Tag Archives: Elections

Who do I vote for happiness?

Tomorrow my home country, the Netherlands, goes to the polls. The Dutch political system has a low barrier to enter the parliament. Especially this year, this leads to a proliferation of parties: there are 28 parties on the ballot, of which around 11 to 15 stand a stance to win seats according to recent polls.

The broad offer of political ideas also resulted in a large amount of online voting tools. Nowadays, about fifty sites offer tools to compare your views with party manifestoes. Apart from two big and generic ones, others help you to determine which party to vote if you are an entrepreneur, a young voter, if you want to see swift work on climate change, and even if you smoke cannabis (this remains the Netherlands…!).


A voting tool for happiness

But there is no tool on happiness. If I want to support a politician that promotes policies improving happiness and well-being, who should I vote? Does any politician ‘run on happiness’?

Happiness is a very tricky issue for politicians. Few politicians would directly promise to make their voters happy, and for good reasons. But if you dig a bit into some of the electoral manifestoes, a couple of ideas linked to wellbeing and the beyond GDP agenda do appear.


Four out of the seven large parties have some notion of happiness

Let’s run through the seven parties performing best in the polls; known as VVD, PVV, CDA, D66, GroenLinks, SP and PvdA in their Dutch acronyms.

Three of the main parties do not dedicate a single word to these ideas. For the one-page manifesto of the Freedom Party (PVV, Geert Wilders), this is not a surprise. It’s main aim is to ban things that does not make its leader happy: islamic, asylum seekers, the koran, and public expenditure on culture, wind mills, public broadcasters, etc.

For the Christian Democrats (CDA) and especially Labour (PvdA), I am a bit surprised not see a reference. Both have paragraphs on sustainable economic development, and the link to welfare and wellbeing could be easily made there.

The idea of basic income – arguably also a revision to the thinking about wellbeing – appears in some manifestoes. Some smaller parties wholeheartedly support it (including a dedicated basic income party), while Labour, Greens and Social Liberals (D66) favour experiments with this tool.


Liberals: we are happy already, nothing to do here

The Liberals (VVD) programme follows Prime Minister Rutte’s relentless optimism: if the Netherlands wouldn’t exist, we would invent it. We’re one of the happiest countries of the world. Almost nowhere else life is as good as here (the Netherlands second?). But the measures it then proposes do not concern happiness or wellbeing – the programme simply focuses on prosperity. Is our happiness then just a coincidence? If our basis is so strong, isn’t there any way to strengthen wellbeing even further?


Socialists: equality makes everybody happy

The Socialists (SP) start from the correct notion that people are happier in a country with smaller differences between people, and equality is a key objective of their policies. Elsewhere, the programme notes that there is more than GDP, and wellbeing and sustainability should be considered to measure prosperity. Surprisingly, this point does not lead to a plea for alternative indicators. Instead, the relevant paragraph continues to speak out against European budget rules…


Greens: GDP is not holy

The Greens include a section on a pleasant life, with mostly has to do with nature and spatial planning. Quality of life in our neighbourhoods should be improved, and with an allusion to Robert F. Kennedy, the programme states that “the value of the beauty of the landscape, nature and animal welfare cannot be expressed in money”.

Elsewhere, the manifesto states that ‘GDP is not holy’, and that “wellbeing is a lot broader: green growth with sustainable boundaries, based on knowledge and innovation; inclusive growth, that creates good jobs and fair incomes. That is what counts.” A couple of nice quotations, surely, and the manifesto is full of utopian ideas to get to such a society. Indeed, according to the Central Planning Agency that reviewed the impact of most parties’ programmes, the Greens gets us very far in reducing income differences. Revision in the taxation system should finance this: the Greens are the most radical in greening the taxation system via the ‘the polluter pays’ principle.


Social Liberals: measure wellbeing

The Social Liberals (D66) denounce both the dogma of a government that steps too far back and the dogma of the state as a ‘happiness machine’. The programme notes that employment and social expression contribute to people’s happiness. The party also has the most detailed view on measuring wellbeing. In a dedicated paragraph, the party states that we should not only measure GDP, but also evaluate our ecological footprint, welfare, and wellbeing. These elements should be evaluated to determine our success. And based on an amendment proposed by your happiness blogger, the programme also links this to the efforts ongoing on the Netherlands to develop an alternative indicator in the form of a ‘Broad Wellbeing Monitor’.


NL happy

The EU elections

Sorry, for once a post that requires a specific interest – and some prior knowledge – in EU politics. No worries, next week I’ll talk about happiness again.

EU elections! After weeks of tensions built up, it’s over. The electorate has voted across the 28 EU countries. We don’t really know what they have said, but at least we’ll spin it in our favour.

There is a lot you can read in the result, but I would argue that the outcome – a low turnout of 43.09% and the rise of Eurosceptic and extreme right/left parties – suggest voters are not fully content with their leaders. I’ll avoid the discussion about happiness and politics today and just share five stories about the EU elections.

  • At 43.09%, the turnout is low, though marginally higher than in 2009 (43.00%). Absurdly enough, this was a reason for some EP voices to boldly claim the decline in turnout has been reversed. It is very worrisome to sustain democracy in a country like Slovakia, only 13% went to the polls. Seven out of eight simply didn’t care enough to make their voice heard! 


  • Let’s visualize it to better understand what the impact is that this 56.91% which is not represented in the EP.  Imagine 56.91% of the seats in the EP would not be assigned to anyone. In that case, more than half of the EP – 427 seats – would be empty. The political groups together would only fill 324 seats, the EPP with 92 being the largest. 


  • Another important narrative of the elections is the rise of the populists and extreme right. To me, this is too simplistic. In many countries, far right parties are doing well. Sadly, there are even enough for the Huffington post to make a list with “9 Scariest Far-Right Parties now in the European Parliament“. But not all of them are winning: Wilders’ PVV lost one seat in the Netherlands, and Jobbik in Hungary is staying at three seats. And euroskeptics come in many different flavours: UKIP (UK), AfD (Germany) and M5S (Italy) are incomparable in their opposition to the EU.


  • Altogether, the most interesting story to me is the fragementation of the EP. The slim lead of the EPP against the S&D could reinforce a strong competition. But will want to put their mark on the EP’s position. All the smaller parties will also want to be visible. This fact, and the ample presence of eurosceptics may result in some polarisation and could end the impression that all MEPs agree that whatever the problem, more Europe is the solution.


  • On the web, these are the elections of ‘Dear Europe, we are sorry‘. French people everywhere on Twitter share this to ‘apologise’ for the fact that Marine Le Pen’s Front National went from 3 to 24 seats in France. I can understand their frustration, but I don’t see the point in apologising for decisions taken by others. You don’t need to carry the weight of a quarter of the country on your shoulders. Rather than taking an apologetic stance, do something to fight bigotry and discrimination. Become member of a party. Do volunteer work to help people who are worse off. Fight for your ideals! But feeling ashamed about other people’s choices – that will never change anything.
Picture 4

Screenshot of www.deareuropewearesorry.eu