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Democrats 66

Democrats 66
Democraten 66
Abbreviation D66
Leader Alexander Pechtold
Founder Hans van Mierlo
Hans Gruijters
Party Chairperson Letty Demmers
Leader in the Senate Thom de Graaf
Leader in the House of Representatives Alexander Pechtold
Leader in the European Parliament Sophie in 't Veld
Founded 14 October 1966
Headquarters Partijbureau D66
Hoge Nieuwstraat 30
The Hague
Think tank Mr. Hans van Mierlo Foundation
Youth wing Young Democrats
Ideology Social liberalism
Political position Centre
International affiliation Liberal International
European affiliation Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
European Parliament group Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
Colours Green
Seats in the House of Representatives
12 / 150
Seats in the Senate
10 / 75
67 / 570
Seats in the European Parliament
4 / 26
Politics of Netherlands
Political parties

Democrats 66 (Dutch: Democraten 66, D66; official name: Politieke Partij Democraten 66) (Dutch pronunciation: or Dutch pronunciation: ) is a social-liberal[1][2][3][4][5] and progressive[6][7] political party in the Netherlands. D66 was formed in 1966 by a group of politically unaligned, young intellectuals, led by journalist Hans van Mierlo. The party's main objective was to democratise the political system; it proposed to create an American style presidential system. In the 1967 general election, the party won 7 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives; no new party had ever gained that many seats before. The electoral history of the party is characterised by large fluctuations. At one point they had 24 seats, currently (following the September 2012 Parliamentary elections) they have 12. The party was in government from 1973-1977, 1981-1982, 1994-2002 and 2003-2006. Over time the party began to emphasise other issues in addition to democratic reform, creating a social-liberal programme.

Currently the party is represented by twelve seats in the House of Representatives, five in the Senate and four in the European Parliament. The party leader, and Parliamentary leader, is Alexander Pechtold. The party is in opposition against the Second Rutte cabinet. The party has a growing number of elected local and provincial politicians, but supplies a relatively large share of the mayors, which are appointed. The party's voters are concentrated in larger cities, especially those with a university degree, and towns with an above average number of wealthy citizens.

The organisation of D66 is based on principles of direct democracy.[8] Important decisions are made per referendum. D66 is a member of the Liberal International and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).


  • History 1
    • Foundation 1.1
    • 1967-1986 1.2
    • 1986-present 1.3
    • Name 1.4
  • Ideology and issues 2
    • Radical democrats 2.1
    • Progressive liberals 2.2
    • Issues 2.3
  • Electoral results 3
    • Parliament 3.1
    • European Parliament 3.2
  • Representation 4
    • Members of the House of Representatives 4.1
    • Members of the Senate 4.2
    • Members of the European Parliament 4.3
    • Municipal and Provincial Government 4.4
      • Provincial government 4.4.1
      • Municipal government 4.4.2
  • Electorate 5
  • Organization 6
    • Leadership 6.1
    • Current Party Board 6.2
    • Linked organisations 6.3
    • International organisations 6.4
    • Relationships to other parties 6.5
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9



Party founders Hans van Mierlo (left) and Hans Gruijters (right)
The first D66 Members of the House of Representatives after the inauguration in 1967.

Democrats 66 was founded on 14 October 1966 by 44 people. Its founders were described as homines novi, although 25 of the 44 had previously been members of a political party. The initiators were Hans van Mierlo, a journalist for the Algemeen Handelsblad and Hans Gruijters, a municipal councillor in Amsterdam. Van Mierlo became the party's political leader and Gruijters the party's chair. The foundation of the party was preceded by the Appeal 1966 on October 10, in which the founders appealed to the people of the Netherlands to re-take their democratic institutions. The party renounced the 19th century political ideologies, which dominated the political system and wanted to end pillarisation. It called for radical democratisation of the Dutch society and its political system and it called for pragmatic and scientific policy-making.


