The far-right PVV party will probably be the largest party in parliament after a general election in the Netherlands on 15 March. But there is no prospect of it entering government. We forecast that the incumbent prime minister will retain his position, and lead a coalition of four or five parties. Such a coalition will also prevent PVV from having much indirect influence on policy.

This sidelining of PVV – which is opposed to the EU, immigration, Muslims, and favours trade restrictions – will ensure continuity in Dutch government policy. It will also provide some stability for the EU as it deals with emerging economic and political risks in other states.

Individual opinion polls have proven to be an unreliable indicator for the outcomes of elections and other votes over the past couple of years. This was the case with Brexit and the US presidential election for example. So we have developed a statistical model that reduces distortions in the data, and allows us to form projections for the probable number of seats that each party will win in the upcoming election.

This model has led us to assess with some confidence that the next Dutch government will be a coalition of centrist and pro-EU parties. And in every credible scenario, the current prime minister’s VVD party will lead this government. So we expect broad continuity in Dutch government policy, and the Netherland’s continued involvement in responding to emerging economic and political instability in some of Europe’s southern and eastern states.

Strong support for the far-right

To avoid some of the misleading signals that opinion polls have given during previous votes, we have drawn data from five separate polling companies, which we have divided into rolling subsets, each spanning around a month. Then we have used these subsets to calculate a moving average. This process helps to iron out fluctuations in the data, thereby reducing the impact of polling errors and anomalies. A moving average also gives a clear picture of the general trends in opinions, rather than just a snapshot of opinion on a single day.

The chart above shows a moving average of opinion polling for the past four months. It shows how many seats parties would win in the House of Representatives. The chart indicates that the populist and far-right PVV party, led by Geert Wilders, has gained a strong position. Meanwhile, the incumbent prime minister’s VVD party has been on a sustained downward trend, falling into second place and returning to the lower level of support it had in early 2016.

Forming a coalition government

In our projections for the potential make-up of a coalition government, we have introduced a greater margin of error of plus-minus 10% because of the unreliability of some polls. This 10% is based on the typical error we have seen in opinion polling compared with the final results of recent elections and referendums in other Western countries. Using this data, we have calculated projections for how many seats each party is likely to win, while also giving upper and lower bounds for our projections. These are shown in the chart below. They indicate that the two parties currently in government – VVD and PvdA – will lose a large number of seats.

Even with this greater level of uncertainty, it seems likely that Geert Wilders’ PVV will win the election, gaining a handful more seats than the incumbent premier’s VVD. But most major parties have ruled out forming a coalition with PVV. So the only party that has a credible chance of leading a coalition is VVD. And with Mark Rutte remaining as the party leader, he would have a third term as prime minister. But with his current coalition partner, PvdA, set to lose around 71% of its parliamentary seats (from its current 38 seats to around 11), Rutte will have to seek support from other parties as well.

Based on the policy positions of the parties contesting the election, we think CDA, D66 and GL would be the most likely parties to join a coalition government with VVD and PvdA. This would be a relatively broad coalition: VVD is centre-right, CDA and D66 are centrists, PvdA is a centre-left social democratic party, while GL is a centre-left environment party.

Such a coalition would not be particularly unusual for the Netherlands, however. And as the chart above indicates, it would have a majority of between three and 37 seats in the 150-seat parliament if our projection is accurate. If the election result falls towards the upper bound of our projection, we expect Mark Rutte would instead form a four-party coalition between VVD, CDA, PvdA and D66, but not GL.

The formation of a strong coalition government will be important domestically and for the EU. And we expect this will also be a priority for the prime minister. If he is unable to form a workable coalition with a majority in parliament, he would be reliant on ad-hoc support from opposition parties. The populist PVV party would then have a more influential role in Dutch politics. But it seems that the Netherlands will avoid such a scenario. The next government will probably be strongly pro-EU, helping to provide stability as Europe deals with developing economic and political risks in its southern and eastern states.

By: Risk Advisory’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service

Image: Geert Wilders, leader of the populist PVV party; Peter Dejong AP/Press Association Images