Political parties in the Netherlands

Political parties in the Netherlands

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Do you know your PvdA from your PvdD? Or your SP from your SGP? Let us unravel the Dutch acronyms of the political parties in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy with a Head of State (the monarch, who has ceremonial powers only) and a head of government (the Prime Minister).

The Staten-Generaal

The Dutch parliament, which meets in the Binnehof in The Hague, is known as the States-General (Staten-Generaal). It's made up of two chambers. The upper, First Chamber is called the Senate (Eerst Kamer der Staten-Generaal) and has 75 members elected by 12 provincial councils. The lower, more influential Second Chamber is called the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal) and has 150 members.

The population elects these men and women normally every four years, using a proportional representation system (which means even small parties can win a seat). Unlike the UK and the US, voters vote for a party rather than an individual candidate, and representatives don't represent individual districts but the country as a whole.

A multi-party system

Political parties in the NetherlandsThere is a multi-party system but since 1918, no one party has ever won enough seats to win an outright majority. As such, governments are usually formed by coalitions of two or more political parties.

The main parties are the VVD, PvdA and (in terms of membership) the CDA but there are many smaller parties who have also won seats in the House of Representatives. In recent years, parties have become less centrist and more polarised to the extreme left and right of the political spectrum, as Dutch society becomes increasingly divided over social issues like immigration and integration of minorities, and the European Union. Dutch voters are considered to be among the most volatile in Western Europe, often deciding for whom they will vote at the last minute.

Currently, the Dutch government is a Lib-Lab coalition of VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy) and the PvdA (Labour Party). The prime minister is Mark Rutte, the leader of the VVD. However, although the PvdA is led by Diederik Samson, Dutch politics dictate that a party's parliamentary leader cannot be a member of cabinet. As such, the deputy Prime Minister is Lodewijk Asscher, the most senior minister of the PvdA party. Together Rutte and Asscher head up a coalition cabinet.

Political parties in the Netherlands

Political parties in the Netherlands

Mark Rutte / Lodewijk Asscher

Political parties in the Netherlands

So, starting with the two parties currently in power, here's who's who in Dutch politics:


 Political parties in the NetherlandsThe Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) or People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, was founded in 1948, supported by the non-religious middle classes. It's a centre-right, conservative liberal party, led by Mark Rutte, with an emphasis on private enterprise, the free market, fiscal responsibility, democracy, international co-operation and a welfare state. Over the last few years, the party has shifted more and more to the right with an emphasis on fiscal austerity measures and welfare cuts.

Political parties in the NetherlandsPvdA stands for Partij van de Arbeid or the Labour Party. Led by Diederik Samson, the PvdA is a social-democratic, centre-left party founded in 1946 with the merger of several smaller parties, combining socialist ideas with liberal and humanist ideas. The PvdA went on to build a welfare state. Despite the name, the PvdA has no formal links to trade unions although many of their politicians have come from the FNV, a federation of trade unions in the Netherlands. The success of the PvdA in the 2012 elections has a lot to do with the appeal of its leader Diederik Samson, and his polices which combine austerity measures with compensations for those on lower incomes, as well as boosting economic growth with public money.

Here are the others:

Political parties in the NetherlandsSP stands for the Socialistische Partij or Socialist Party. When it was founded in 1972, it was the Communist Party of the Netherlands but in 1991, it changed direction to become a less radical, democratic socialist party – a move ‘from socialism to social-ism'. Led by Emile Roemer, the SP's vision of society is based on the values of human dignity, equality and solidarity. They are active in campaigns against high rents and poor working conditions, and for fair pay, good health care, opportunities for all and protecting the environment.


Political parties in the NetherlandsPartij voor de Vrijheid, the Party for Freedom, founded in 2006 by the controversial leader Geert Wilders, is a right wing party combining economic liberalism with anti-immigration policies. Wilders' own views once led to him being denied entry to the UK on the grounds that his presence could 'inflame community tensions and lead to inter-faith violence' and he was tried (and later acquitted) for ‘incitement to hatred and discrimination' in Amsterdam. However, the party won nine seats in 2006, and in 2010, while not officially part of the VVD and CDA coalition government, it maintained a formal alliance with the cabinet and was involved in policy discussions. When the PVV walked out of talks about austerity measures, it forced a general election in the autumn of 2012.


