Tag Archives dutch politics

A right-wing populist party ‘won’ the Dutch elections. What does this mean? And will Geert Wilders become Prime Minister?

In this blog, Thea Hilhorst looks at the potential outcomes following the Dutch general election last week. Whilst the PVV party, led by Geert Wilders, won the largest proportion of votes, this is just the beginning of the government-forming process. The Dutch system requires building governing coalitions, and the largest party does not always form the next government. So, what is the PVV? How might they govern? And will Geert Wilders become Prime Minister?

Photo 5533984 | Dutch Parliament © Jan Kranendonk | Dreamstime.com

Last Wednesday, 22 November, the PVV (Party for Freedom) led by Geert Wilders won the most votes in the national elections in the Netherlands. But the national elections to elect members of the Lower House of parliament in The Netherlands is just the beginning of the government-forming process.

The Netherlands has a system of parliamentary elections, unlike other countries that have presidential elections. In those countries, the two winners of a first round of elections may need to contend in a second round until one of the presidential candidates obtains a majority vote. In a parliamentary system, on the other hand, elections are about allocating parliamentary seats to political parties. The Netherlands has 150 parliamentary seats, and a party or coalition needs 76 seats to form a government, and so select a Prime Minister. The PVV came out of the elections as the largest party with 37 seats. As there are 150 seats in total, this means that slightly less than 25% of the electorate voted for PVV (and 75% did not).The second place in the elections came to the combination of the Green Left and Socialist Party, that ran together in these elections for 25 seats, followed by 24 seats for the currently largest party VVD and 20 seats for the new party of New Social Contract.

Another notable difference between a presidential and a parliamentary system is the different power invested in the leader of the government. While a President usually has executive power, a Prime Minister is technically speaking just the chairperson of the government – although far more powerful in practice than this job description would imply.


What is the PVV? And what did they win?

The Party for Freedom is mainly known for its leader: Geert Wilders, who has started PVV in 2005, having previously been a politician for the VVD party (of Mark Rutte, current Dutch PM). As a party it stands out, because there is no membership and hence it is often referred to as a ‘one-man show’. The PVV can be seen as a right-wing populist party. It rides strongly on anti-immigrant sentiments and islamophobia, and it denies the relevance of climate policies. Its political programme for the election proposes to end immigration, development cooperation and involvement in climate action. Geert Wilders also announced he wants to spend “not a single Euro” on gender equality, and he is a proclaimed fan of NEXIT (Netherlands leaving the EU). Socio-economically the PVV profiles itself as the champion of marginalized people, promising to lower costs for health insurance, lower the retirement age and increase minimum wages, although it is not clear how proposed measures will be financed.

The PVV has never previously been part of the Dutch government, but in 2010 they did provide support to the first government formed by Mark Rutte. This arrangement, sometimes known as a ‘confidence and supply’ formation meant that whilst the PVV did not provide any Ministers, they did support the government during votes in the Upper and Lower chambers of the Dutch parliament. In any case, the PVV pulled out of this arrangement in 2012 and collapsed the government, leading to fresh elections.


The Dutch government is almost always a coalition, and the process can take months

In the Dutch parliamentary system, coalitions need to be formed of different parties to reach a majority of seats in the parliament. Ruling by a single party could only happen when a political party won more than 75 seats, which has never happened in Dutch history. This means that PVV cannot form a government unless it can form a coalition with at least two more parties. The RTL News service has made a handy ‘coalition forming tool’– with so many political parties having been elected, coalitions can involve up to 5 parties in partnership. The formation of a coalition is a long-term process. The last government of the Netherlands consisted of 4 different parties and only reached an agreement  after 271 days. It is usual that the largest party can initiate the coalition building process, and that this party will take the lead in the government and provide the Prime Minister. This is not always the case, in fact there have been 11 elections in the 20th century where the leader of the largest party did not become Prime Minister, the most recent in 1986.

Moreover, it is even possible that the winner is not going to be part of the new government at all. Whilst the largest party is given the first chance to form a coalition, there have been a few historical precedents where coalition negotiations failed, and new negotiations started up with other parties. This can have the consequence that the party with the largest number of seats is shut out of the government. This happened three times in the last century, and co-incidentally always in cases where the Labour (PvdA) party won the elections. In 1982, the party obtained 52 seats, more than one third of the votes, and was nonetheless side-lined in the formation of the government.


What happens next?

