The rise of the Green party in the Netherlands

, by Richard Haringsma

The rise of the Green party in the Netherlands
Inspired by Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama, Jesse Klaver aims to lead the GroenLinks party to a historic electoral success. Photographer: Merlijn Doomernik.

The Dutch elections to the House of Representatives on 15 March are characterised by the large number of parties participating. With a record high number of 28 parties present altogether, and various parties balancing between 15-20 seats of the total of 150, these elections will yield a process of government formation that might even be more exciting than the elections themselves. One of these many parties doing surprisingly well is GroenLinks (Green Left).

GroenLinks was formed in 1990 after a fusion of four smaller parties, and what followed was a history of multiple ups and downs akin to a financial chart. The party gained 11 seats in 1998 with Paul Rosenmöller, their current record performance. Rosenmöller’s successor, Femke Halsema, failed to increase or consolidate the success of her predecessor. Only in 2010, after reforms of GroenLinks, Halsema brought the party back to 10 seats in the elections. In the elections of 2012 Groenlinks fell again to a low number of 4 seats under the leadership of Jolande Sap. Currently GroenLinks is predicted to gain a record high number of 15 seats in the upcoming elections. One poll, from the 10th of March, even projected that GroenLinks would gain 20 seats. To say that GroenLinks is doing great is an understatement when taking its history into account. The biggest reason for this success? The young and charismatic Jesse Klaver.

Born in 1986 to a mother of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent, and a Moroccan father, Jesse Klaver is a product of dutch multiculturalism, something he promotes in the elections. During his time at high school he studied in relatively low-level education but fought his way up to a University of Applied Sciences where he studied Social Work. He then tried to enter a Master’s degree programme in Political Science but withdrew before starting his studies. Between 2006 and 2009 he was a member of the youth political party called DWARS, which is allied to its mother party GroenLinks (Green Left) but keeps an independent position on topics. Between 2008 and 2009 he was president of DWARS before choosing to join the youth wing of the CNV trade union. He also joined the Social Economic Council as the youngest member in history, being only 23. In 2010 he declared himself a candidate for the Dutch House of Representatives.

Now, in 2017, he is leading GroenLinks into the Dutch elections with not only a record high number of potential seats but also being the biggest left-wing party in the elections. With his young age of only 30 years he attracts young voters, something that he is fully aware of. One just has to look at some of his promotional videos and one will see a lot of young people featuring in them. He takes his inspiration from Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau and does not hesitate to use some of their lines every once in a while.

On the 9th of March Jesse Klaver filled the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam with 5.000 people, with no empty seats left - not since the days following the end of the Second World War had a political rally gathered as many people in the Netherlands. And a rally in a place associated with musicians rather than politicians fits with the the artist-celebrity persona Klaver wants to create. Wearing a plain shirt with rolled up-sleeves, he shows off his drive and works hard to connect with young people.

But the image is not enough to attracts voters. What is persuasive for many dutch voters is his plea for social unity in a divisive campaign and his dogged determination to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to create a tax for plastic goods, or abolishing bonuses for CEO’s, hiking taxes for higher income citizens and closing down all coal plants.

When it comes to the European Union, GroenLinks has always supported more integration. For example, they propose true European elections in which a Dutch person could vote for EPP and ALDE members in Austria. In addition, they want more power for the European Parliament and want the EU to become more democratic. Jesse Klaver himself, however, does not speak much about the EU in his speeches. Nonetheless, in 2014 he declared his committment to the EU in a manifest, highlighting all the positive sides of European cooperation.

One of Klaver’s goals after the elections is to form a leftist-centrist coalition government. Klaver aims to form this government with the PVDA (Social Democrats), SP (Socialists), CDA (Centre Christian Party) and D66 (Progressive Liberals). If his party GroenLinks really gets around 20 seats it might even get the chance to form a government if the PVV or the VVD fail to do so (íf the PVV and VVD both get more seats), opening the path to a leftist-centrist government. Whatever happens, Jesse Klaver has taken his place in the history of his party, GroenLinks.

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