Exam season for Rutte: Let’s not repeat another year

mark-rutte-looking-at-the-pvdaPrime minister Mark Rutte is in danger of failing his exams, writes Greg Shapiro.

As a fan of DutchNews.nl, I’ve been following the news in Nederland closely. I was just taking a look back at the news of the year so far. And – since it’s exam season in the Netherlands – let’s see how the Rutte Cabinet is scoring.

At least Rutte didn’t follow the trend of student exam cheaters this year. But maybe he should have. Does the Rutte Cabinet need to repeat a year? Actually, it feels like we just did.

Taking stock of where we are since one year ago, it’s remarkable how little has changed. It’s not for lack of trying.

Insurance Reform

Since Mark Rutte’s VVD kicked off the coalition with Labour PvdA, they promised some real reforms. They started with healthcare.

My reaction was ‘why healthcare?’ Maybe, like Obama, they thought ‘this will be a nice warm-up for what we really want to get done.’ Or it ends up taking your whole first term.

As it turned out, Rutte didn’t get that far. His proposal for new insurance premiums drew so much criticism – from the EU as well – he took it off the table. Back to the drawing board!

Mortgage reform

This is a biggie. The Dutch rules for mortgage deductions are begging for reform. The Dutch mortgage system is so bizarrely Byzantine that even Wall Street circa 2007 would be impressed. The only people resisting are – everyone with a house.

I myself have a mortgage based on the new rules from the 90s, whereby I’m paying, but not really paying. The reforms Rutte suggested would not have even affected me, just new homeowners starting in the future.

But no! It was too controversial. Rutte took it off the table. Back to the drawing board!

Budget cuts

A real kick in the teeth. After two painful rounds of budget cuts in previous years, the Rutte Cabinet now needs to cut even more. For a while, it looked like we might not have to…

Labour market reform

One of the VVD’s biggest priorities is labour market reform. They want to make it easier for businesses to hire and fire people. For this huge priority, Rutte delegated it to the Labour party.

Actually, it seemed to pay off. Labour deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher assembled a classic ‘Polder Model’ meeting of government, big business and the unions.

Together, they came up with a plan to allow more redundancies – as long as we put off budget cuts for at least another year. Rutte agreed. We had a deal!

If only Mark Rutte could sell the plan to the EU. But no, they insist that rules are rules. To keep the budget deficit at 3%, the Dutch will have to cut next year’s budget – and not by €4.3bn but €6bn to €8bn

The labour deal is off the table. Back to the drawing board!


One bright spot may be the Dutch chairman of the Eurogroup Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

Finally a chance to provide Dutch leadership in the EU! Dijsselbloem was the first to suggest that failed banks should ask investors to share the burden with taxpayers.

For this novel idea, he’s been effectively sidelined. How will the Dutch provide EU leadership? Back to the drawing board!

Don’t forget: Dutch energy policy needs a complete overhaul, as reported this week. Back to the drawing board!

Add to that the Fyra transport debacle. Back to the drawing board1.

A year ago, the Netherlands was being run by a ‘caretaker government’ – just to get us through until elections could be held. A year later, it still feels like a caretaker government. Is the Rutte cabinet trying to tell us something?

Greg Shapiro hosts the weekly news podcast Behind Dutch Headlines

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