Perspectives and priorities of the new Dutch parliament on development

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party, the liberal party (VVD), won the March 2021 elections in the Netherlands, followed closely by the center liberal party (Democrats 66 or D66) led by Sigrid Kaag, the former Foreign Trade and Development Minister. Following a record 272 days of coalition talks and a full 360 days since the ‘Rutte III’ government resigned amid a national scandal, the new cabinet was sworn in on Monday, January 10. Rutte’s fourth government (‘Rutte IV’) is for the second time be composed of his own liberal-conservative VVD party and the more social-liberal and pro-European D66, the Christian-Democrat CDA, and the more social-Christian ChristenUnie parties. Mark Rutte has now become the second-longest-serving Prime Minister of the European Union (after Hungary’s Viktor Orban). 

The new cabinet’s top priorities are health care, climate, education, housing, and the COVID-19 crisis. According to the coalition agreement, the Netherlands will be adding €407 million (US$466 million) for development cooperation annually which will bring ODA levels up to a yearly average of €5.1 billion (US$5.8 billion) from a baseline of €4.7 billion (US$5.3 billion) in the past legislature. Despite this major achievement, (due in part to the larger political weight of the ODA-supportive D66 party in the Rutte IV cabinet compared to the Rutte III cabinet), confidence in the new government has reached a historic low. According to I&O research, just 2% of voters are ‘highly confident’ in the new government, 27% of Dutch voters are ‘moderately confident’, and 65% have ‘limited or no confidence at all’.

While the additional ODA is on average €407 million (US$466 million) per year, the actual amount will increase in the coming years, starting at €318 million (US$364) and increasing to €556 million (US$627) in 2025. Approximately half of the additional funding (around €220 million; US$ 252 million) will go to COVAX and climate adaptation and mitigation programs, and the other half (€280 million; US$321 million) to in-country refugee support. The funding for COVAX is likely to be reduced over time as the COVID-19 crisis subsides, which would allow for increased spending on other global health priorities within the Dutch global health strategy, which is currently being developed and was highlighted in the usually light-on-detail coalition agreement, further demonstrating the strategy's significance in the Rutte IV cabinet. The coalition agreement also notes that the Netherlands will strive to eliminate HIV and tuberculosis by 2030.

While the additional funding is not enough to reach the internationally agreed-upon 0.7% GNI to ODA target, it will keep the ODA budget stable around 0.6%. The intention of the governing parties is to reach 0.7% in the next legislature (by 2030). Not all four of the coalition parties are supportive of the target. The VVD, which has traditionally opposed ODA increases and has pushed back on the target, instead advocates for the role of trade and private sector transactions as well as some multilateral programming for development. The appointment of the VVD’s Liesje Schreinemacher, the new minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, is the second time in Dutch political history that the Ministry is under the control of the Liberal Party. Ms. Schreinemacher is focused on trade as opposed to development, and it is therefore likely that trade will regain more prominence in this ministry after two legislatures of strong development-oriented ministers.

The D66, led by climate-centered and ODA-supportive Sigrid Kaag, has been instrumental in achieving the ODA increases, and in centering climate at the core of the new coalition.

The other two smaller parties that form the coalition, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Christian Union (CU), have also been supportive of increasing ODA recently, having both included going back to the 0.7% target in their party manifestos ahead of the 2021 elections.