Where's the plan? Government by ad hoc coalition
Friday 01 March 2013
Mark Rutte is getting a lot of experience at finding support to shore up his government when it comes to tricky issues but it hardly makes for stable government, writes DutchNews.nl editor Robin Pascoe.
We've been here already once this year. Housing minister Stef Blok was forced to go cap in hand to other party leaders in order to gather enough support to get housing market reforms through parliament.
Told where to go by the Christian Democrats, Blok turned to the D66 Liberals and two orthodox Christian parties to ensure he had enough votes in the upper house of parliament. The result: a mismash 'housing accord' with a few concessions to his new best friends (such as a slightly lower extra tax on housing corporations) and guaranteed passage through both houses of parliament.
Now the coalition has to do it again. This time Rutte needs to win enough support to get a new package of cuts and tax increases through parliament so that the Netherlands can meet Brussels' budget deficit targets next year.
We've had the government's list - pay freezes for nurses and teachers, tax increases for everyone, a moving around of treasury cash already earmarked for other purposes and - a sop to Labour - extra money to make sure the lowest income households are not hit too hard.
Now the wait is to find out which parties are willing to sign up - and what slight concessions ministers will agree to. GroenLinks says in Saturday's Volkskrant that it is 'ready for a role in the negotiations'. D66 and the two orthodox Christian parties are again being considered as the most likely candidates. The mixture has already been nicknamed Purple plus the Bible.
Purple is the name given to a coalition of Labour, the VVD and D66 which ruled from 1994 to 2002. The Bible refers to ChristenUnie and the SGP, who together control three crucial seats in the senate.
Rutte got himself embroiled with the SGP in his previous administration by renouncing classic VVD ideology and agreeing not to relax the Sunday shopping laws. And why? He needed the support of the men in black suits and their one seat in the senate.
But that was only one of the temporary alliances the prime minister forged in the year or so his previous administration was in office.
It all began with the decision to include Geert Wilders' PVV as a semi-official silent coalition partner - but a partner which was allowed to pick and chose which policies to support.
And after Wilders had enough and walked out, Rutte and his remaining partner, the CDA, teamed up with D66, GroenLinks, and ChristenUnie to throw together a mismash of measures which became known as the Spring Agreement. Speed was of the essence because the government had to tell Brussels how it planned to bring down the budget deficit by the end of April.
Much of what was agreed disappeared from the radar after the election and the new coalition - the VVD and Labour - drew up its own plans.
And here we are again. Same time of year, more bad economic news and the same need to meet the Brussels end-of-April deadline. Rutte and the new coalition's plans do not go far enough.
This means we are faced with the prospect of another hastily put together coalition and political compromise to present to Brussels - a compromise to show the Netherlands is a good European and taking its debt reduction duties seriously.
The VVD and Labour may have emerged the overwhelming winners in last September's general election but without a majority in the senate, the two parties are being forced to look for alliances for every bit of even slightly controversial legislation.
What first appeared to be a stable government with a solid majority is starting to look increasingly precarious. The opposition parties have a free hand to flex their muscles and see just how far they can get the prime minister to go.
Rutte and his fellow ministers have already been muttering about 'financial room to manoeuvre' and 'nothing being set in stone' when it comes to the new round of cuts and tax increases. It's a position which shows a complete lack of vision and an air of desperation.
Still, something will be cobbled together and another crisis will be averted, allowing the parties which have stepped in to boast about their readiness to take responsibility.
And once that alliance is out of the way ministers can start working on the next one. What will it be? Well, the government needs help to get its plans to reform student funding through the upper house. D66, GroenLinks and the others have already said they want concessions.