Formation processes are very unpredictable. The programmes of PVV and any likely coalition partners (other parties on the right side of the political landscape) have some issues in common but are also hugely different on others. An additional complications  is that the VVD –the largest party for the last 12 years – now has a new leader who has initially ruled out working with the PVV. The new leader, Dilan Yeşilgöz, remarkably has a refugee background herself yet opposes liberal asylum practices.  The second likely coalition partner for the PVV would be New Social Contract (NSC), that is an entirely new Party formed by the popular parliamentarian Pieter Omtzigt, who won 20 seats  at the first election it joined. The combination of a new leader of the VVD and an entirely new party sitting at the negotiation table with Geert Wilders, who has been a solo player since he started the PVV, makes the process markedly unpredictable.

The three parties may find it easy to form a right-wing government in no time, or they may clash over their differences and leave an open arena for other parties to try to form a coalition. Only time will tell.

Follow Link on LinkedIn.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Anti-discrimination legislation: findings from a parliamentary investigation and some recommendations

Despite myriad legal provisions in place in the Netherlands to prevent discrimination, it remains a serious issue, permeating all societal sectors and informing government actions and policies, as the recent childcare allowance scandal has shown. Between 2020 and 2022, ISS Rector Ruard Ganzevoort in his capacity as a member of the Dutch Senate chaired a parliamentary committee of inquiry that examined the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation. In this blog article, he discusses some of the key findings of the investigation and names six factors that can be considered when seeking to ensure that existing laws effectively prevent discrimination.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Why is it that discrimination is rampant, even when strong anti-discrimination laws are in place? And not just discrimination by individuals or organizations, but also by government institutions? In the Netherlands, a country often priding itself on its strong (although at least partly imagined) history of tolerance and equality, this has come to the public attention with the childcare allowance scandal, where substantial indications of systemic or institutional discrimination in our social welfare system and our tax system surfaced.

As a member of the Dutch Senate, a position I held until last June, I chaired a parliamentary committee of inquiry on the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation. The question the Senate wanted to address is why our legislation seems unable to curb this widespread and systemic discrimination. The first article in the Dutch Constitution explicitly bans discrimination on any ground. We also have specific laws against discrimination on more specific grounds. We have implemented a system for complaints and local institutions to address individual cases. In short, we have extensive policies against discrimination. And yet… discrimination not only persists despite our legislation and policies but sometimes because of them. And it is highly detrimental to our citizens.

The committee looked specifically at discrimination in the domains of 1) the labour market, 2) education, 3) social security, and 4) the police — four domains with a different degree of governmental influence. In each domain, we selected specific issues in discrimination that would help us understand the dynamics so that we can improve the legislative process. In the domain of social security, we looked at two issues: first, the role of algorithms in detecting unlawful use of social support and, second, the fact that certain groups tend to avoid the social security system, even if they are entitled to receive support.

The results of the inquiry were published in June last year and can be viewed here (full report in Dutch) and here (summary in English). Below, I briefly discuss two key findings from the report: that algorithms carry a discriminatory risk, and that people do not access social security provisions available to them in part because the government seems to mistrust eligible persons.


Algorithms can discriminate and pose a risk

The analysis of our investigation highlighted the discriminatory risk of algorithms, especially when prejudice and bias are incorporated into the risk profiles and data sets. Moreover, even relevant and / or seemingly neutral information can contribute to the discriminatory use of profiles and data. A combination of postal codes, IP addresses, and phone numbers for example can indicate ethnicity or nationality and thereby can result in indirect discrimination.


Government distrust may explain failure to access social security provisions

Regarding the non-use of social security provisions, the complexity of the system and the fact that the government seems to mistrust those who need support were found to be important factors. This regards especially those with fewer social-economic resources and people with structural or temporarily impaired capabilities. Although these criteria are hard to define in law, the outcome can be seen as discriminatory.


Six factors to consider for more effective legislation

Analyzing cases from these four domains, the investigation yielded six crucial factors that are not only relevant for the effectiveness of legislation (although that was the focus of the analysis), but also for policies in organizations. In those cases, the word ‘government’ can be exchanged for ‘leadership’.

  1. First, trust. Does the government trust or mistrusts its citizens? The fundamental attitude should be that people by and large can be trusted and that in varying degrees they need support. If the government displays fundamental mistrust, this will likely result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Second, attention. Does the government display continuous attention for discriminatory processes and outcomes, and does it listen specifically to what people need and experience? Lack of attention puts systems above people and easily results in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Third, norms and language. Do new laws explicitly refer to antidiscrimination principles and make them concrete? And are implicit norms inclusive enough or do they favor certain groups? Vague and implicit norms can easily result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Fourth, simplicity. Do our laws and policies provide transparent, consistent, and integrated criteria and regulations to citizens and institutions, including educators and social services? The complexity of our laws and policies makes it difficult for citizens to claim the support they need, to execute their rights and to file complaints where needed. It also yields space for bias and prejudice and can therefore result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Fifth, leadership and accountability. Does the government explicitly make institutions and organizations responsible to curb discrimination and to arrange accountability structures? And do our policies provide for the necessary skills and professional space to use and account for discretionary power and hardship clauses? Failure to do so, especially in situations of unclear norms or conflicting political demands, may result in discriminatory laws and policies.


