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The political landscape in the Netherlands underwent a historic shift during its 2023 elections, which took place on 22 November. A clash over migration and refugee issues had previously led to the fall of the fourth (and last) Rutte cabinet. It quickly became clear that the Dutch elections 2023 would usher in a new era when outgoing Prime Minister Rutte announced he would not seek a new term as party leader for his liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Many other experienced Dutch politicians likewise announced that they would step down, paving the way for new faces. What followed was a relatively short and fiery campaigning period. Since the cabinet fell over migration, it became a central election theme. Other themes which appealed to voters were healthcare, and social security (“bestaanszekerheid”).
In the run-up to election day, the campaign developed into a race between four prominent parties: the VVD, the Party for Freedom (PVV), the GreenLeft/Labour Party alliance (GL/Pvda) and New Social Contract (NSC). With the unprecedented win of the PVV, spearheaded by Geert Wilders, the Netherlands has embarked on a new political path, which is likely going to have profound consequences for the EU.
Going into election day, polls indicated that everything was still to play between the Big Four. The results, however, showed something different: Wilders’ PVV smashed all expectations and won 37 seats, 12 more than the second biggest party, the GL-PvdA (25 seats). They are followed by the VVD (24 seats) and NSC (20).
In this article, our experts at Publyon EU and Publyon NL dive into the details of the Dutch elections 2023, providing you with a comprehensive overview of the impact of the outcome on the country and on the international scene.
The outcome of the Dutch elections 2023
What led to the victory of Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom?
What’s the reason for PVV’s surprise result? Wilders took advantage of a campaign revolving around some of his favourite themes: migration, housing, and healthcare. Spotting an opportunity to appeal to centre-right voters disappointed by several centrist Rutte cabinets, Wilders managed to present himself as a viable alternative on the right of the VVD, appearing ‘milder’ compared to his previous more anti-Islamic coloured campaigns.
The VVD gave Wilders a helping hand by not ruling out PVV as a coalition partner (as it had done in previous elections), meaning that PVV for the first time seemed to have a chance at governing.
The coalition formation process and coalition agreement: latest updates after the Dutch elections 2023
The Netherlands now enters the (often long and arduous) process of forming a government. As the Tweede Kamer (the House of Representatives) has 150 members, any government would need at least 76 seats to realise its plans.
There is also a Dutch Senate, which rubber-stamps the laws proposed by the House of Representatives. Elections for the Senate took place in March this year, with the farmers’ rights party BBB achieving a spectacular victory, but they did not manage to replicate that feat this time around.
On Monday 11 December, former Minister Ronald Plasterk – earlier appointed as ‘verkenner’ or ‘explorer’ of potential coalitions – concluded the exploration phase of the formation and began the next phase, the ‘information’ phase. He concluded from the exploration phase of the formation that there is no longer a hard ‘no’ between parties.
With which parties are we entering the ‘information’ phase, then? In addition to the VVD and BBB, the NSC is also willing to negotiate with the PVV on what could ultimately become a coalition agreement. Therefore, a right-wing coalition seems to be the most likely outcome at this stage of the process.
In his final report, Plasterk advises that the four parties first investigate whether they can find “agreement” on “safeguarding the Constitution, fundamental rights, and the democratic rule of law.” The word ‘negotiate’ is not mentioned in the advice, but Plasterk made it clear in an explanation that negotiations will already take place in this phase. If successful, the four parties can continue discussing other topics, such as migration or climate. The informant will then come up with a final report no later than the beginning of February.
The political actors of the potential right-wing coalition
Party for Freedom (PVV)
- Political spectrum: far-right
- European party: Identity & Democracy (ID)
- Political leader: Geert Wilders
- Specifics: Longtime leader Wilders tried to present himself as more moderate than before, softening his anti-Islam rhetoric in a bid to appeal to centre-right voters.
People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
- Political spectrum: Centre-right liberals
- European Party: Renew Europe (RE)
- Political leader: Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius
- Specifics: Many hoped that Yesilgöz-Zegerius would become the first female Prime Minister and the first with a migration background.
New Social Contract (NSC)
- Political spectrum: centre
- European party: Not yet known, but likely European People’s Party (EPP)
- Political leader: Pieter Omtzigt
- Specifics: Brand-new party that was founded by Omtzigt, popular for his role in uncovering a major government scandal relating to incorrectly suspected child benefits fraud.
Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB)
- Political spectrum: right-wing and agrarian party
- European party: European People’s Party (EPP)
- Political leader: Caroline van der Plas
- Specifics: A new party founded after the farmer’s protests in 2019. The BB won the Dutch provincial elections in 2023 with the popular vote and received the most seats.
The winner takes it all…
Even though the GL/PvDA alliance was the second-biggest party in the Dutch elections 2023, it is currently not part of the coalition-forming process under Plasterk. It is most likely this alliance will be in the opposition.
GreenLeft/Labour Party (GL/PvdA)
- Political spectrum: Centre-left party alliance
- European party: GL: Greens/EFA; PvdA: Socialists & Democrats (S&D)
- Political leader: Frans Timmermans
- Specifics: Timmermans left his post as European Commissioner responsible for the European Green Deal to head this labour-green alliance for the elections.
