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Without liberals, Christian Democrats lack direction

27/02/2010

While like the rest of Europe, the Netherlands has to deal with three crises – economic, ecological and social – this coalition has prided itself on blocking measures, rather than taking action. It is not even clear whether the one significant reform law that was adopted – the long overdue raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2025 – will be able to take effect now that the government has collapsed. Wouter Bos’ Labour party boasts blocking major economic reforms, like greater labour market flexibility, while Balkenende’s CDA prides itself on blocking Labour’s desired referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and a parliamentary enquiry into the Iraq war. Though the coalition agreed that euro 35 billion worth of budget cuts are needed, they have outsourced the matter to committees of civil servants without providing any direction.

So why did the government fall?

In 2007 the Dutch government had promised that the last Dutch troops would leave Uruzgan in 2010, arguing that proportionally the Dutch have already done more than their fair share of supporting NATO’s endeavors there. A small country delivering 2000 troops in one of the most dangerous Afghan provinces, compares very favorably to Germany’s 4400 in the relatively safe North or France’s 3700. Whereas Wouter Bos wanted to stick to this agreement, the Christian Democrats wanted another extension. The Parliament set a deadline of March 1st for a clear government proposal on the way ahead, forcing a showdown between the partners.

 

With municipal elections on March 3rd, Labour was in no mood to back down or compromise, its leader Bos having been called a “turncoat” too many times for their liking. At the same time the Christian-Democrats, who could easily have saved the coalition by agreeing to implement the existing agreement, insisted on keeping all options on the table in the full knowledge there would never be a parliamentary majority for extending the presence in Uruzgan. In short ego’s and electoral posturing came before the economic needs of the country. It is not surprising then that polls indicate that voters feel both major parties are to blame for this collapse.

On a more positive note, it is hoped that a new coalition will be able to get to work with desperately needed measures to battle the economic crisis, lead on climate and energy issues and ensure social cohesion. I expect the voters to turn to parties that have a proven track record in this regard, which includes my own. In fact the longest serving Balkenende government was the second one with the two liberal parties, VVD and D66. Without the liberals to provide direction, it is clear the Christian-Democrats have no idea what policy choices to make, especially in times of crisis.

 

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