After the voter revolt: Collaboration in the Amsterdam city council
25 August 2019 - I have updated this article. In this version, the emphasis is on proposals that were adopted despite at least one coalition party voting against.
The city council election on 21 March 2018 saw a bit of a voter revolt. Four new parties got elected onto the city council, thanks primarily to voters in the less affluent, peripheral parts of the city. The election outcome reflects Amsterdam’s social divide.
As a result, the composition of the city council changed considerably. So how are the established parties and the new parties getting along?
I will analyse this by looking at a specific type of proposals: motions and amendments that passed despite at least one coalition party voting against. These proposals are interesting because they show how parties vote when they don’t submit to coalition discipline. They show divisions within the coalition, and how much room there is to amend coalition policies.
First, let’s have a look at collaboration in the previous city council. There was a left-wing majority in the council, but the government was relatively right-leaning. To some extent, opposition parties succeeded in amending the coalition policies. Interestingly, parties frequently involved in this were GroenLinks (Green Party), PvdA (Social-Democrats), SP (Socialists) and D66 (culturally progressive, pro-market). These are the same parties that would form the current city government in 2018.
It’s also interesting that the share of proposals adopted against the will of at least one coalition party rose from 7% in 2014, to 26% in 2018. One possible explanation is that over time, new political issues arose that hadn’t been addressed in the coalition agreement and therefore weren’t subject to coalition discipline. But it’s also conceivable that the coherence of the coalition decreased over time.
The current coalition’s political orientation is more in line with the composition of the city council. This may explain that the share of adopted proposals that divide the coalition has, so far, been about half as high as during the early period of the previous city government. Given the relatively small number of these proposals, some caution is in order, but still it’s interesting to look at who submitted them.
There appear to be two clusters. One consists of left-wing opposition parties BIJ1, DENK, ChristenUnie and Partij voor de Dieren, as well as coalition parties GroenLinks and PvdA. To the extent that right-leaning parties succeed in amending coalition policies, the main parties behind this appear to be VVD and CDA.
Below are some of the issues that have been addressed in proposals that were adopted against the will of at least one coalition party. In part, the list may reflect which issues have already been on the city council’s agenda.
- Parking. The city government has ambitious plans to reduce the amount of space occupied by parked cars, in order to make room for a more liveable city. The city council has made small amendments to this policy, e.g. creating exemptions for specific categories of car owners. D66, SP and PvdA tend to support these amendments, GroenLinks not.
- Diversity. This includes initiatives to deal with ethnic profiling in police stop-and-search operations. There’s no consistent pattern in voting on these issues.
- Ground lease. The previous city government has amended Amsterdams social lease policy by introducing the option to buy off the rent, a move intended to placate home owners. Take-up of the new arrangement is slow, in part due to capacity problems of the municipality. The city council has filed a number of motions urging the government to do more to educate home owners, even ordering the government to hire a PR company for the purpose. These proposals were supported by all coalition parties but GroenLinks.
Other examples include reducing precarious jobs at the municipality (D66 against); discouraging new hotel construction (D66 against) and giving police easier access to footage from private security cameras (GroenLinks against).
Find the motions here.