Dutch elections 2023: Implications for the Netherlands
The major winner of the Dutch elections 2023, the PVV, declares in its election program, “The Climate Law, the Climate Agreement, and all other climate measures will go directly through the shredder.” Whether this stance will be strictly adhered to remains to be seen.
To secure a majority, Wilders would need to collaborate with parties committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, the European Green Deal, and the Dutch Climate Law. Additionally, climate wasn’t the central theme in the campaign, and there is still a substantial majority in the Second Chamber supporting existing climate goals.
Currently, a coalition involving PVV, NSC, and potentially BBB with support from VVD seems the most viable option. All these parties agree on making the energy transition affordable and feasible for citizens.
All these parties see nuclear energy as an affordable, clean option, although PVV is alone in arguing for continuing to use coal and gas. BBB insists on phasing out fossil energy sources only when affordable sustainable alternatives are available. VVD and NSC, on the other hand, aim for an accelerated transition to sustainable electricity options, albeit with a ‘responsible’ approach. In essence, if these parties form a coalition, less investment will likely be directed towards climate and energy, placing a greater responsibility on businesses to prevent delays in necessary transitions.
It is very possible that a right-wing coalition will take on a more passive role towards introducing climate policies. This does not mean that companies looking to invest in the green transition will no longer be supported. However, it suggests a potential shift in emphasis for the government between economic considerations and environmental commitments.
Dutch elections 2023: Implications for the EU
Dutch Eurosceptism and changing priorities?
Under Mark Rutte’s cabinets, the Netherlands has been a stable and cooperative actor in the Council of the EU, with a trusted and recognisable leader. The Netherlands has also consistently pushed for more ambitious climate policy at European level.
Of course, the stance of the Netherlands towards the EU will depend on which coalition will eventually be formed. With the right-wing option currently most likely, it is time to look at the repercussions such a coalition might have in Brussels.
The right-wing option could see a potential Dutch shift towards a more Eurosceptic stance. The PVV’s party programme, for instance, advocates for a referendum on a Dutch exit from the EU. If a right-wing coalition led by Wilders as a prime minister materialises, it could alter the dynamics within the Council, aligning the Netherlands with right-wing leaders such as the Hungarian Viktor Orbán and Italian Giorgia Meloni. A left-leaning coalition is not in the books, while a centrist coalition also looks increasingly unlikely as talks between the current negotiating parties continue.
Examining the prospects of a right-wing PVV/BBB/NSC/VVD, expectations lean towards a more inward-looking approach, prioritising national considerations and ‘less Brussels’. This could manifest, for example, in opposition to EU enlargement, the implementation of stricter migration policies, including tightening of EU borders and advocating against increased financial contributions to the EU. While explicit plans for a ‘Nexit’ are not on the table, the coalition might explore opt-outs for specific EU policies, as suggested by parties including NSC and the PVV.
This potential shift to the right could also bring climate and agricultural policies under discussion. The parties in the discussed coalition support nuclear energy, prefer affordability over ambition, and give more leeway to farmers and agriculture over biodiversity concerns. With the focus for the next Commission shifting towards implementation, the Netherlands will be tasked with implementing policies to fulfil European climate targets.
As the European Green Deal and Fit for 55 Package are almost finalised, the new coalition will have a say in the transposition of Directives such as the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III), which in many cases leave open how countries reach the targets in the legislation. Since the 2030 ambitions are already in place, any new coalition is bound to these targets, but may take different approaches in how to reach them.
In addition, the European Commission is expected to present a climate target for 2040 early next year, and the next mandate may see the introduction of several further specific targets for 2040 and beyond. When it comes to new targets or new climate ambitions, a right-wing Dutch cabinet could have an impact, for example by pushing for ‘more realistic’ targets, more leeway for businesses or more attention for nuclear energy.
Is Euroscepticism spreading across the EU?
Geert Wilders’s PVV win was first lauded by Viktor Orbán, the right-wing Prime Minister of Hungary. While the far-right-wing win in the Netherlands may come as a surprise, it fits into a broader development among European countries, such as France and Germany, who have right-wing, populist, and anti-immigration parties scoring high in the election polls.
Immigration issues, insecurity regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war, disappointment with current ruling parties and the political unrest in the Middle East are feeding into the narratives of these parties who often call for ‘less Brussels’ and more focus on domestic policies.
In Italy and Hungary, the far right is also coming up, as well as in Sweden. And while Poland now may have a centre-left parliamentary majority, the national conservative right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) remained the biggest single party during the October elections.
In the coming year, many more national elections within Europe are in sight. Only between December and June next year (before the EU elections), presidential elections will take place in Finland, Slovakia, and Lithuania, and parliamentary elections in Portugal and Belgium. The Flemish Interest Party (Vlaams Belang) in Belgium is expected to do well in the elections, while the far right is also improving its standing in polls in Finland.
