Tough choices ahead for uneasy Dutch coalition

13th September 2012, Comments 0 comments

The Liberal and Labour parties that won the Netherlands' election have no choice but to govern together and make tough compromises on how to battle the euro debt crisis, analysts said.

"If they realise they're condemned to (work with) each other then a reasonably stable coalition may be the result," Alfred Pijpers, a specialist on Netherlands-Europe relations, told AFP Thursday.

Dutch voters on Wednesday flocked to the political centre, giving the Liberal VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte 41 MPs and the centre-left PvdA Labour of Diederik Samsom 39 MPs, enough for a majority in the 150-seat parliament.

Anti-Europe parties such as Geert Wilders' VVD suffered massive losses in a vote that was also seen as an endorsement of austerity measures to battle the financial crisis.

But the two winning parties are ideologically at odds on many issues.

"In each main area of today's economy and the economic crisis the two parties have strong antagonistic positions," said Pijpers.

The Liberals, staunch allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, want austerity while Labour want stimulus measures paid for by taxes as in Socialist France.

Nevertheless the two parties are joined by fundamentally pro-Europe positions in a country that sends 75 percent of its exports to the European Union.

"Labour has a similar policy to (French President) Francois Hollande to raise taxes. This is a major point as it is unacceptable for the VVD to allow an increase in direct income taxes," Pijpers said.

"Forming a government will be a painful process given the antagonism between Labour and the Liberals," Andre Krouwel, political analyst at Amsterdam Free University, told AFP.

"But they're capable of it, especially once the tensions of the campaign have disappeared," Krouwel added.

The two europhile parties cranked up their anti-Brussels rhetoric during campaigning but must now face the reality of the financial crisis.

"Both parties understand that that's politics," said Pijpers. "And in Dutch politics it's always necessary to build coalitions and have compromises."

Commentators and the markets are trying to see what momentum the new Dutch government will give to Europe but the Dutch solution that eventually emerges will be entirely novel, said Krouwel.

"The Netherlands chose neither Berlin nor Paris, but a middle-path and the two parties must turn that into reality," he said, recalling that red Labour and blue Liberals governed in a so-called "purple" coalition in the 1950s and again from 1994 to 2002.

The coalition will likely seek to bolster its majority with one or two other centrist parties that would also have the effect of taking the edge off differences within the government.

"Both Merkel and Hollande should crystallise within the same Dutch government," political communications professor Claes de Vreese of the Amsterdam University told AFP.

"But don't forget that Labour are also followers of the hard line when it comes to respecting budgetary obligations," whether in the Netherlands or southern European nations, he added.

As a result, German pre-election fears of losing a key ally in trying to keep indebted southern European nations in line since the start of the financial crisis proved unfounded.

"Of course people are increasingly unhappy with Brussels and the bailouts," said De Vreese.

"But the message the Dutch sent to Europe yesterday, by choosing two pro-European parties, is quite simply that they're not ready to give up their collaboration with Europe," he said.


© 2012 AFP

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