Political parties in the NetherlandsThe Christen-Democratische Appel or Christian Democratic Appeal party is led by Sybrand van Haersma Bumaand, and has formed part of almost all the ruling coalitions in the Netherlands since 1945. Despite its name, it has both Christian and non-Christian supporters. It's a centre-right party but with some centre-left leanings. Just after World War II, the Christian democrats (at that time, three separate parties) were winning more than half of all the votes (and seats) in elections but over time, its support has waned. In the 2012 election, it only won 8.5 percent of the vote, coming in fifthafter the right-wing PVV and the Socialist Party.

Democraten 66 (D66)
Political parties in the NetherlandsDemocraten 66 (D66) is a progressive and social-liberal party with roots in the leftist liberal party Vrijzinnig Democratische Bond (190-46), which was formed in 1966 by dissident liberals and social democrats. Led by Alexander Pechtold, its guiding principles are: power and freedom of the individual; international co-operation; rewarding performance and sharing wealth; sustainability and care of the environment; and civil rights for all, regardless of belief, religion, sexual orientation, political views or ethnicity.

ChristenUnie (CU)
ChristenUnie Political parties in the Netherlands: ChristenUnie
or Christian Union CU, led by Arie Slob, is a socially conservative Christian party that bases its policies on the bible (although it's not as extreme as the Reformed Political Party). It holds conservative views on ethical issues like abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia but is more akin to left-wing parties on other issues, such as welfare, immigration and the environment. It was founded in 2000.

Groen Links

Political parties in the NetherlandsGroen Links means Green Left and their name sums up neatly what the party stands for: 'a sustainable and ecologically balanced environment' while protecting the 'most disadvantaged in society'. The party was founded in 1990 with the merger of four smaller radical left wing groups. The current leader is Jolande Sap.


Political parties in the NetherlandsStaatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP), the Reformed Political Party led by Kees van der Staaji, is an extremely religious Protestant party with conservative views. The party's aim is for the Netherlands to be 'reigned entirely on the basis of the ordinances of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures'. It is anti-Europe, anti-abortion, anti-gay and even opposes feminism, believing that 'man is the head of the woman', and it does not allow women to stand for election. The party has seats in both chambers of the Dutch parliament (although it refuses to join any cabinet and uses its seats purely to express its principles) and several hundred at local level.

Political parties in the NetherlandsThe PvdD, not to be confused with the PvdA, stands for Partij voor de Dieren, the Party for the Animals. Established in 2002, this animal rights and environmental party led by Marianne Thieme has seats in the Dutch parliament and Senate, as well as in numerous provincial councils.




Photo credit: .Koen (Mark Rutte); Pc3021 (Lodewijk Asscher); and party logos via Wikimedia Commons.


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3 Comments To This Article

  • Pieter Stek posted:

    on 20th March 2014, 20:15:30 - Reply

    Jorein Versteege's comment is well informed. I agree that the Pv/dA's choice to go along with austerity, and indeed its responsibility through minister Dijsselbloem's for applying it, may have contributed heavily to its undoing. The voters may not be economiists, but this time they appear to have sensed that they were being betrayed to no good purpose.
  • carrico posted:

    on 5th March 2014, 14:43:54 - Reply

    Why are so few women party leaders?
    Thanks for this discussion of the Dutch political system. It kinda makes sense.
  • Jorein Versteege posted:

    on 20th February 2014, 13:41:37 - Reply

    The SP was not the Communist Party of the Netherlands. It was founded by supporters of Mao Zedong who were expelled from the Dutch communist party. In 1972 a Maoist leader created the Socialist Party after he split from the Communist Unity Movement of the Netherlands (Marxist–Leninist). Mao death in 1976 turned the SP away from China. By 1990 it abandoned Marxist socialism for leftist social-democracy. Today the SP is not a socialist party, but a social democratic one.

    Also the Dutch leftist voters did not choose Diederik Samson because they liked his austerity plans. They voted on him to keep Mark Rutte out of government. The PvdA promised a "strong and social nation", but again the social democrats betrayed their leftist electorate. Samson joined with Rutte and the path of austerity and attacks on workers and unemployed. Again this proofs that the PvdA is not a leftist party, but a centrist neoliberal party much like D66.