Today’s Dutch papers are working hard to get to grips with the result of Wednesday’s historic close-run election that has left a fragmented political landscape in its wake.
The man in the hot seat is Mark Rutte, leader of the victorious VVD. It will most likely be up to him to form a coalition government to steer the Netherlands through the choppy social and economic waters of the next four years.
The voters may have spoken, but as De Telegraaf puts it “the game of musical chairs has just begun”, as the parties set about the power play of who should team up with who to govern the country.
The main papers don’t see eye to eye on where things are heading. The populist De Telegraaf leads with “Rutte looks to the right”, while left-wing de Volkskrant goes with “Rutte plays cards close to his chest”. Trouw observes wryly “Rutte knows: the election was only the first battle … everything can still go hopelessly wrong when trying to form a government”.
De Telegraaf reckons Mr Rutte has three options: a right-wing three-party coalition with the tiniest of majorities, a coalition of the three traditional main parties and a four-party option that teams the right-wing VVD with three left-of-centre parties.
Predictably De Telegraaf reckons the last option is the worst thing the VVD could do: “an impossible combination” and “a treacherous adventure” that would leave the country in “an almighty mess”. But even its outspoken opinion makers seem to have little idea what should happen instead, going as far as to propose a convoluted emergency solution in which “the political heavyweights remain in parliament and hand over leadership to a non-parliamentary anti-crisis government led by the likes of Dutch Euro commissioner Neelie Kroes.”
Dancing around or with the Freedom Party?
A big part of what makes Mark Rutte’s next step such a conundrum is the meteoric rise of Geert Wilders right-wing anti-Islam Freedom Party, which has leapt from nine to 24 seats in parliament. Even left-wing de Volkskrant concludes: “You can lament the Freedom Party’s rise all you like, but from a political point of view, you have to accept it.”
The biggest problem is that the VVD needs at least three parties to govern, and while the VVD has never shut the door to cooperating with Geert Wilders, other parties have. De Volkskrant points out the irony of the fact that the Freedom Party’s room for manoeuvre during the coalition talks “will depend to a large extent on the election’s biggest losers, the Christian Democrats”, the only other potential coalition partner that has not ruled out cooperation with Mr Wilders.
What makes the situation even more precarious is that Geert Wilders seems to have traded in his tough-talking anti-establishment image for a more mild-mannered statesman-like persona. NRC.next fills most of its front page with a dramatic portrait of the man himself alongside the headline “I’m ready”. AD leads with “Freedom Party will do anything to govern” pointing out that Mr Wilders has wasted no time in jettisoning one of his non-negotiable manifesto principles – keeping the retirement age at 65.
This slick move leaves the VVD with no excuse for sidelining him and Trouw reckons it “has undoubtedly made Mark Rutte’s task all the more difficult. The election winner will have to walk on eggs in the coming weeks and Wilders had just laid another one for him.” Whether Mr Rutte decides to partner up with the Freedom Party or manoeuvre his way around them, it’s going to take some nifty footwork either way.
Christian Democrats lick their wounds
In an interview with De Telegraaf, a “delighted but modest Mark Rutte” says “it’s important not to come across as too triumphant” though it has to be said, he still looks pretty damn smug in the accompanying photo. Not so the Christian Democrats who De Telegraaf describes as “licking their wounds” after the drubbing they took at the polls. In the party meeting that followed the disastrous result, the paper notes that “the temperature dropped to freezing point” as “disappointed and sometimes bitter MPs and staff reflected on the punishment doled out to them by the electorate.”
Such a result may be particularly difficult for the Christian Democrats to swallow. De Volkskrant explains: “Power is in the party’s genes. They have been in government almost uninterrupted for almost a century.” In AD a party spokesman suggests that this could well have been their undoing: “The party was more interested in holding on to power than in asking ‘what is our purpose in life?’”.
The paper’s editorial reckons that by rushing to choose unpopular PM Jan Peter Balkenende as the man to lead them into the elections, the Christian Democrats “couldn’t even acknowledge the concerns of their own supporters, never mind those of society as a whole”.
De Telegraaf presents the ultimate illustration of how ruthless politics can be. It seems Madame Tussauds has already removed Mr Balkenende’s waxwork from office. Unceremoniously “lifted up by his head and his behind”, he has now been deposited outside the attraction’s mock-up of the PM’s study, along with the contents of his desk drawer in a cardboard box.
Dutch World Cup players give something back
The Football World Cup is almost upon us and today’s papers show the Dutch team in leisure mode, enjoying an afternoon off in Johannesburg and playing golf with Dutch football legend Johan Cruijff. But as Trouw reports, their free time also took them to the district of Hillbrow, “one of the places the Dutch embassy website advises football supporters not to venture into during the upcoming World Cup in South Africa”. The scene of 88 murders, 500 rapes and 2500 violent robberies last year alone, you can see their point.
The Dutch footballers turned up to open a playing field set up by the Johan Cruijff Foundation and financed by a 100,000 euro donation from the players themselves. “We really feel at home here,” captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst tells the paper “and this is our way of giving something back to the people”.
De Telegraaf ominously describes the players’ pre-tournament outings as “the calm before the storm”. But AD comes up with some encouraging news about one of the Dutch squad’s World Cup opponents. “Japan has lost the plot!” it exclaims, reporting that the team has already suffered four defeats in its World Cup build-up and couldn’t do better than a goalless draw in yesterday’s friendly match against Zimbabwe, who rank a lowly 110 in FIFA’s international rankings.
Dutch getting fatter not taller
AD presents the worrying news that the Dutch are no longer getting taller but they are getting fatter. Under the headline “Our kids are only growing sideways” the paper looks at the latest in a series of growth studies held once every 15 years by research institute TNO. The fact that the Dutch are not getting any taller on average puts an end to a trend that began in 1850. Since then, men have gained 16 cm in height and women 14 cm.
But now it seems the only gains are in girth. The head of the study, Professor Stef van Buuren, describes the latest figures on overweight children as “alarming”: over 13 percent of boys and just under 15 percent of girls are now classed as too fat. “It looks like our rising prosperity is turning against us,” he sighs.