Two months after the fall of the cabinet and four years after the last elections, the Dutch government held general elections, its constituents directly choosing the House of Representatives and indirectly deciding on the cabinet. The current cabinet, headed by Mark Rutte of the VVD, resigned in January due to a damaging childcare benefits scandal. Since then, the Netherlands has been governed by a ‘caretaker’ government. However, since the cabinet's resignation happened so close to the official date, elections took place as expected.
Many firsts marked this election. Firstly, the coronavirus changed how the elections were organised. It was the first time that people older than 75 could cast their ballot via mail-in voting. Secondly, the elections were spread over three days for the first time in history. Thirdly, a record number of 37 parties participated in the elections, 17 of those being elected into the House of Representatives, suggesting a level of polarization present in many other countries of the European Union.
Moreover, with a voter turnout of 82.6 percent, the elections had the highest voter turnout rate since 1986 - some jokingly say it was because of the free red pencil. The voter turnout rate under young people grew impressively from around 67 percent in 2017 to around 80 percent in 2021.
People’s Party For Freedom and Democracy (VVD) - Mark Rutte - 35 seats
Mark Rutte’s party is the big winner of the elections with 35/150 seats, which is an increase of two seats compared to the last general elections. This means that Rutte can prepare for a fourth term as prime minister of the Netherlands. The VVD is a centre-right, conservative-liberal party.
Democrats ’66 (D66) - Sigrid Kaag - 24 seats
D66 became the second biggest party in these elections with 24/150 seats. The party achieved an increase of five seats compared to the last elections in 2017. This performance is quite noteworthy and makes it likely that D66 will have significant bargaining power in forming the new coalition government. D66 is a progressive and social-liberal party.
Party for Freedom (PVV) - Geert Wilders - 17 seats
In these elections, PVV became the third biggest party in the Netherlands with 17/150 seats. This is a decrease of three seats compared to 2017. Many parties refuse to work together with the PVV because of the group’s radical, racist and xenophobic views, particularly on the topic of immigration. The PVV is a conservative and nationalist party.
New parties elected
Right Answer 21 (JA21) - Joost Eerdmans - 4 seats
JA21, a new party, was created when members of the far-right party Forum for Democracy (FvD) split following a scandal over racist texts. This party is a far-right and conservative-liberal party.
Volt Europa - Laurens Dassen - 3 seats
The pan-European youth party Volt was especially popular among young voters. Volt prioritizes European cooperation and integration. They are a centre party that do not seek identification with specific ideals and joined the Dutch election roster for the first time this year.
Bij1 - Sylvana Simons - 1 seat
Bij1 is a far-left party that focuses, primarily, on equality. The name refers to the first article of the Dutch constitution that states that everyone is equal and one cannot discriminate based on race, gender and other similar characteristics. Her presence in the parliament was heralded as a victory to the POC community.
Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) - Caroline van der Plas - 1 seat
As the name indicates, the BBB’s primary focus is the agricultural sector and the rights of farmers. The party started after the farmer’s demonstrations in 2020, which were a reaction to harsher regulations for farmers.
The Dutch General elections of 2021 were a punch in the stomach for the Left parties. Many parties either lost seats, like the Green Left and Socialist Party or did not gain any new ones, like the Labour Party.
The number of seats for nationalist parties in the parliament increased enormously with the tremendous growth of the Forum for Democracy (FvD) — from two to eight seats — and the entrance of Right Answer 21(JA21) the parliament with four seats. Together with the Party for Freedom's (PVV) seventeen seats, these far-right parties have 29 of the 150 seats in parliament. These parties vocally oppose further European integration. Furthermore, they are very sceptical about the existence of climate change. Moreover, they are either entirely opposed to immigration or alternatively want harsher immigration policies. The power of these parties grew significantly during these elections, which will have serious consequences for the governmental decision making process in the Netherlands and the type of laws that will be considered and passed by the parliament. One possible explanation for their increased popularity is their promise to either halt or drastically reduce the current coronavirus measures.
The popularity of Volt and D66, especially among young people, could indicate wider popularity of the European Union. Pan-European Party Volt advocates for more European cooperation and integration. The party got 3/150 seats in the general elections, which is certainly impressive for a new party. D66 is very pro-EU as well and gained much popularity in these elections. The popularity of these parties could mean that a part of the Dutch population, especially younger people, are quite open to more comprehensive EU cooperation.
VVD and D66 are the two biggest parties and are both part of the current caretaker cabinet. Therefore, it does make sense for these parties to continue their cooperation in the next cabinet. However, it should be noted that with the inclusion of just these two parties, the cabinet would not have a majority in the parliament. Thus one or two other parties have to join them. This most likely means that the politics of the last ten years will continue as Rutte will most likely remain prime minister, and the VVD will remain the most influential party.
Written by Louisa Rachiel Theunissen, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons.