Dutch elections and the nuclear free world

How can the new political landscape in The Netherlands affect the Dutch position on starting negotiations on a nuclear weapons treaty?

While all Dutch political parties are in favor of a nuclear weapons-free world, some consider that it’s not yet the time to start negotiating. Others would not oppose starting a process, but NATO-coherence is considered more important than taking the lead in an issue that is considered to be one between the USA, Russia and Iran. Other parties support a quick start to negotiations and a leading role for the Netherlands. Unfortunately, these didn’t have much success in the elections.

The past months we’d been hopefully and anxiously looking forward to the outcome of the September 12 parliamentary elections. For months, the conservative and stubbornly anti-nuclear leftwing Socialist Party (SP) was leading the polls, fighting for the position of the biggest party with the rightwing conservative liberals, or VVD. But in the last couple of weeks, the SP’s popularity was totally overtaken by that of the center-left social-democrats (labour) of the PvdA. This was mainly due to the unexpected charismatic performance of its new young leader, former Greenpeace anti-nuclear power activist Samson. He led the PvdA to a victory of 38 (out of 150 total) seats. The VVD however won with 41 seats, and they will most likely continue to lead our government. The SP eventually won nor lost any seats, and will keep 15 parliamentarians. Christian-democrats have a historic low 13 seats (down from 21), the Greens are diminished (from 10 to 4 seats), and the progressive liberal democrats D66 won two seats, to get 12. The remaining seats are divided among small parties like the god-fearing women-excluding SGP, the elderly-only 50+ party or the Animal Party (PvdD). Oh, and the anti-immigration, anti-Islam and anti-Europe PVV went from 24 to 14 seats.

The VVD and PvdA now have no choice but to form a majority government together. They might want to involve a third party for reasons of stability. This could be D66, though they are closer to the VVD than to the PvdA, or the CDA whose reason for existence is to govern even though they have been losing voters for decades. What does this mean for our aim to get a ban on nuclear weapons?

The VVD considers discussing nuclear weapons a waste of time. Unfortunately, the (now demissionary) Minister of Foreign Affairs is from the VVD. Two months ago he went into debate with the other parties on Dutch positions considering the coming General Assembly. When the SP asked whether he would be willing to no longer oppose, but support or abstain from voting on the resolution in the GA’s First Committee that calls for the start of nuclear ban negotiations, he answered ‘we consider the time not ripe yet. Together with a number of other countries we support a step-by-step approach, beginning with a fissile material treaty’.

The VVD will most likely lead the next government, and traditionally the PvdA does not aim for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when the departments are allocated (in the 12 coalition governments of with they have been part since WWII, only one had a PvdA Minister of Foreign Affairs. For the VVD the number is 5 out of 16. CDA and its predecessors mostly claimed the post). PvdA is more likely to claim Defense, and trade Foreign Affairs. With a VVD minister, chances are slim that The Netherlands will have a different position than the USA. Same goes for the CDA. The only chance then might be if D66 chips in on the new government, and gets Foreign Affairs.

The D66 election programme states that the party ‘supports initiatives’ for a world free of nuclear weapons. No initiative, no opposition either. A parliamentary push might do the trick, but for that the PvdA will be necessary. Their programme says nothing on a world without nukes. If a champion within this party rises and claims ownership of the issue and the new minister of Foreign Affairs is willing to lean with him, an emerging international political process might not be blocked by The Netherlands. My blend of hope and realism.