The Netherlands has chosen to build back better in the wake of undergoing the COVID-19 setback

by Renée Frijns

While the forecasts of the recent parliamentary elections in the Netherlands have proven to be correct with respect to which party would become the largest, the new parliamentary composition presents some interesting characteristics. Indeed, the newly formed parliament appears to have decent representation from both sides of the political spectrum, accordingly reflecting a growing diversity of ideologies within the Dutch population.

On 17 March, the municipalities of the Netherlands officially opened their polling stations for the national parliamentary elections. This year, citizens exceptionally had the opportunity to vote on two additional days, namely 15 and 16 March, although these options were primarily provided for people from high-risk groups in terms of COVID-19 infection.

In the course of the late evening on 17 March, the first preliminary results were announced on Dutch media outlets. It came as no surprise to anyone that current Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) has yet again become the largest party by far. In the light of COVID-19, Rutte has expressed to be a fervent supporter of Building Back Better (BBB) after the crisis, with an ambition to ensure that the Netherlands will be more resilient to health threats in the future. The current prognosis indicates that the VVD has scored 34 seats. The progressive liberal-democrat party D66 is now the second largest in the parliament with 24 seats. Losing parties are the leading Green Party (GroenLinks), which passes from 14 to eight seats, the Socialist Party (SP), which had to return five seats and maintains nine, as well as the nationalist Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders, which has to give up three seats, so now has 17. The Christian Democrats (CDA) despite their ambitions, have not been able to match the power of Mark Rutte's VVD, and lose four of the 19 seats they had.

Thierry Baudet's right-wing Forum for Democracy (FvD) can probably count on eight seats. As the party currently only has two in the Parliament, its result is considered to be among the major winners. After the commotion which has been revolving around FvD in recent months, including allegations as to homophobic and antisemitic expressions, the Party is likely to be pleased with their electoral outcome. Their success could be explained by their unique stance on the tremendous impact of the COVID-19 measures, highlighting the burden on people’s integrity and society, and especially their ambition to bring back the old normal, thereby downright opposing Prime Minister Rutte’s BBB position.

At the same time, the Dutch have also cast their eye over a few newcomers. Especially noteworthy is the gain of the pro-European party Volt, established in 2018: it probably manages to secure three seats. Right Answer 21 (JA21), the party that was established within three weeks last December by two ex-FvD members who left their previous party after the tumult in recent months, will also enter the Parliament with three seats. All in all, it is forecasted that 17 parties will have a place in the Parliament, which equals the record from 1918.

Reflecting on the general sentiments in the country, it seems that one major observation can be made regarding the Dutch political landscape, namely that it continues to be more polarised. That is to say, citizens leaning towards leftist ideology consider the results a loss for their side, as they believe the new ruling parties to be right-wing. At the same time, the right-wing segment of the population certainly does not consider themselves as the winners, often stating that Prime Minister Rutte has repeatedly opted for the leftist path. Such sentiments are representative of the political polarisation that is prevailing in the Netherlands, where both sides maintain contrasting ideas as to political ideologies and the values embodied by them.

While this increasing polarisation is of course a concerning reflection of these elections, I prefer to see the positive side. In my view, it appears that our new parliament will be constituted by a reasonable centrist mix, composed of elements from both sides, which is likely to lead to interesting discussions following its establishment.

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