  1. Sixth, clear and effective complaint procedures. Are the possibilities for citizens to complain about certain decisions clear, accessible, and effective? It is not enough to have procedures in place, if people cannot realistically use them. Moreover, this should not be the only safeguard because then only the well-resourced citizens are able to use them which actually increases the risk of discriminatory laws and policies.


Trust, attention, norms, simplicity, leadership and accountability, and clear procedures. Obviously, these principles for legislation and policies are not a foolproof remedy for discrimination. They are, however, an important instrument in addressing the systemic and institutional dimensions of discrimination. They clarify how our legislative processes and organizational policies can willingly or unwillingly result in discrimination, and they show what we can do to reduce that. In the end, of course, they turn out to be just principles for good laws and good policies for all our citizens.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Follow Bliss on LinkedIn.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Ruard Ganzevoort is rector at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Knowledge is the missing link in the Dutch aid and trade agenda

On the eve of the national elections set to take place on 17 March in the Netherlands, developmental issues are being debated and diverging solutions proposed by political parties running in the elections. A recent debate organized by SAIL on the role of knowledge in aid and trade relations indicated that even though not receiving much attention in pre-election debates, knowledge produced by Dutch knowledge institutes is considered vital in sustaining aid and trade relations between the Netherlands and its counterparts in the Global South, writes Linda Johnson.

On 12 February, in anticipation of the upcoming national elections, a debate was organized by SAIL, a platform for knowledge institutes such as the ISS that promotes international education and research for inclusive sustainable development in the Global South. The debate was intended to bring attention to the missing link of ‘knowledge’ in international relations and the role that knowledge institutes situated in the Netherlands wish to play in the post-election policy landscape.  SAIL feels strongly that international relations all too frequently are not sufficiently informed by knowledge produced by Dutch knowledge institutes. This means that a key source of knowledge and a wealth of connections between the Netherlands and the Global South remain largely untapped and underutilised.

Five members of parliament (MP) participated in the debate: Kirsten van den Hul (PvdA), Dennis Wiersma (VVD), Jan Paternotte (D66), Mustafa Amhaouch (CDA), and Tom van den Nieuwenhuijzen (GL). Thea Hilhorst, professor of humanitarian studies at ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam and Marhijn Visser of the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW) provided introductory and closing remarks on the theme. Over 200 participants followed the debate online. Marcia Luyten, a well-known Dutch publicist, led the discussions.

The debate was interesting because it made clear that there is a strong willingness on the part of politicians to engage with knowledge institutes with a view to shape future policy.

Partnerships that last

It is hard to overstate the case for ensuring that Dutch knowledge institutes become a key piece in the shaping and implementing of policy in relation to aid and trade with partners in the Global South. Ever since the early 1950s, the SAIL member institutes have been building and maintaining durable partnerships with countries in the Global South. Partnerships have been built at the level of individuals, many of whom were (partly) funded by the Dutch government to study toward a Master’s or a PhD degree in the Netherlands, and at the level of knowledge institutes by means of countless interventions and collaborations designed from the outset to co-create (academic) capacity in the Global South, and more recently to ensure global knowledge circulation to ensure mutual learning.

The tried and tested partnerships between knowledge institutes are key to this process. The combined expertise of staff of these institutes ensures that the specifics of the local needs are the basis for the work done. These individuals and teams know how best the needs of all parties can be met in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. Many of these partnerships date back decades. Trust has been established, friendships have flourished, and knowledge easily flows back and forth to the benefit of all participants in the process. It works so well that it seems effortless and herein lies the potential for mishap by oversight… It is indeed in many ways effortless, as it is born of years of investment in a process of mutual learning.

This is the time to make sure that the judicious investment of decades is not overlooked as policy is set and budgets allocated after the elections.  Political debates leading up to the elections have not yet shown much attention to such partnerships. However, at the SAIL debate  there was strong consensus across the political spectrum on the importance of the role of knowledge institutes as a linking pin, which led me to think that if the time was taken to explore these partnerships’ role in aid and trade relations, they would become evident to the new cabinet.

