The Netherlands comes a respectable 24th out of 28th in the Nanny State Index (the fewer points, the freer the country). It’s not quite as good as Germany on lifestyle liberty but it’s definitely in the green zone. Its reputation as a liberal haven has been largely well earned.
That could soon change. The Dutch health minister, Paul Blokhuis, wants to fast-track plain packaging through the Dutch parliament. He also wants to introduce minimum pricing so that the price of a crate of beer doubles from €10 to €20. He wants to emulate the UK’s food degradation programme and he wants to copy Chile’s ban on the use of recognisable characters on food packaging.
As if that weren’t enough, he wants to ban smoking on terraces, stop supermarkets selling cigarettes and include e-cigarettes in both the country’s smoking ban and the plain packs legislation.
And he can do most of this without the need for primary legislation. Plain packaging is scheduled to be passed before the month is out. By this time next year, the Netherlands could jump from the bottom end of the Nanny State Index to the top.
To understand the strange death of the liberal Netherlands, you need to look at last year’s election. As often happens under proportional representation, there was no outright winner and a four party coalition was required to govern. This turned into a complex and lengthy process. In the end, the largest party – the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy – formed a coalition with Democrats 66, Christian Democratic Appeal and the Christian Union.
Mr Blokhuis is from the Christian Union. They came eighth in the election with just 3.4 per cent of the vote. They only won five of the 150 seats available but since nobody wanted to deal with Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy couldn’t get on with the Greens, the Socialists or the Labour party, they somehow got into government.
The Christian Union is a socially conservative party rooted in the Protestant church. Unsurprisingly, they have a moralistic view of ‘vice’ and their price for going into coalition was that Blokhuis be made health minister so he could introduce a ‘National Prevention Agreement’ with a raft of nanny state measures.
None of the policies being proposed by the Christian Union are supported by credible evidence, but I doubt that will concern them. It’s not about health. It’s a moral crusade.
Nor do any of these policies sound like they are going to appeal to the median Dutch voter, which is perhaps why so few of them voted for Blokhuis’s band of zealots in the first place. But it looks like the nanny state movement has a new hero in the making.