Do you know your PvdA from your PvdD? Or your SP from your SGP? Let us unravel the acronyms of the Dutch political parties.
Before considering the political parties in the Netherlands, it’s helpful to know how the county’s overall political system works.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.
It has a Head of State, who is the monarch. Currently this is King Willem-Alexander, who ascended the throne in 2013 following his mother’s abdication. The Dutch Head of State has ceremonial powers only.
Then there’s the Prime Minister, who is currently Mark Rutte. He is the head of the Dutch government, and has been in power since 2010.
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
There 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, the integration of minorities, and the European Union.
Dutch voters are considered to be among the most volatile in Western Europe, often deciding who they’re going to vote for at the last minute.
Currently, the Dutch government is a coalition of four parties; the VVD, CDA, D66 and CU – this has been the case since the last general election in 2017.
Political parties in the Netherlands
So, as there are so many important players, here’s who’s who in Dutch politics:
The 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, placing added importance on fiscal austerity measures and welfare cuts.
The VVD secured 33 seats in the 2017 election, and it remains the Netherlands’ largest political party.
PvdA stands for Partij van de Arbeid, or the Labour Party. Led by Lodewijk Asscher, 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 party lost a significant amount of seats in the 2017 election, making it the country’s seventh-largest party.
SP 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 Lilian Marijnissen, 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.
In the 2017 election, the SP lost a seat bringing its total to 14.
Partij 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.
In the most recent election in 2017, the PVV won 20 seats, making it the second largest party in Parliament – but all other major parties had already said they would not form a coalition with the PVV.
The 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 2017 elections, the CDA gained six seats to become the third-largest party.
Democraten 66 (D66)
Democraten 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 Rob Jetten, 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 or Christian Union CU, led by Gert-Jan Segers, 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 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 Jesse Klaver.
Staatkundig 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.
The 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.