Christian democracy in the Netherlands

This article gives an overview of christian democracy in the Netherlands, which is also called confessional politics, including political Catholicism and Protestantism. It is limited to Christian democratic parties with substantial support, mainly proved by having had a representation in parliament. The sign ⇒ means a reference to another party in that scheme.


Azure, billetty Or a lion with a coronet Or armed and langued Gules holding in his dexter paw a sword Argent hilted Or and in the sinister paw seven arrows Argent pointed and bound together Or. [The seven arrows stand for the seven provinces of the Union of Utrecht.] The shield is crowned with the (Dutch) royal crown and supported by two lions Or armed and langued gules. They stand on a scroll Azure with the text (Or) "Je Maintiendrai" (French for "I will maintain".)
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Christian Democracy is the second oldest political ideology in the Netherlands, although before 1977 it was called "confessionele politiek" (politics based on the Christian confession).

Christian Democracy in the Netherlands is separated by roughly two kinds of cleavages—religious cleavages and political cleavages—which sometimes coincide.

The strongest religious cleavage is between Catholicism and Protestantism. Before the 1920s Catholics were treated as second class citizens and they were strongly despised by Protestants, who combined their Dutch nationalism with fierce anti-papism. There also are strong cleavages within Protestantism, most notably between the Dutch Reformed Church (hervormd) and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (gereformeerd). There are also cleavages within the Reformed Churches. The religious cleavages were reinforced by pillarization—self-imposed religious segregation.

Christian Democratic parties were also divided on political matters. The left-right cleavage split leftwing, centrist and rightwing strands of Christian democracy within the movement.

Before the 1880s the dominant political division in the Netherlands was between liberalism and conservatism. Orthodox strands of Protestantism were allied with the conservatives, while political Catholicism was allied with liberalism.

In 1880 the Anti Revolutionary Party was founded. It was part of the formation of a separate orthodox Protestant pillar, social group, which involved a separate church, the gereformeerde Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and a separate system of Protestant schools, including the Free University. This separate organization was based on a particular interpretation of the separation between church and state, namely sphere sovereignty. The ARP had one practical political goal: equalization of payment between public and religious schools. It had one political strategy: the anti-thesis between religious and non-religious parties, which meant that he sought to break the cooperation between liberals and Catholics and to create an alliance between Catholics and Protestants. It also advocated the extension of suffrage to all fathers of households.

The Catholics lacked a political organization, but had a solid electoral base in the predominantly Catholic south and an organization in the Catholic Church. They lacked a shared political position, but tended to favour the extension of suffrage and equal finance for Catholic schools.

In the 1880s the ARP's strategy became successful, both electorally, as it became an important political actor, and politically, as it was able to form an alliance, the coalition, with the Catholics. In 1888 this resulted in the first coalition cabinet led by Æneas Baron Mackay.

Tensions within the Protestants began to rise in the 1890s and resulted in the formation of the Christian Historical Union in 1908. Four issues divided a group led by Abraham Kuyper from a group led by Alexander de Savorin Lohmann:

  1. A large group of Anti-Revolutionary MPs, supporters and voters were still hervormd. They would split from the ARP.
  2. They also opposed the extension of suffrage, because they favoured divine sovereignty over popular sovereignty.
  3. Many Anti-Revolutionaries were still anti-papist and opposed the alliance with the Catholics.
  4. The leadership style of Abraham Kuyper, and especially the issue of party discipline was also a source of conflict.

The internal conflict weakens the support for the ARP and their alliance with the Catholics, who support a conservative government between 1894 and 1897

In the 1900s the ARP and Catholics, now organized in the federal General League returned to government. In 1901 they formed a cabinet led by Kuyper, which was backed by the CHU. In 1913 a liberal cabinet was formed which sought to address all the major political issues of the time in the constitutional change of 1917, which involved the extension of suffrage, the implementation of proportional representation, and equalization of school finance. Although in opposition, the Catholics and Protestants participated in the reform talks.

The extension of suffrage proved especially favourable for the religious parties. From the 1918 election onward, one or more of those parties was always part of the government. Between 1918 and 1939 the Catholics, CHU, and ARP always formed the governing coalition, sometimes joined by liberals. The policy of these cabinets was characterized by conservatism: in the social sense, by strengthening pillarization and enforcing public morality; in the economic sense, by keeping income and expenditure on the same level, which proved detrimental in the Great Depression; and in foreign policy, by adhering to armed neutrality and maintaining colonialism. These cabinets were led in turn by the Catholic Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck, the Anti-Revolutionary Hendrikus Colijn and the CHU politician Dirk Jan de Geer.

