Dutch Government Falls Amid Resistance to Spending Cuts

The euro zone crisis has taken down another government.

The Netherlands’ center-right Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition this week failed to pass an aggressive austerity package that would have brought the country in line with its EU budget obligations.The government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte was pushing for additional spending cuts in the face of prolonged economic stagnation, but the cuts faced fierce public opposition. In the end the package was blocked by Geert Wilders’ far right People’s Freedom Party, whose parliamentary votes the coalition government had informally relied on. 

With the loss Wilders’ support, Rutte’s government was forced to resign. He will stay on as prime minister in a caretaking capacity until planned elections in the early summer.

The collapse of the Dutch government has implications beyond the Netherlands. The role played by Wilders’ party in killing the coalition budget demonstrates that in contrast to their political cousins across the Atlantic, European populist right wing politicians are still generally supportive of maintaining generous social spending. Second, the collapse of the center-right government can be seen as part of larger backlash against the German and French led austerity approach to combating the financial crises.  

Wilders portrayed his opposition to the austerity budget as the difference between looking out for the needs of ordinary Dutch, or the dictates of EU bureaucrats. “We don’t want our pensioners to suffer for the sake of the dictators in Brussels,” said Wilders.

Wilders is fond of citing the imaginary couple of Henk and Ingrid who represent the desires of ordinary Dutch citizens. He is of course also well known for his extreme nationalism, and most notably his heated rhetoric against Muslim immigrants.

European analysts have noted the convergence of the collapse of the Dutch government alongside the success of the socialist candidate in the first round of voting in France’s presidential elections this past weekend. France’s socialist candidate Francois Hollande promised French voters that he would renegotiate EU treaties to allow for greater flexibility in pursuing economic stimulus and investment.