, but Bos has no intention of getting into bed with the former Maoists. Nationally, he has his eye on a coalition with the Christian Democrats, and in Amsterdam he wants the status quo.

The executive in Amsterdam has been run by a coalition between PvdA, VVD and CDA for the last four years. On 7 March, Labour increased its number of seats on the city council from 15 to 20, the VVD dropped one to eight and the CDA went from four to three.

Green-left GroenLinks held on to its six seats and the Socialist Party increased its number of councillors from four to six.

Local PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher - doing his master's bidding - set out  to put together a coalition with the VVD and GroenLinks to replace the CDA. But Labour's plans were dashed by GroenLinks which doesn't want to have the Liberals on board.

The negotiations are continuing between Labour and Groenlinks, with the Liberals hanging around in the hangs promising to 'help' if needed. Bos and his strategists must be slightly put out. They could live with a moderate left-wing coalition in Amsterdam but what signal does it send to centre-right?

Bos and Co. are even more appalled at the idea of a left-wing government coalition than are the grassroots of the Christian Democrats.


Labour's victory in the port city was the icing on the cake on election night. Having been trounced by Pim Fortuyn's Leefbaar Rotterdam (LR) party four years ago, PvdA increased its number of seats from seven to 14. LR came second, dropping from the 17 won in 2002 to 14 now.

The city has been run for the last four years by LR, the VVD and the CDA. This time everyone agreed there were only two parties in the election: you were either PvdA or LR.

The Leefbaar (Liveable) party has almost a pathological hate for Labour. LR leader Marco Pastors announced during the election campaign his party would not join a coalition with Labour.  

This did not stop the chairman of the talks inviting LR to explore the idea of a coalition with the social democrats. LR leaders Pastors and Ronald Sörensen did not pull any punches with their response.

Repeating their refusal to consider working with Labour, they accused the social democrats of wanting to keep the public stupid and poor, and of choosing a soft approach to Rotterdam's problems.

"We cannot cooperate with a policy that will lead to more beggars in the centre, more 'black' [immigrant] schools, more  'black' neighbours, more uncontrolled subsidies, the wrong people being protected, while decent people have once again to keep quiet for fear of being characterised as extreme right-wing or worse," the pair wrote.

What now?

The Christian Democrats and Liberals, both with three seats, would be enough give a Labour-led coalition a majority on the 45-seat council. Yet, the CDA and VVD have also accused Labour of wanting to reverse the tough law-and-order approach taken by the city's executive since 2002.

Labour owes its victory in Rotterdam and elsewhere to non-native Dutch residents who are tired of enforced integration methods and getting the blame for every ill in society. Labour has to pay its dues to its supporters.

It can only do that if it can get a coalition off the ground and take the sharp edge off the policies of recent years. To do that, Labour needs to have willing partners.

It is enough to give anyone a headache.

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Dutch news

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