The extension of suffrage also gave smaller Christian Democratic parties a chance to enter Parliament. A pair of leftwing Protestant parties entered Parliament, the Christian Democratic Party and Christian Social Party, as did a pair of anti-papist orthodox religious parties, the Political Reformed Party (which is still represented in Parliament) and the Reformed Reformed State Party. In both pairs the first is the gereformeerd and the second is the hervormd variant. A Smaller leftwing Catholic party also gained representation, the Roman Catholic People's Party. In response the Catholics reformed their party to the more centralized Roman Catholic State Party.

Between 1940 and 1945 the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany. Prominent Catholic and Protestant politicians were involved in resistance work, while their political leaders were in London, where they formed a national cabinet with the liberals and the socialists.

In 1945 the first cabinet was formed after the Second World War. The Queen appointed an explicitly progressive cabinet composed of the KVP and the Labour Party, a new party formed by the SDAP, the VDB, the leftwing Protestant CDU and several prominent Catholics. This started a series of Roman-Red cabinets formed by the KVP and PvdA, most of which are led by social-democrat Willem Drees. The two main coalition partners, which gained around 30% of the vote were joined by smaller parties, including the CHU and the ARP, which gained only 10% of the vote. The cabinets were progressive and implemented a broad range of reforms—including the formation of a welfare state, a mixed economy, decolonization of the Dutch Indies, and joining NATO and the European Economic Community. Decolonization, which the ARP and prominent KVP members opposed, led to a split within the KVP and resulted in the formation in 1948 of the short-lived Catholic National Party. A religious conflict within the Dutch Reformed Church in the same year split the ARP and the Reformed Political Alliance.

In the 1960s the position of the religious parties weakened. In 1957 they swapped the PvdA for the conservative-liberal VVD. This led to internal dissent. More importantly however the religious parties were affected by the decline of pillarization. Since the mid-1960s, the Christian-Democrats had lost the majority and needed to rely on the VVD. In 1968 a group of leftwing, labour-oriented Catholics broke away from the KVP to form the Political Party of Radicals, and in 1971 they were joined by prominent Protestants. It joined an alliance with the Labour Party and the progressive liberal D'66. This alliance was unsuccessful at gaining a majority however in the 1971 and 1972 elections and they were forced to form a tenuous coalition with the KVP and ARP.

Meanwhile, pressured by their declining popularity, the KVP, ARP, and CHU formed a federation (in 1973), a common electoral list (in 1977) and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), a new party (in 1981). The formation of this centre-right broad Christian democratic party led to splits: on the right flank by the anti-papist orthodox reformed (the Reformed Political Party) and on the left by radical evangelicals (the Evangelical People's Party). Between 1977 and 1994 the CDA formed the main party of government coalition—alternating between the conservative liberals (1977–81; 1982–89) and the social democrats (1981–82; 1989–94) as their main partners.

Their prime minister, Ruud Lubbers, personified their no-nonsense policies of welfare state reform and privatization. In 1989 the two leftwing Christian parties merged with the Pacifist Socialist Party and the Communist Party of the Netherlands to form GreenLeft, a Green party without a strict Christian-democratic profile.

In 1994 the CDA suffered a decisive electoral defeat. The party lost half its vote and was confined to opposition for the first time in its history. It was also the first time since 1918 that a Christian Democratic Party was not part of the government. Over the next eight years, it took this period to renew its political program. Meanwhile, the orthodox Protestant RPF and the GPV merged to form the social-Christian ChristianUnion. In the 2002 elections, which were characterized by considerable insecurity, the CDA performed particularly well. CDA leader Jan Peter Balkenende served as prime minister for eight years, first heading a rightwing cabinet with the populist LPF and the conservative liberal VVD, a centrist cabinet with the VVD and the progressive liberal Democrat 66 and since 2007 a centre-left cabinet with the Labour Party and the Christian Union.

The CDA was roundly defeated in the 2010 election, but managed to become junior partner in a government led by the VVD.





Frisian League


General League


















Christian democratic leaders

Sybrand van Haersma Buma (Leader of the CDA 2012-)

See also

Further reading

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