The outcomes of these elections will be critical as the winning parties and consequent governments will have a direct influence on the composition of the Council of the EU. Considering the upcoming EU elections, this also reflects the priorities of EU voters. While a recent poll indicated that more than three-quarters (77%) of EU citizens think climate change is a very serious threat, other topics such as immigration, conflicts and living costs appear more urgent to voters. While it is too early to say how this will directly impact future EU policy, it might be likely that EU heads of government will push for stricter migration policies, will reel in some of their more ambitious climate agendas and will aim to keep the EU budget more in check.
What will happen in Brussels? A look at the European Parliament
The Dutch election results sent shockwaves through Brussels. Wilders’ past criticisms of the EU have netted him few friends in the EU institutions – or at least outside of his ideological bubble. Even if his Euroscepticism might be moderated by coalition partners, a PVV-led Dutch cabinet would reverberate in Brussels, especially now that a new legislative term is coming up.
From 6 to 9 June 2024, the European elections are taking place. Currently, the EU institutions are working on finalising as much of the current EU agenda as possible. From March onwards, policy work in the European Parliament virtually stops and campaigning season will be in full force. Of course, European political groups and national political parties are already busy working on their programmes and candidate lists.
The PVV is a member of the radical right Identity and Democracy (ID) group in the European Parliament. With 73 seats in the European Parliament (on a total of 705, which is increasing to 720 after the elections), ID currently is the fifth biggest party in the European Parliament, after centre-right EPP, social-democrat S&D, liberal Renew Europe, and the Greens.
While the first two seem to be on track to remain the two biggest parties in the European Parliament according to recent European election polls, PVV’s result in the Netherlands as well as good polling performances by AfD in Germany and RN in France could see ID vying to become third biggest. Other contenders for that spot are Renew Europe (despite projected losses) and the conservative ECR group, while the Greens are facing significant losses.
Overall, a shift to the right in the European Parliament seems most likely, although the current centre-left to centre-right bloc (EPP/S&D/Renew and occasionally the Greens), which passed most of the EU’s climate legislation in the past Parliament, is expected to maintain its majority. The impact of the rise of PVV (and other right-wing parties), then, is that it might lead to a more ‘critical’ European Parliament – with occasional majorities found over the right instead of centre – but one which will also still be able to pass legislation through a centrist majority.
Another narrative for the European elections concerns the still unannounced European political groups of two other potential coalition partners: NSC and BBB. The former seems guaranteed to join the EPP, providing a boost to the numbers of that group: party leader Omtzigt is an EPP member in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. BBB, meanwhile, previously announced it would choose between EPP, ECR and Renew – the first two groups seem to be the most likely options.
What about the other EU institutions?
After the European elections and the subsequent installation of the new European Parliament, a new European Commission will be formed by late 2023, with potential Commissioners nominated by national governments and confirmed by the European Parliament and the European Council.
What kind of role a new Dutch government will play in this process of course depends on when that government is there. Commissioner for Climate Action Wopke Hoekstra is the current Dutch representative in the European Commission, but he may find it hard to remain in position if a right-wing coalition is already in place. Still, this does not have to be prohibitive: Frans Timmermans was reconfirmed as European Commissioner in 2019, despite his party not being in government. In addition, a right-wing coalition may be less interested in keeping the climate portfolio within the European Commission in favour of one that is more politically salient, such as migration.
Finally, ahead of the start of the mandate, heads of government will convene in the European Council to set the larger political priorities for the EU ahead of the next mandate in a strategic agenda. They will assess which major challenges the EU institutions will need to tackle through new legislation. Think of EU enlargement, climate policy, competitiveness, defence, migration and so on.
The strategic agenda is set to be adopted by June 2024. Since leaders are already discussing it (the first meeting took place in Granada in October), the influence of a potential Prime Minister Wilders on this process will most likely be modest, unless a cabinet is formed very soon.
If you want to follow the latest developments ahead of the European elections 2024, keep an eye on our blog post. Our experts will keep updating it according to the latest news.
The outcome of the Dutch elections 2023: relevance and impact on businesses
The unprecedented win of the far-right PVV in the Netherlands signifies a political shift that will influence businesses operating within the Netherlands but also reflects a broader shift within the EU. The Dutch government’s approach towards climate and energy will likely change, which can result in less government investment directed towards climate initiatives and fewer incentives to pursue sustainable business operations.
This will leave a greater responsibility on businesses to take the lead in sustainable practices to contribute to the green transition. Industries related to sustainable energy may face challenges, while traditional industries might see a more lenient regulatory environment.
Why is it crucial for your business to stay active?
As Euroscepticism may gain prominence within the EU, businesses should closely monitor the political development and potential changes in priorities on the national and EU levels. For businesses with cross-border operations, this shift may necessitate a more agile and adaptive approach to comply with evolving regulations.
Businesses should also stay informed about the evolving policies and engage in proactive dialogue with relevant authorities on the national, regional and EU levels to actively shape policy to best serve their business interests.
Are you curious how these developments will specifically impact your business? With offices in both Brussels and The Hague, Publyon can play a pivotal role in helping organisations navigate the Dutch electoral outcomes and their impact both in the Netherlands and the EU. Stay informed with our latest updates and reach out to our Dutch and EU experts to see how we can support you.
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