Coalition talks begin after Dutch election


EXPLORATORY TALKS on a coalition talks were under way last night between prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party, returned to power in Wednesday’s election, and a resurgent Labour – which came in just two seats behind – in an attempt to avoid a lengthy political vacuum in the Netherlands.

The Liberals took 41 seats in the 150-seat parliament, 10 more than in 2010, making Mr Rutte one of the few European leaders to survive an election during the euro zone crisis. Labour took 39, a gain of nine. Unusually, this means the two parties between them have a safe parliamentary majority.

Within hours of the result, employers and trade unions joined in demanding that the two parties form a stable pro-European government as quickly as possible, avoiding the prospect of months of political in-fighting which could be damaging to the fragile Dutch economy.

“It is up to the victors now to form a stable coalition which will be good for the economy, good for industry – and good for our international standing, on which both depend”, said a joint statement from the three employers’ organisations, referring to the AAA international credit rating of the Netherlands.

The outgoing minority Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition took 127 days to be put together in 2010, relatively speedy by the standards of Dutch polder, or consensus politics, but yesterday the parties’ response was noticeably more urgent.

Talks about talks got under way immediately, with the chairwoman of parliament, Gerdi Verbeet, meeting party leaders to take the initial political temperature. Afterwards, the outgoing Liberal social affairs minister, Henk Kamp, was appointed to oversee the start of the negotiations.

However, Mr Rutte has already said he believes the coalition-building process could be hampered by the fact that for the first time in Dutch history, the monarch will not be involved in facilitating the talks. Queen Beatrix was stripped of that role by parliament last March.

As the initial contacts got under way, there were indications that, in an attempt to build the broadest consensus possible, there may be efforts to widen a Lib-Lab “purple coalition” to include the battered Christian Democrats, who took 13 seats as against 21 in 2010, and the social democrats, D66, who took 12, a gain of two.

Former Labour prime minister Wim Kok said he believed agreement was possible despite differences over Europe, particularly over the potential impact on €13 billion in austerity budget cuts planned for 2013.

“We are well aware that as passengers on the euro ship we must give certain responsibilities to the captain and officers,” he said.

“On the other hand, the problem is that people feel instinctively that we are getting into deep and dangerous waters.”

A four-party coalition would be unassailable and would leave Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, which took only 15 seats, a surprise loss of nine, and the Socialists, who remained on their 2010 total of 15 seats, politically powerless on the opposition benches with a group of smaller two- and three-seat parties.

The new parliament does not meet until next Thursday. On Tuesday, the outgoing government will present the austerity budget which led to its collapse – much of which will now be defunct.