Dutch Language Blog

Dutch Political Parties Part One Posted by on Mar 24, 2010 in Dutch Language

We all know politics can be a dangerous topic, therefore, I am simply going to give you all an overview of some of the major national political parties in the Netherlands, and I’ll try to keep my own political opinions mostly out of it.  But!  I thoroughly encourage you all to have a lively debate with one another in the comments section.  Also keep in mind that many cities have their own local political parties, and those tend to do quite well in the local elections.  I couldn’t possibly list them all here.

Therefore, in no particular order, the major Dutch national political parties:

PvdA, Partij van de Arbeid : Labor Party

The Labor Party in the Netherlands is a fairly old and respected party.  They are a social-democratic party, which means they have a focus on social services and welfare.  Their talking points include improving education and access to education, social benefits, and as of late, stabilizing the economy. PvdA were responsible for the recent collapse of the cabinet, as they decided to quit due to their conflicting views on continued Dutch involvement in Afghanistan.  PvdA had repeatedly promised its voters that they would pull troops out of Afghanistan, but this had not happened.  CDA wanted to continue involvement.   In making the tough decision to stand by their political promises, PvdA quit, which in turn meant that the coalition was defunct.  It is possible that this issue was a bit of the “straw that broke the camel’s back” as PvdA has had a rocky history with CDA, and there were many other problems between the two parties at the time this issue came to a head.

The most recognizable member of this party is Wouter Bos, the former minister of finance who saw the Netherlands through the economic crisis during 2008-2009.  Within the last week he stepped down from politics altogether, stating that he has not had enough time for his family since joining politics.  Wouter Bos will be replaced by Mayor Job Cohen of Amsterdam, and at the time of this writing, many people feel favorable about Cohen as his replacement.  Because of his widespread support, he is quite possibly the next Prime Minister, but only time will tell.

VVD, Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie : People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy

The VVD is the largest economically conservative party in the country, and like the PvdA, are a long-standing and respected party.  They are what I would call in American terms more libertarian, but let me be clear about some terminology.  In Europe the term “economically liberal” means that there is less government involvement, hence you will also hear this party called “economically liberal” in European terms.  This means that they focus on less government regulation for businesses, a free-market economy, individual responsibility and freedom and less government rules and regulations overall.  This party did not make up the most recent coalition government with CDA and PvdA, though they have been a member of many coalition governments in the past.  Interestingly enough, some of the more populist political party leaders were originally members of the VVD and then moved on to form their own parties.  They are currently led by Mark Rutte, who, in a poll of the opinions of parliament members last year, was considered the best politician by his peers.

CDA, Christen-Democratisch Appel : Christian Democratic Appeal

CDA is a Christian-democratic party that generally remains centrist on many issues.  In 1980 they were formed from the fusion of one Catholic political party, and two Protestant parties.  Although they were founded out of three Christian political parties, they focus on religious tolerance, and being Christian is not a requirement for membership in this party.  They use the Bible in a very general sense as a moral compass for their values, and because of this they do appeal to members of other religions as well.  CDA has held the majority in the cabinet for many years now, and the current Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, who has had four terms as prime minister, is from CDA.  With elections coming up on June 9th, we all wait to see if Balkenende will return as prime minister for a fifth coalition government, though many people, both within and outside of CDA, feel it might be time for something new.  Balkenende has received quite a bit of backlash in the last few months over a number of important issues, and the recent fall of the cabinet was the second fall of the cabinet that has occurred under his leadership.  Although his leadership skills have been under fire, CDA still remains one of the dominant political parties.

