Some aspects of the present government crisis in the Netherlands are very fascinating to follow for a Scandinavian. The Dutch party system is somewhat different from the Danish which means that the Dutch Christian Democrats traditionally have enjoyed the advantages enjoyed by the Social Democrats in Denmark (and Sweden, for that matter) and the political cleavages also work in a slightly different way, even if religion probably plays a lesser role than it used to. Still, the ChristenUnie are an interesting addition to the party system which is hard to explain to Scandinavians. Grand coalitions like the one in office in the Netherlands are also unknown in Denmark and Sweden – the last time somebody tried a similar stunt in Denmark was in 1978 and it was a dismal failure.
The causes of the present crisis are not entirely beyond comprehension: The government crisis was triggered by disagreements over the Dutch engagement in Afghanistan and we have seen similar conflicts in Denmark and Sweden over Afghanistan, even if they have not led to major parliamentary impassées. That there are disagreements between the CDA and the PvdA over economic policy – well, the Liberals and the Conservatives don’t always move in the same directions up here.
But the time frame is curious. There is likely to be early elections in the Netherlands – actually, not that early, because the likely date is in … May or June. If this had been Denmark, we would have elections in three or possibly four weeks from now.1
Similarly, the Dutch spend ages forming governments. Adding another three or four months to the calender before the next full cabinet is up and running would not be an unreasonable guess. In Denmark, we would be looking at two weeks of negotiations if things became really complicated. The last time we had a major cabinet crisis in Denmark was in 1988 and then it took a month – yes, a full month! – to form a government. The normal time frame is about a week of negotiations before the PM presents his new cabinet.
It looks like the Dutch are somewhat annoyed but not really concerned about the prospect of spending much of 2010 without a functioning government. A similar situation would be inconceivable in Denmark and have people fearing that we were close to a national constitutional crisis. Some of the difference has to do with differences in the constitutions (I know too little in detail about the Dutch constitution and electoral low to make any further guesses at the moment), some with differences in political norms.
Which system is the best? I find it hard to say, actually. There have been major upheavals in Dutch politics during the last decade, but over the years Denmark also has had its share of political mess. I suspect that the two countries make almost similar performances when it comes to welfare and the economy as well. But from a Danish point of view, the Dutch are a bit … strange.
- For all practical purposes, early elections are out of the question in Sweden. The Norwegian constitution does not allow for early elections. [↩]