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PPE Encounters event - Merijn Oudenampsen

7 December 2023
On the 22nd of November 2023, the Day of the Dutch elections, PPE Encounters, a student initiative in PPE, held its first speaker event of the year at the John Stuart Mill College. Merijn Oudenampsen, political scientist and sociologist from the Université Libre de Bruxelles, specializing in the study of political ideas, held a talk titled “The end of an era? - Mark Rutte, neoliberalism and the future of Dutch politics”.

Based on the book “Neoliberalisme: Een Nederlandse geschiedenis” (Neoliberalism - A Dutch history), Oudenampsen opened a historical lens on neoliberalism in the Netherlands - in the last 13 years, Mark Rutte ruled the country with a mixture of free market policies and technocratic means. Moreover, Oudenampsen pointed out that Dutch politics were curiously depoliticized: Appeals to ideology were historically unpopular, as parties had no incentive to delegitimize actors they would later form a coalition with. 

Given the international audience curious about Dutch politics, Oudenampsen then took the time to explain the Dutch political spectrum - marked by extreme fragmentation, the Netherlands has historically relied on coalition governments, flexibly involving right and left-wing political actors. Current topics are immigration, the rising cost of living, and the climate, with the child benefit scandal, and the nitrogen and housing crisis all marking significant crises for the trust in government. 

Oudenampsen pointed out that neoliberalism does not necessarily entail shrinking the state, but can also mean reorganization away from redistribution and to ensuring private property rights. A central point in this development in the Netherlands was abolishing economic planning, and establishing the “Central Planning Bureau” as an “economic think tank” rather than a planning agency.

Merijn Oudenampsen then opened the room for discussion. A first year student asked why people still vote economically liberal, when those policies seemed to have failed, to which Oudenampsen responded that this does not necessarily have to be the case: For citizens that already own properties, the policies of the last 20 years have been good - their houses and investments rose in value. 

Oudenampsen was then asked to comment on the parting Prime Minister’s interpretation of neoliberalism, to which he replied that Rutte started relatively libertarian and got more moderate once he entered parliament. In this context, Oudenampsen called the last program of the VVD the “most left-wing program since centuries”. Another PPE student who read Oudenampsen’s book then discussed how neoliberalism transcends party politics: the social democrats internalized it just as well as more right-wing parties. 

An example of this is that all parties send their political programs to a think tank to calculate the economic effects of their policy proposals for the next 50 years - “I think we are one of the only countries in the world that do that” Oudenampsen said. This of course comes with its problems, such as when the models are not adapted to new policies yet - for example, Volt’s proposal to implement a universal basic income was not factored in properly in the lastast analysis.

With that, Oudenampsen concluded his event. The PPE students had gained valuable insights on Dutch politics, and PPE Encounters had a successful first speaker event. Later that evening, PPE students gathered in the John Stuart Mill College to watch the elections live, and the concepts introduced by Merijn Oudenampsen gave them valuable perspectives for interpreting the outcomes of the election.