The party entered in the 1967 general election with Hans van Mierlo as their top candidate. The party won an unprecedented seven seats in parliament. In the 1971 general election the party won an additional four seats and it formed a Shadow Cabinet with the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Christian left Political Party of Radicals (PPR). In the 1972 general election, the three parties formed a political alliance called the "Progressive Accord" (Dutch: Progressief Akkoord; PAK) and presented a common electoral program (Keerpunt '72; turning point '72). In the elections D66 lost nearly half its seats, leaving only six. The alliance became the largest political force in the country, but it did not gain a majority. After long cabinet formation talks the three PAK-parties formed an extra-parliamentary cabinet joined by progressive members of the Protestant Anti Revolutionary Party (ARP) and the Catholic People's Party (KVP). The cabinet was led by the Labour politician Joop den Uyl. After the formation talks Van Mierlo left politics, feeling that his political position within the parliamentary party was untenable. The other party-founder Hans Gruijters became Minister of Housing and Spatial Planning. Van Mierlo was replaced by Jan Terlouw. He became the Parliamentary leader.

In the period 1972-1974 the party lost a dramatic number of members (from 6000 to 300) and polled very poorly in the provincial elections of 1974. The party also lost half of its senators in the 1974 indirect election to the Senate. On one of the party congresses a motion was put forth to abolish the party. A majority of the members voted in favour, but the two-thirds majority was not reached. In reaction Terlouw started a campaign to revitalise the party, involving a membership drive and a petition to the electorate. He emphasised issues other than democratic reform, and gave the party a more liberal orientation. The party doubled its membership in 1975 and in the 1977 general election D66 won two additional seats, although that same year the party lost all its seats in the Senate. In the election of 1981 D66 more than doubled its seats, to seventeen. They entered government with the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Labour Party. Terlouw became Minister of the Economy. The cabinet was riddled by the personal and ideological conflicts between the Christian Democratic Prime Minister Dries van Agt and the Labour minister of Social Affairs Joop den Uyl. The cabinet fell nine months after it was formed, when Labour left the cabinet. D66 and the CDA continued to govern in a caretaker government. In the subsequent 1982 general election, D66 lost two-thirds of its support, and was left with only six seats. After the elections Terlouw left politics, and he was replaced by Maarten Engwirda. The party was confined to opposition.


Jan Terlouw, leader from 1973 until 1981.

In 1986 Van Mierlo returned to politics. He emphasised democratic reform as the core issue of the party and wanted to end the polarisation between the Labour Party (PvdA) and People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), in order to form a government without the Christian Democratic Appeal. He led the party in the 1986 general election and gained three seats. In the 1989 election the party won another three seats, making a total of twelve, and it was asked to join the formation talks of a CDA/PvdA/D66 cabinet. Although the PvdA preferred a government with D66, the CDA did not. In the end D66 was numerically not necessary for the coalition, and they were excluded. Although in opposition, D66 adopted a constructive approach towards the government.

They were rewarded for this in the 1994 general election in which the party doubled its number of seats to twenty-four. D66 was able to form its 'dream coalition', the Purple government, which combined the social-democratic PvdA, and the conservative-liberal VVD. The first Kok cabinet initiated legislation, which the D66 has always advocated, such as the referendum, same-sex marriage and the legalisation of euthanasia. The moderate liberal economic policies of the cabinet were also seen as a great success. Van Mierlo became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Before the election of 1998, Van Mierlo stepped back and Els Borst, the minister of health became the top-candidate. D66 lost ten seats in the election, but its coalition partners won considerable ground at the cost of D66. The second Kok cabinet continued. Although D66 was numerically not necessary, it was seen as the glue that kept the two opposites of PvdA and VVD together. Borst stepped down as party leader and became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health. Thom de Graaf led the parliamentary party. Within the party, a group of age twenty-somethings, called Opschudding (Upheaval) began to call for a more explicit progressive liberal course. In 1999 a constitutional reform, which would allow referendums was rejected by the Senate. A group of dissidents around the prominent VVD member Hans Wiegel had voted against. D66 left the cabinet. In the subsequent formation talks D66 returned to the cabinet, in return for another important issue for D66, the directly elected mayor, and a temporary referendum law.

Hans van Mierlo, co-founder and leader from 1966 until 1973 and from 1986 until 1998.

