Democrats ‘66 (D66)

Democrats ‘66 (D66). D66 emerged in, as its name suggests, 1966, as the first genuine challenge to the Dutch party system.

The party emerged from a group of young intellectuals who opposed pillarisation. D66 believed in political and electoral reform to end pillarisation. The party desired an American style Presidential system with First Past the Post voting to create a two party system and eliminate the religious parties.

The party became a permanent part of the Dutch party system and began to embrace increasingly left-liberal positions. The party still supports democratic reform now supporting a mixed electoral system, directly elected mayors, Prime Ministers and provincial leaders, and the use of referendums in regular decision-making.

Ideologically the party tends to hold rather centrist positions economically, but hold the most liberal positions on religious and moral issues. It is the most unremittingly secular party in the Netherlands. It is a point of disagreement over whether D66 is a centrist party, or the most centrist member of the left block with whom it tends to cooperate more closely. In reality D66 has shifted between both positions.

D66 has a (warranted) reputation as ‘everyone’s second choice party’. The party’s secularist liberal positions appeal to supporters of left-wing parties and liberal supporters of the VVD alike. Its economic centrism appeals to CDA supporters and to moderate members of other mainstream parties. For this reason its support tends to fluctuate widely as it picks up the support of annoyed supporters of governing parties and then tends to lose it when it enters government itself.

The party is a popular choice for a minor coalition partner, both due to its centrist position, but also because it is often seen as a good mediator between sharply polarised coalition partners. The party has even occasionally been brought into government when it is not needed for a majority, as in 1981 and 1998 to try to create coalition unity.

The purple governments of 1994-2002 were particularly reliant on D66, who particularly desired the coalition as a way of getting the CDA out of power and pursuing progressive social reforms. D66 was often described as acting as the ‘glue’ which held the Purple government together, acting as a referee between centre-left PvdA and right-liberal VVD.

The party was in coalition from 1994-2002 and then again from 2003-2006. This long stretch in government saw the party haemorrhage its highly unstable support, with the party halving in size with each time in government. The party saw its seats fall from 24, a record best, in 1994 to 3 seats, a record worst, in 2006. There was some discussion, at this point, of dissolving the party.

However the party was able to successfully re-orientate itself as the party most supportive of multiculturalism and immigration and presented its leader, Alexander Pechtold, as the leader of the opposition to Wilders. The party won 10 seats in 2010, and is now benefitting from the governing Purple government as it wins over moderate liberal supporters of the VVD and PvdA who dislike the government’s tougher immigration stances. Some polls show the party in first place.

D66 is probably most closely ideologically similar to Britain’s Liberal Democrats, internationally. Like the Lib Dems the party has recently moved somewhat to the right and embraced more pro-market positions. The party has come to be the party of young urban university educated voters who are relatively comfortable. It scored a big victory in this year’s local elections, taking Amsterdam and The Hague from Labour, and Utrecht from GreenLeft.

The party has recently been part of the ‘constructive opposition’ who work with the government in the Senate (in which the government lacks a majority) to pass legislation.

D66 is the most pro-European Dutch party, up to the point of supporting a Federal Europe.

Like its fellow liberals in the VVD, D66 is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. As the seventh most loyal party, voting along its group 96.6% of the time, it is much more loyal than the VVD.