For example, at the debate, all five parliamentarians agreed that knowledge is vital for healthy trade and development. Kirsten van den Hul, for example, stated that “knowledge collaboration is essential to development.” The big problem, she said, is that “knowledge is unevenly distributed.” Dennis Wiersma: “A level playing field is important for trade”. Mustafa Amhaouch: “There is clearly nowhere near a level playing field at present […] It is a societal responsibility to share knowledge.” Jan Paternotte: ‘’The Dutch trade agenda should be linked to the knowledge agenda.”

This makes clear that the role of knowledge – and the institutes that produce it – is seen as important. But we need to take the discussion further once the elections have taken place. Two important points made during the debate were that knowledge institutes can help protect human rights in fragile states whilst also benefitting the Netherlands through strong alumni networks.

Knowledge institutes are vital in fragile states

Something that received particular attention in the debate was the role of knowledge institutes in fragile states, where the Netherlands is active. Knowledge institutes in fragile states are key in upholding a vision of a positive society and in speaking out for human rights. The Netherlands needs to keep on supporting relationships between Dutch institutes and their counterparts in fragile states. Fragility is increasing. The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the cracks in the starkest possible way as the richer nations hoard vaccines. GL, PvdA and D66 spoke out strongly in favour of the need to finance COVAX (the WHO programme designed to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines) generously.

Sustaining aid relations through alumni networks

The word “alumni” also popped up frequently in the debate. The Netherlands has built up a huge network of alumni across the world, many of whom have moved into positions of influence in their home countries. All of the parties represented and the Federation of Industry and Employers concluded that these alumni were a key resource in building an equitable, sustainable, win-win agenda for Dutch aid, trade and knowledge policy in the wake of the upcoming elections.

Focusing on the alumni of knowledge institutes means moving beyond capacity building to viewing and engaging these alumni as potential change agents in their own countries. This will also benefit the Netherlands by ensuring that these warm, trust-based relationships can be the basis for both political and economic collaboration in the future.

A reason for cautious optimism?

There is much to be gained by enhancing the role of knowledge institutes in future collaboration and there is support for this approach across the political spectrum. Could this be a reason for optimism? Watch the political space and join in the debate, whether or not you have a Dutch vote to cast….

About the author:

Linda Johnson was the executive secretary of ISS, but has now retired. She is particularly interested in the societal relevance of research. In addition, she has done recent work on the safety and security of researchers and co-developed a course on literature as a lens on development.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

The Netherlands and Colombia: A Blurry Alliance by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo

The Netherlands may have found in Colombia a strategic partner to help expand its commercial activities, but Colombia’s complex social context needs to be carefully considered. Whether this alliance will benefit both countries, or will reinforce the dynamics of the longest conflict in Latin American history, will depend greatly on the Dutch stance towards very sensitive issues that affect the Colombian rural sector.

The Netherlands has found in Colombia a strategic partner to expand its commercial activity in Latin America. In 2017, the exports of the South American country to the Netherlands amounted to 1.542 million US dollars, situating the Dutch economy as the fourth most important destination of Colombian products worldwide, and the first within the European Union[1].

This partnership is presented as a win-win scenario. While the Netherlands could benefit from Colombia’s 40 million hectares of land suitable for agriculture[2], Colombia could fully develop its rural potential through an alliance with the world leader in agricultural innovation. This cooperation holds a great deal of promise. Thus, there are grand expectations regarding the meeting that took place last November in Bogotá between Prime Minister Mark Rutte and President Iván Duque, who came to power in August 2018.

However, some caution is needed. The Prime Minister’s visit occured in a context of uncertainty and digression given Duque’s lack of political will to comply with the peace agreement reached between the former government and the FARC, as well as his dismissive attitude towards structural problems of the rural sector such as the excessive concentration of land, extreme poverty, and inequality.

In this regard, a study conducted by Oxfam in 2017[3] revealed that currently, concentration of land in Colombia is much higher than it was in the 1960s when the conflict started. The statistics show that while 80% of rural land in the country is controlled by 1% of the large estates, small farmers have lost most of their territory. As evidence, 80% of small peasants have a landholding smaller than 10 hectares, which do not occupy even 5% of the census area. Moreover, official data shows that the Gini coefficient of rural property is 89,7% (with 0 corresponding to complete equality and 100 corresponding to complete inequality)[4].

