DrImages of unrest against the curfew in the Netherlands spread around the world at the beginning of this year. It was the worst turmoil since 1980, when Queen Beatrix’s coronation was disrupted by squatters.
At the beginning of January, Prime Minister Mark Root (VVD) offered to resign his third cabinet. This was the result of the child support case – a case that has gone on for more than a year. Tens of thousands of people have been wrongly identified as fraudsters by tax authorities when applying for Child Benefit. As a result, families were forced into debt and many lost their homes. People of immigrant background were especially often the victims, raising suspicions about the existence of racial discrimination.
In light of the turmoil in the Netherlands in the year of Corona, it is very surprising that Rutte, the prime minister since 2010, may emerge again as a winner in the parliamentary elections next week. In the most recent poll, the liberal VVD is well ahead with 36 to 40 out of a total of 150 seats. It is followed by Geert Wilders’ right-wing populist Freedom Party with 18 to 20 seats, nearly half less. Then the CDA Christian Democrats with 16 to 18 seats.
Why is ROTA still so popular, despite all the criticism directed at its policy and approach to dealing with Corona? In fact, the prime minister has turned the Netherlands dramatically from the inside out since 2010. According to the classic liberal conception, the government has increasingly withdrawn, decentralizing many areas and transferring it to societies, including caring for the youth and responsibility for the unemployed. Citizens had to show more independence and, in emergency situations, speak to their relatives rather than the government, an idea for which the term “participatory society” was coined.
The national debt was reduced to 52.9 percent before Covid-19 hit, and there was a slight budget surplus in 2019. The prime minister has become known across Europe as one of the leaders of the “four and thrifty”. Along with Austria, Denmark and Sweden, the European Union has warned against reckless entry into common debt in response to the first Corona wave.
However, under the leadership of Angela Merky and Emmanuel Macron, the European Union has approved historic financial transfers. But Rottie and his colleagues succeeded in at least getting a larger portion of what was planned to be disbursed as loans rather than grants. After the British left and the German chancellor, who was still searching for the economy during the euro crisis, turned into Macron’s more favorable camp for spending, Rute became a symbol of budgetary discipline in Europe.
In addition to this liberal policy, Roti has also proven himself to be pragmatic. Political opponents criticize this as a lack of direction and a lack of ideas. Wilders Rutte recently described it as a “gender neutral” politician. Rutte’s coalition partner Wobbie Hoekstra spoke of “trendless liberalism” in the Rutte era. Leader of the ruling Social Liberal D66 party, Sigrid Kaag, said she had been rebelling against “ten years of VVD policy with no plans”.
Roti himself contributes to this photo. The Dutch political debate is more practical and less ideological anyway. But Rutte took this even further when he quote former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 2017: “Anyone with visions should see a doctor.”
Years ago, Rota called Visionen “the elephant that gets in your view” and said that as a liberal he was against grand visions of the future. One of Rute’s features was that he came to power in 2010 at a time when citizens were already feeling the consequences of the financial crisis. This allowed him to focus on business and avoid high-flying intellectual debate.
Criticism of Rute’s alleged lack of planning resurfaced during the coronavirus outbreak. Initially, herd immunity was a goal, but this plan was abandoned after criticism. There was a shortage of masks, testing capacity and beds in the intensive care units, which resulted in the treatment of some Dutch Corona patients in Germany.
With repeated late response to rising numbers of infections, nearly 16,000 people have died of Covid-19 and 1.12 million have been infected. The Netherlands was the penultimate country in the European Union to initiate vaccination and chose to set priorities that contradict the recommendations of the Health Council. The government has often responded to criticism of Corona’s policy.
Nevertheless, Rutte was able to speak paternalistically to the country in difficult times. He succeeded in making Health Minister Hugo de Jong (CDA) appear as the main culprit of the Coronavirus policy problems, while he himself had largely escaped the public’s wrath. As a person, Rutte is still popular. His party has been higher in opinion polls than it has been in previous years throughout the Corona crisis. Roth is revered as a crisis manager, and also by a surprising number of people who don’t vote for VVD.
Roti’s good poll numbers are also due to the weakness of his opponents. While there were still three large popular parties in the Netherlands at the start of this century – Christian Democrat, Social Democrat and Liberal – only in 2021 could the VVD claim this title for itself. Wilders is too controversial to become prime minister, the CDA has its fourth president in a year and a half, and the left is too young and divided to endanger Rota.
The Prime Minister is also benefiting from the increasing fragmentation in the political scene. Currently, the Dutch Parliament has 16 parties, but on Wednesday’s ballot, there are now more than double that number with 37 parties – a record high. Rutte is seen as the only politician able to bring together different parties and is often divided into an alliance. Another reason why the Dutch wanted to give him confidence again, according to surveys.
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