Last week's parliamentary election in the Netherlands (12 September) handed a clear and unexpected victory to the country's main centrist parties, the pro-business Liberals (VVD) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the centre-left Labour Party (PvdA).
The VVD achieved its best-ever result and now has 41 seats in parliament, ten more than after the June 2010 election. Labour won eight seats, giving it a total of 38. A centrist ‘grand coalition' of VVD and Labour would have a clear majority in the 150-seat assembly, although the two are not natural allies on many issues.
Two parties that had sought to capitalise on anti-EU sentiment, albeit from opposing sides of the political spectrum, both did badly. The right-wing, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders is down to 15 seats from 24, while the left-wing Socialist Party of Emile Roemer failed to gain any additional seats and remains at 15.
The Socialists' rise in the opinion polls over the summer was widely attributed to the party's hostility to austerity measures and eurozone deficit rules. But Adriaan Schout, deputy director for research on Europe at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, said that the flirtation with anti-EU sentiment was an aberration, as the example of the centre-left PvdA showed. “Labour tried to be more EU-critical but discovered that it just does not make sense. If you do not want to ruin the Dutch economy, there is simply no alternative to the EU's austerity measures.” The entire political system, Schout said, is “geared towards stability”.
Rutte and Diederik Samsom, his Labour counterpart, have confirmed that the initial option they are exploring is a government coalition between their parties, possibly including one or several smaller parties.
Schout said that, despite their personal and ideological differences, Rutte and Samson know that they have to strike a deal. “All the elements for a quick formation of a government coalition are there: the centrist parties are back, there is a lot of common ground for a deal, and there is an awareness that this has to be done,” he says.