Social partners respond to election outcome

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The Dutch parliamentary elections held in January 2003 resulted in victory for the established political parties. The social partners have expressed their wishes with regard to future government policy to the 'informateur' charged with exploring the options for forming a new coalition government.

The Dutch electorate returned to the polls for the second time within the space of a year on 22 January 2003, to vote for a new parliament. The elections were deemed necessary following the collapse in October 2002 of the former government (NL0211101N) led by Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, which comprised a coalition of the Christian Democratic Appeal (Christen Democratisch Appèl, CDA), the liberal Party for Freedom and Democracy (Vereniging voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD) and the right-wing populist List Pim Fortuyn (Lijst Pim Fortuyn, LPF) (named after its founder who was murdered in 2002).

In the run-up to the January elections, it became clear that the social democratic Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA) was recovering rapidly, and this revival was ultimately reflected in the election results. The CDA received the most votes, gaining 44 seats (out of a total of 150), followed closely by the PvdA, with 42 seats. The LPF, which had been plagued by internal conflict during its time in government, lost significant ground and managed to hang onto only eight seats. The 'traditional' political parties thus succeeded in winning back most of the Dutch electorate. JPH Donner has been appointed as the 'informateur' charged with exploring the options for forming a new coalition government on behalf of the crown.

In their initial response to the election result, the two main trade union federations - the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) and the Christian Trade Union Federation (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, CNV) - are calling for a 'social' centre-left cabinet. They have urged the CDA to initiate negotiations with the runner-up, PvdA. The Dutch Federation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Midden- en KleinBedrijf-Nederland, MKB-Nederland) also sees a CDA-PvdA cabinet as the most logical solution. The spokesperson for the largest Dutch employers’ association, the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (Vereniging Nederlandse Ondernemers-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, VNO-NCW), has not expressed immediate disapproval of a CDA-PvdA cabinet formation, but does not agree with the PvdA on a number of issues related to the environment, infrastructure and planning. VNO-NCW also points out that its membership has a clear preference for a centre-right cabinet comprising the CDA and VVD. However, these two parties failed to secure a parliamentary majority. Aside from its actual composition, VNO-NCW is calling for the swift formation of a stable government.

At the end of January 2003, the employers’ associations called for greater economic flexibility and alleviation of their administrative and financial burden in an open letter addressed to Mr Donner, the informateur. Additional funds should be earmarked for education, infrastructure and combating crime. The employers maintain their arguments in favour of long-term agreements on wage moderation.

The trade union federations have also made their wishes known to the informateur. They emphasise the urgent need to address current socio-economic problems in the Netherlands, but believe that an approach geared solely towards cost savings would be too limited. The new government will thus have to pursue a policy that is both economically viable and socially acceptable.

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