Need for a new spirit of politics or need of governance in the same old vein?

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VVD’s chances in upcoming elections in the Netherlands

Given that the record-holding Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy – VVD) is quitting after 13 years in office, the political battlefield is currently being changed in the Netherlands. 56-year-old and very experienced Rutte’s departure will undoubtably leave a big hole in the Dutch politics – how and by whom this hole will be filled can be observed after the country’s general elections on 22 November.

Changes in the Dutch political playground have already begun: the campaign is not only visible but it is more heated than ever and the expectations are also higher than during the last four elections which caused no surprise. One thing is for sure: no Dutch politician has ever been beaten with an umbrella during a campaign before 2023, but the case of Dutch far-right leader Thierry Baudet (Forum for Democracy, FVD) who was attacked in the Belgian city of Ghent at the end of October by a man striking with an umbrella showed that in politics, anything can happen.

Although the latest polls show that centrist outsider Pieter Omtzigt’s New Social Contract (NSC, launched in 2023) is leading, followed by VVD and, the green-left alliance is currently polling third, the figures of these polls do not necessarily predict the outcome of the elections. A lot depends on which party succeeds in reaching voters in the run-up to the elections. While the liberal VVD’s main messages to the voters are ’stability’ and ’predictability’, centrist NSC’s campaign is focused on slogans like ’good governance’ and ’safety of livelihoods’. The green-left alliance is campaigning on a green and social agenda in which there is no surprise at all.

Considering VVD’s chances, the fact that this party has given the PM since 2010 can be a significant pro, but Rutte’s recent interviews may have a negative impact on this relatively favourable situation since he himself acknowledged that the effectiveness of his government has gradually been decreasing since his first term. In addition, at the end of October he spoke about his ambition to be NATO secretary general given that his political carreer in the Netherlands will end after the upcoming elections – this may not be that optimistic message the Dutch voters wish to hear right now.

As for Rutte’s interest for NATO’s top job, it should be noted that if there was one single word to describe what Dutch politicians are good at, it would be ’lobbying’. As NATO chief, Rutte could exercise this activity whole day, considering that lobbying is a basic requirement in this job (the secretary general must have unanimous support of all 31 members). Taking into consideration the examples of his party colleagues, one should not be concerned about his living after quitting politics – he undoubtably will do extremely well on the free market.

If it comes to the image of the VVD, the reputation of the party has been considerably eroded in recent years due to various scandals. In the last couple of years, politicians of the VVD has become the focus of attention, most often due to forbidden lobbying on behalf of certain business circles. Former Minister of Infrasture and Water Management, then Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Cora von Nieuwenhuizen, for example, despite an explicite prohibition on lobbying, actively promoted the interests of one certain business circle. Later on, after being dismissed she continued as declared lobbyist in the same business field – she was appointed head of lobby club Energie-Nederland.

It is easy to recall another scandalous case when retired VVD politician and former European Commissioner Neelie Kroes received undesirable media attention because she did not stop to secretely lobbying for the interests of passenger transport company Uber even after she was warned to stop it immediately.

Revealing examples of blatant lobbying include the case of part-time VVD politician Klaas-Jeroen Terwal. While being the second candidate on the list of VVD in Northern Netherlands, he has another job: he is responsible for Public Relations at KLM Dutch airlines. As a VVD politician, he advocates for the need of reduction of harmful emissions, but in his full-time job, he is on the paylist of a company which is responsible for the highest harmful emissions in his country…

The relatively big number of topics the numerous parties try to cover in the campaign can be identified as one of the specific features of the current Dutch elections. Dutch voters can choose from a wide range of campaign subjects including migration policy, nuclear energy, farming issues, climate policy – all these spells can be found in leaflets and podcasts, each and every public discussion and in private debates as well. If Dutch citizens wish they can vote for candidates who are campaigning on with the increase of the minimum wage or parties which are determined to introduce a new top rate income tax. Everything is on the table. ’Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you’, as Pericles said more than two thousand years ago which means that politics will anyway find its way to your soul.

The fact that the ongoing pre-election campaign is so fragmented in regard to campaign themes indicates the failure of the outgoing PM Mark Rutte and his party VVD since if they could successfully cope with the main problems of our days, their opponents did not even have the chance to put these issues on their agenda. Considering the dirty streets of Amsterdam and Eindhoven full of illegal migrants it is quite obvious that VVD has long ago lost the fight against illegal migration which, among others, has led to very serious problems such as bad habitable conditions and unsufficient medical and hospital service. Voting is as much an emotional act as it is an intellectual one, this is a well-known fact. What reaction all this has provoked in Dutch voters, we will see in the next weeks.

The outgoing government’s liberal migration policy has led to social discontent due to the increased costs for living and poor housing conditions, in addition, the government could not avoid hospital overcapacity which seriously undermined the social security system. Lack of a strategic vision in the field of migration caused real damages not only to the Dutch budget but also to the international reputation of the Netherlands. The current situation points to the need for a new political spirit to return to old Dutch values and to re-establish general social satisfaction in the country.

’By voting, we add our voice to the chorus that forms opinions and the basis for actions’, Jens Stoltenberg once said. Dutch voters, critical, independent and capable of taking their own responsible decisions, will definitely select the appropriate political force that can take the nation out of the dead-end street Mark Rutte and VVD governed it.

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