Talking about talks may not get us anywhere

As the right-wing Liberals VVD, the Christian Democrats and anti-Islam PVV get down to talks about talks on possibly forming a ‘right-wing government’ it is worth looking at which issues they actually have in common, writes Robin Pascoe.

CDA leader Maxime Verhagen has made it quite clear that a number of elements in the PVV’s manifesto are non-negotiable.
A ban on immigration from Islamic countries, the closure of all Islamic schools, a ban on the Koran and the introduction of a tax on headscarves… none of these are ever going to become a reality in a cabinet involving the CDA.
Nor is a foreign policy based on combating Islam. The Dutch will not start calling Jordan Palestine.
Common ground
So let us put all that aside for the moment, and pretend the PVV is not anti-Islam. What other common ground is there between the three parties to build a right-wing cabinet on?
Here’s a quick summary of the main economic policies – the subjects which dominated the election campaign.
Spending cuts by 2014: €20bn
Mortgage tax relief: No change
State pension age: increased by two months a year to 67
Healthcare own risk: increase to €300
Unemployment benefit (ww): cut to one year max
Development aid: €4.5bn in cuts on development aid and EU spending
Student grants: switch to loans
Spending cuts by 2015: €16bn
Mortgage tax relief: no change
State pension age: no change
Healthcare own risk: no change
Unemployment benefit: no change
Student grants: no change
Development aid: abolish apart from in emergencies
Spending cuts by 2015: €18bn
Mortgage tax relief: no change
Pension age: increase in three stages to 67 by 2027
Unemployment benefit: cut to one year max
Student grants: no change
Development aid: no change
Healthcare own risk: improvements to system
To begin, it is obvious that changes to mortgage tax relief is a non-starter. All three parties are opposed to any cuts in the Dutch system, which is the most generous in Europe. So there are no differences there then.
And on the pension age increase, Wilders was very clear. As soon as it emerged the party had won 24 seats, he immediately said keeping the state pension age at 65 was no longer sacrosanct. Pragmatic and opportunist, yes but his supporters did not seem to mind. So retirement at 67 is definitely on the cards.
But increasing the cost of healthcare is likely to be a thorny issue as will the CDA and VVD’s wish to cut unemployment benefit.
So how to make those pesky cuts in government spending? Shortly after the election VVD leader Mark Rutte described the PVV as socialist on the economy. And a quick scan of the PVV’s main economic pointers does not exactly reveal a dynamic party bent on economic reform. No change, no change, no change.
Nevertheless, both the VVD and PVV are opposed to any tax increases – or passing the cost of reducing the budget deficit onto the man in the street.
According to its manifesto, the PVV plans to make €16m in savings from abolishing development aid (which the CDA has said is out of the question) ending non-western immigration (another non starter) and making life more difficult for immigrants, getting money back from the EU (highly unlikely) cutting spending on defence and the arts and – everyone’s favourite – reducing the size of government and the civil service and slashing red tape.
So without the anti-Islam and isolationist policies, how is Wilders going to get up to the €18bn in actual spending cuts that Rutte insists on? It makes one wonder if they have enough to build a coalition on at all.
Even if the talks about talks point up the possibilities of a government involving the VVD, CDA and PVV, there is a very long way to go before we have a strong, united coalition.