Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)

Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). Formerly the dominant party in the Netherlands, recent years have been tough on the CDA.

The CDA finds its origins in three parties which dominated the Dutch political system until their formal merger in 1980. These three parties, the Catholic People’s Party (KVP), and the Protestant Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) and Christian Historical Union (CHU), formed the core of the Dutch party system.

The ARP had been the first major party in the Netherlands, and under its founder, Abraham Kuyper, it laid the basis of pillarisation through its ideology of ‘sphere sovereignty’ where, rather than advocating Kuyper’s former vision of theocracy, it instead advocated that each religious group should be able to run its own affairs. The ARP eventually became a more moderate, centrist party, and would sometimes flirt with leftist themes, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.

The CHU emerged from the more religious and theocratic wing of the party who opposed cooperation with Catholics in 1908. It later became the representative of the more middle class and conservative wing of Dutch Protestantism whereas the ARP was a more working class and centrist party.

From the institution of proportional representation in 1918 the three parties tended to work closely together, aided by the fact that they had a permanent majority in parliament until 1967, though, despite this, they often invited an extra party into parliament. The three parties were in almost permanent government until their merger, and the KVP was never out of government. On very rare occasions one or two parties were placed outside government (as from 1946, when the ‘Roman-Red’ coalition of the KVP and Labour ruled, before being joined by the ARP and CHU in 1948). The three parties were all broadly centrist to centre-right, combining centrist economics and socially conservative views.

With the secularisation of society in the 1960s and 1970s the parties saw their vote collapse. In 1963 the three parties had jointly won 51% of the vote. By 1972 this had dropped to 32%. They formed an electoral alliance in 1977, called the Christian Democratic Appeal and the alliance formerly merged in 1980.

The CDA presented itself as a centrist force. Due to its ideological inheritance it is keen on subsidiarity (the ideal that politics should be run at the lowest possible level, this originates in sphere sovereignty), the CDA is fairly environmentalist. It is also socially conservative. The CDA has both centre-right and centre-left wings, but the centre-right wing has historically tended to be larger and dominant, and the CDA tends to prefer coalitions with the VVD to Labour partially as a result. The party’s voters also tend to be more centre-right and so tend to prefer it to go into coalition with the VVD.

The party is still internally divided between a Catholic and Protestant wing. The party has an informal rule that the two wings take turns in holding the leadership. The party’s current leader, Sybrand van Haersma Buma, is a Protestant, whereas his predecessor, Maxime Verhagen is Catholic. Whenever Buma steps down, he will presumably be replaced by a Catholic.

The CDA is a political chameleon, capable of constantly shifting itself to the times. Until recently it never ruled any party out as a potential coalition partner. It often presents itself as a rather technocratic force or as a vote for stability. The party’s strength has not just been in its historic size but also in its centrism. Even when beaten by Labour, as it sometimes was, the CDA was often able to gain traction in coalition negotiations as Labour usually lacked potential left-of-centre coalition partners. The party finally lost power in 1994, as a secular coalition of Labour and the VVD removed it from power.

The CDA was a fairly poor opposition party, but was able to benefit from the rise of Pim Fortuyn. Under its then leader Jan-Peter Balkenende the CDA promoted itself as a safe choice, a voice of stability that could be trusted to work with Fortuyn, implement the majority of his programme but also act as a safe pair of hairs. Balkenende subsequently won the 2002 election, forming a coalition with the late Fortuyn’s party, and with the VVD. Although the List Pim Fortuyn subsequently collapsed in on itself, the CDA called an early election in 2003 and promised it would continue the work of the cabinet without the LPF.

The party subsequently formed a government with the VVD and Democrats 66 and continued with conservative anti-immigration policies. This government, too, collapsed, due to a controversy over the VVD immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, deciding to remove the passport of fellow VVD MP, ex-Somali refugee Ayaan Hirsi Ali, on the basis that she had lied on her asylum application. D66 subsequently withdrew from government.

Balkenende formed a third coalition with Labour and the ChristianUnion after the 2006 election. Labour subsequently collapsed the coalition when Balkenende and his then foreign minister, Verhagen, refused to withdraw Dutch troops from Afghanistan at the expiry of the agreed tour of service. The Dutch, especially the Dutch left, were massively opposed to the war at this point.

Balkenende’s initial appeal had been that he would bring stability, but all three of his governments had failed to reach their term. The Dutch, tired after 8 years of Balkenende, who had never been a particularly impressive leader, (the Belgian foreign minister once caused a minor diplomatic incident by suggest that “Balkenende is a mix of Harry Potter and a petty bourgeois mentality” due to his famed physical resemblance to the boy wizard) began to see him as the cause of instability rather the solution to it.

The 2009 European election was a warning shot across the CDA’s bow. The party subsequently slid to fourth place at the 2010 election, as centre-right voters abandoned it en masse for the VVD. While the party probably should have gone into opposition, it was instead led into becoming the junior coalition partner of the VVD in a minority government reliant upon Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom (which had come third). The subsequent government led to the CDA’s voice being concealed by visible discussions between the VVD’s Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders, and led it to being in the uncomfortable position of being the most moderate voice of the government.

The CDA subsequently fell even further back to fifth. The party is now in opposition.

The party’s poor experience in a right-wing government has led it to reject all cooperation with Wilders. Its left-wing has become dominant and it has adopted a ‘radical centrist’ agenda based around pro-Europeanism, lower taxes on income (but higher green taxes), social justice, and environmentalism. The party has come to support a loosening of the harsh immigration policies it, itself, introduced. While Buma is a competent leader the party is now seen as willing to sell its every principle to stay in power. Its insistence that it was a centrist party during what is arguably the most right-wing government the Dutch have ever had (its coalition with the VVD supported by Wilders) has devastated its remaining credibility.

The CDA’s remaining base is predominantly rural, elderly and religious. Even amongst this base it no longer has a lock. The VVD increasingly encroaches on its territory; the PVV is popular amongst this group, and amongst the most religious voters the more orthodox ChristianUnion and, increasingly, the Reformed Political Party, form alternatives. Additionally these groups are all demographics which are, by their very nature dwindling in size.

The party is traditionally very pro-European.

The CDA is, predictably, a member of the European People’s Party. It is a surprisingly disloyal party, with its five MEPs only voting with the group 93.9% of the time putting it in the ten least loyal parties in the EPP group.