The government’s approach, however, has been to neglect the multidimensional character of the rural problem. Since his presidential campaign, Duque has been skeptical of the peace process. Therefore, although the first point of the peace agreement is to push forward a comprehensive agrarian reform, the policy of the new government has focused mainly on supporting agro-business, implementing modernisation measures, and protecting the property rights of large landowners[5].

This official position has raised a deep concern among many civil society actors who have fears pertaining to the success of historical compromises reached in La Habana. The initiatives that are at risk include: the creation of a Land Fund for the distribution of land that was illegally acquired; the development of procedures to formalise property rights of small and medium farmers; and the establishment of ‘Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation Spaces’ (ETCR in Spanish), which are places dedicated  to training the former members of the FARC for their reincorporation into civil life through productive projects[6]. To this day, the government has not shown a serious commitment to advance any of these strategies, threatening the future of the post-conflict phase.

Most worryingly, the Office of the Ombudsman in Colombia reported that 331 community leaders were killed between January 2016 and August 2018[7], and that the number keeps growing[8]. The seriousness of the situation led the UN[9] and IACHR[10] to urge the Colombian government to strengthen protection measures to guarantee the integrity of social leaders. Although the government has denied the systematic character of these killings,  in the face of strong national and international pressure, the creation of an integral policy to tackle this urgent situation was announced[11].  It is worth noting that 80% of the leaders that have been killed were involved in the defense of the territory and restitution of land efforts[12].


In this regard, on 5 April more than 500 Colombians gathered in The Hague to march peacefully from the Colombian Embassy to the Headquarters of the ICC[13]. Their aim was to denounce that the lack of action of the Colombian State is leading to impunity of crimes against humanity, and to raise awareness among the international community[14].

This complex social context must be seriously considered by the Dutch commission that will advise the Prime Minister on his negotiations with Colombia. Whether this alliance will foster both countries, or will reinforce the dynamics of the longest conflict in Latin American history, will depend greatly on the Dutch stance towards these very sensitive issues that affect the Colombian rural sector.

[2] https://www.elespectador.com/economia/colombia-tiene-40-millones-de-hectareas-para-producir-alimentos-articulo-795814 and http://es.presidencia.gov.co/noticia/180621-Gobierno-definio-Frontera-Agricola-Nacional-para-avanzar-hacia-el-desarrollo-rural-sostenible-y-proteger-la-biodiversidad
[3] https://d1tn3vj7xz9fdh.cloudfront.net/s3fs-public/file_attachments/colombia_-_snapshot_of_inequality.pdf
[4] https://www.eltiempo.com/economia/sectores/desigualdad-en-la-propiedad-de-la-tierra-en-colombia-32186
[5] https://lasillavacia.com/silla-llena/red-rural/historia/los-programas-agrarios-de-los-candidatos-en-campana-un-analisis  and https://semanarural.com/web/articulo/elecciones-presidenciales-2018-las-propuestas-para-el-campo/504 and https://www.portafolio.co/economia/propuestas-de-los-candidatos-presidenciales-en-el-agro-y-lo-rural-son-incompletas-517480
[6]https://semanarural.com/web/articulo/que-le-espera-a-la-colombia-rural-en-la-presidencia-de-ivan-duque/550 and https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/08/30/planeta_futuro/1535660220_091882.html
[7] https://colombia2020.elespectador.com/pais/agresiones-contra-lideres-sociales-antes-y-despues-del-acuerdo-de-paz
[8] https://www.rcnradio.com/colombia/durante-el-gobierno-duque-22-lideres-sociales-han-sido-asesinados
[9] https://colombia.unmissions.org/en/un-rejects-and-condemns-killings-human-rights-defenders-and-leaders-colombia
[10] http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2018/065.asp
[11] https://www.elheraldo.co/politica/no-podemos-decir-que-asesinato-de-lideres-sociales-sea-sistematico-mininterior-543998 and https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/gobiernos-de-santos-y-duque-coinciden-asesinato-de-lideres-sociales-no-es-sistematico-articulo-813250
[12] https://www.rcnradio.com/colombia/durante-el-gobierno-duque-22-lideres-sociales-han-sido-asesinados
[13] https://paxencolombia.org/la-cpi-recibio-documentacion-sobre-asesinato-de-lideres-sociales-en-colombia/
[14] https://www.resumen-english.org/2019/04/march-to-the-international-criminal-court-to-stop-the-murders-of-social-leaders-in-colombia/

Ana Maria ArbelaezAbout the author:

Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo is a recent graduate from the Erasmus Mundus Program in Public Policy. She is a lawyer and a specialist in Environmental Law. Her research interests are the political economy of extractivist industries, environmental conflicts, and rural development.