D66, Democraten 66 : Democrats 66

D66 was formed, if you hadn’t already guessed, in 1966, by journalist Hans van Mierlo.  Sadly, the founder of D66 recently passed away at the age of 78 after a very long and successful political career.  The main goals of D66 have been further democratization of the Dutch political system, and more political involvement from citizens.  They are therefore progressive, because they want to change the political system itself, socially liberal because they believe that the backbone of the society is it’s ability to help it’s citizens, and radically democratic because they believe that citizens should be able to have a physical vote on issues and political positions.  They would like citizens to be able to vote for the mayor of their city, the prime minister, and on specific issues, just to name a few things.  They focus on citizen outreach through “livingroom chats” with citizens in their own homes, where they figure out what the constituency wants through one-on-one interaction.  They like to consider themselves politically flexible on the issues, therefore they do not take a strong philosophical stand and prefer to deal with issues on an “as they come” basis.  Historically they have remained a bit more economically conservative and have a focus on supporting smaller business, while being socially liberal and fairly outspoken champions of gay rights.

SP, Socialistische Partij : Socialist Party

SP is another Dutch political party with a long and rich history.  They were originally founded as a combination of Maoist and Marxist/Leninist groups in the 1970s, and subsequently went through a few incarnations, until they finally settled on leaving behind Marxist/Leninist philosophy in the early 1990s.  Since 1994 they have been officially called SP, though they are by no means a new party.  SP is a democratic-socialist party with very clear philosophical positions on the issues, in stark contrast to D66.  They focus on many social issues, including welfare, education, employment, and worker’s rights, with the guiding principle being socialist philosophy.  The political representatives often stand in stark contrast to other politicians if you go see a local debate, where the SP member will most likely be wearing red, and most likely won’t look like a politician at all, but rather a regular working-class citizen who got concerned and decided to get involved.

The most recognizable face of SP for the last two years has been their party leader, Agnes Kant, who recently stepped down from this position.  This followed the poor results of SP in the recent local elections, and her personal decision that someone else might fill the position better.  Agnes Kant has made a bit of a caricature out of herself in the last few years because she gets really fired up over the issues and does a lot of yelling, which is a bit nontraditional for Dutch politicians.  On the other hand, her passion for politics has been admirable, and whether or not I agree with her politics, I do think she’s been fun to watch and someone I would want on my side in a fight.

Ok, here is where I’ll stop for now, I think five major political parties is enough for you all to chew on for right now.  In the next blog I’ll cover another five political parties you should know about, some of them being more controversial than others.

But in the meantime, why not leave us a comment?  Tell us all about your thoughts on the recent elections, the fall of the cabinet, or any other political topic you want to discuss.

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  1. Philip Ashmore:

    It would be more complete if you also included the other parties represented in parliament, particularly since they alll have positions that are quite distinct from those of the main, ‘establishment’ parties:

    PVV, Partij voor de Vrijheid, Party for Freedom

    GL, Groen Links, Green Left

    CU, Christen Unie, Christian Union

    All three of these parties won more support and more seats than D66 in the 2006 Tweede Kamer and the 2007 Eerste Kamer elections, so they should be included in your summary.

    • sarah:

      @Philip Ashmore Hi Philip,

      Thanks for your comment! Don’t worry, I’m getting to those parties in my next post. This list is in no particular order, so the next post will have all the parties you just listed and more.

  2. Laur:

    As an “allochtoon” in the Netherlands, I would like to thank you for doing this. It is a great primer for the political life of this country, and it contributes a lot to my understanding of the Dutch society as a whole. I only wish I would have found your blog sooner 🙂

    • sarah:

      @Laur Hi Laur,

      Thanks for your comment and of course, you are very welcome. It took me a long LONG time to understand what was going on in politics here. Once I came to grips with it, I actually felt like the place became a little more like home because I could be more “involved”. I won’t be able to vote in the upcoming elections, but I think it’s good to have an understanding of what’s going on since it affects me as much as anyone else.


  3. Laurentia:

    thank you so much! ik heb zo veel geleerd van jouw blog..keep writing please 🙂

    • sarah:

      @Laurentia Bedankt Laurentia!

      Dat zal ik zeer zeker doen! I can’t possibly be the only person who finds Dutch politics interesting… 😀