April 27, 2017

Too late for half-heartedness

By Barend ter Haar.

As is the tradition in the Netherlands, the elections for the House of Representatives that took place on 15 March 2017 do not only lead to a new parliament, but also to a new government. The new parliament has been installed, but the installation of a new executive will probably not take place before the summer, because the question which parties will be allowed to form a new council of ministers, the so-called Kabinet, will be the subject of intense negotiations during the coming months.

The objective is to form a government that has sufficient support in Parliament, in any case in the House of Representatives (the “Second Chamber”), but preferably also in the Senate. Since a system of proportional representation system was introduced in 1918, no party has ever had a majority of seats. A Dutch government is therefore always based on an agreement between two or more parties. After the recent elections at least four parties are needed to attain a majority in the House of Representatives.

Negotiations have therefore started between four of the six biggest parties: VVD (conservative-liberal; 33 seats), CDA (conservative; 19 seats), D66 (centre; 19 seats) and GroenLinks (leftish-green; 14 seats). Although the parties at the extreme right (the populist PVV with 20 seats) and the extreme left (the Socialist Party with 14 seats) do not participate in these negotiations, the differences are large.

Nevertheless, it seems possible to find compromises on most issues, for example by exchanging concessions or by splitting the difference. However, there is one subject that should not become the victim of half-hearted compromises and that is climate change.

Climate change has not been a central theme in the election contest, but it will be a major item on the agenda of the new Dutch government. All the four parties involved in the formation of a new government support the Paris Agreement on climate change. However, the Agreement leaves implementation to the discretion of the Parties, although it is clear that a minimalist interpretation will not suffice to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. The main fear of D66 and GroenLinks is therefore that the Netherlands is doing too little, but the impression VVD and CDA have been giving, possibly in order to please their voters, is that their main worry is that the Netherlands would be doing too much.

This is not something that can be solved by a half-baked compromise. It is crucial that all four parties agree that preventing climate disasters, first in Africa and elsewhere, later in the Netherlands, is not a matter of party politics, but a common responsibility that requires extra efforts both domestically and internationally.

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