Political parties clash over pension, healthcare & Dutch identity in televised election debate

Election time in the Netherlands - directions to voting stations
Election time in the Netherlands - directions to voting stationsPhoto: Onderwijsgek / Wikipedia

Left- and right wing parties clashed fiercely over the retirement age, healthcare deductibles and the Dutch identity in the televised debate between eight party leaders in the Carré in Amsterdam on Sunday. With only 9 days to go until the parliamentary election, party leaders are pressured to create some movement in the polls, which have been quiet over the past weeks.

A total of eight party leaders participated in the debate - coalition parties VVD and PvdA and opposition parties SP, CDA, D66, GroenLinks, 50Plus and PvdD. This was Prime Minister Mark Rutte's (VVD) first televised debate in the run up to this election, as he withdrew from the previous one because RTL did not hold to the agreements, according to him. PVV leader Geert Wilders did not participate in this debate because, according to him, RTL involved his family in the election campaign by interviewing his brother. He apparently also did not watch the debate. On Twitter he posted a photo of TV program Boer Zoekt Vrouw, which was on at the same time as the debate.

According to NOS, VVD leader Rutte mostly wanted to show that he is the only party leader with experience in leading the Netherlands as Prime Minister. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold was critical of Rutte's renewed candidacy for a third term as Prime Minister. "Don't you think that the Netherlands is Rutte-tired?" he said in the debate.

Pechtold accused Rutte of inconsistency when it comes to his stance on the European Union. In the previous election campaign Rutte was euro-critical, thereby putting the euro in jeopardy, according to the D66 leader. But later in Brussels, Rutte was pro-Europe again. "In the Netherlands you behave like a PVV member, but in Brussels like a D66 member. Rather send a D66 member." Pechtold said.

In his defense Rutte shot back that he has 6.5 years of experience in working in the Netherlands' interest and has learned that "there are no perfect solutions". "If you think that, you are not ready yet", he said to Pechtold. 

CDA leader Sybrand Buma clashed with GroenLinks and PvdA about the Dutch identity, according to NU.nl. According to Buma, politicians are not doing enough to protect Dutch norms and values. Rutte agreed with Buma on this point. Rutte fears that the Dutch are "slowly and quietly" losing their culture. But he adds that everyone who endorses the Dutch identity belongs here.

PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher called it "brutal" that Buma wants to talk norms and values while his party was in government with the VVD and PVV. "The CDA makes a good impression with very cheap talk." According to GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver, Dutch with an immigration background feel that they don't belong in the Netherlands. "The Netherlands is for all of us", he said. 

Buma also attacked the left-wing parties about healthcare deductibles. "The promise to bring the excess to zero, they know they can't do it." He accused Asscher: "You reigned for four years, and each time the excess increased. Now comes regret." Asscher responded that the healthcare deductibles can now be decreased because the economy is doing better. 

The issue of the state retirement age was also raised again. SP, 50Plus and PvdD called for the retirement age to be lowered from 67 to 65 years. Rutte pointed out that doing so would increase taxes by billions. Klaver agreed. According to him, lowering the retirement age will cost 12 billion euros, which is more than is spent on primary education across the Netherlands. "That is a bill we can't pass on to future generations", he said. The CDA and PvdA are also against lowering the retirement age. 

Viewers of the debate named Jesse Klaver of GroenLinks the winner, according to the Telegraaf. The viewers believe he performed best in the debate. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold came in second place and Mark Rutte of the VVD in third.

Last week's Premier debate had hardly any affect in the polls. The expectation is that the this debate will also have little to no effect, according to AD. The party leaders were all charged and sharp, but they never got really personal. The constructive party leaders know that they will have to be able to negotiate about a new cabinet in 10 days.