In the 2002 general election the tide had turned against the Purple government, and the right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) had won considerable ground. The three purple parties lost an unprecedented 43 seats. D66 was left with only seven seats. The first Balkenende cabinet, formed of CDA, LPF and VVD, lasted only three months. In the 2003 general election D66 lost another seat, leaving only six. De Graaf stood down, in favour of Boris Dittrich. After long formation talks between CDA and PvdA failed, a second Balkenende cabinet was formed, comprising CDA, VVD and D66 parties. In return for investments in environment and education, and a special minister of democratisation, a post taken by De Graaf, who also became Deputy Prime Minister, D66 supported the centre-right reform cabinet and some of its more controversial legislation. In May 2005 the Senate rejected a constitutional reform that would allow a directly elected mayor. The legislation was introduced in the second Wim Kok-led Purple government, but it was unable to get a two-thirds majority because the Labour Party, whose minister De Vries had initiated the reform, rejected the legislation, because they were opposed the model of election proposed by De Graaf. De Graaf stepped down, but the rest of the ministers stayed on, after D66 was promised more investment in public education and the environment, and a plan for electoral reform. A special party congress was called to ratify this so-called Easter Accord. 2,600 members (20 percent of total membership) were present and the congress was broadcast live on by the Netherlands Public Broadcasting (NPO). The congress agreed to remain in cabinet by a large majority. Alexander Pechtold replaced De Graaf as minister of government reform. Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, the Minister of the Economy, became Deputy Prime Minister.

In February 2006 Dittrich stepped down as chair of the parliamentary party, because he did not agree with the government's decision to send the Dutch armed forces to the southern province of Uruzgan in Afghanistan. D66 voted against the government's proposal together with the Socialist Party and the GreenLeft. Dittrich stated that the mission to send troops was not a reconstruction mission (as the government and the majority of the Dutch parliament claimed), but a military operation. Lousewies van der Laan replaced Dittrich. In May 2006, D66 polled particularly badly in the 2006 municipal elections. D66 began to lose a considerable number of members, some of who founded deZES, another radical democratic, progressive liberal party. On a special party congress on 13 May a motion was put forth, demanding the withdrawal of D66 from the cabinet - it was rejected. In June 2006 an internal election was held in order to choose the top candidate for the 2007 election. Both Van der Laan and Pechtold entered. Pechtold won the elections, making him political leader of the party. During the special plenary parliamentary debate of July 28, 2006, on the naturalization process of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, D66 supported a motion of no confidence against minister Rita Verdonk. As D66 was a junior coalition partner, this caused a crisis in the second Balkenende cabinet. The cabinet refused to remove Verdonk from her position. Lousewies van der Laan, parliamentary leader of D66, did not feel that the D66 faction could support the cabinet any longer, and that the cabinet had to resign. Later on June 29, the two D66 ministers Alexander Pechtold and Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst resigned, causing the downfall of the Balkenende cabinet. New elections were called for November 2006 and the third Balkenende cabinet governed as a minority caretaker government.

Alexander Pechtold, current leader since 2006.

In October 2006, just before the D66 party congress and its 40th anniversary as party, D66 founder Hans van Mierlo asked the question whether D66 has still political legitimacy. He believes that many errors were made in recent history, and that only the acceptance of these errors can provide for any credibility to D66. Van Mierlo has put his support behind party leader Pechtold, who in his view can provide for such credibility.[9]

Since 2008 the party performed quite well in the polls: ranging from 10 to 26 seats in the polls, compared to only three in parliament.[10][11][12] In the 2009 European Parliament election the party won 11% of the votes and three seats, compared to 4% and the one seat gained in the 2004 European elections. Dutch journalist such as the news program Nova attribute this increase to the leadership of Alexander Pechtold, who has been called "the leader of the opposition.".[13] Under the leadership of Pechtold the party has taken strong stances against the Party for Freedom of Geert Wilders.[14] Pechtold considers the PVV populist and some of the statements of Wilders racist.[14] In the June 2010 parliamentary elections it increased its representation to ten seats. In the September 2012 parliamentary elections, the party further increased its amount of seats to twelve.


At its foundation the party was called Democraten 1966 (Democrats 1966; D'66). "Democrats" was reference to the goal of the party (radical democratisation). The year (1966) was a reference to the year of foundation, and was supposed to convey a modern image. In 1981 the name was changed to Democraten 66 (Democrats 66; D66), the name had become a successful political brand, but the year no longer conveyed a modern image.

Ideology and issues

The ideology of D66 is a highly contested subject within the party. The question is tied to the reason for its existence. There are two currents within the party: the radical democrats and the progressive liberals. These two currents although some times antagonistic currently complement each other, as both emphasise the self-realisation of the individual. The Radical League and the Free-thinking Democratic League, two early twentieth century parties are historic exponents of these two traditions.

Radical democrats

The first party congress emphasized radical democratisation of Dutch society and the political system. Its ideal was a two-party system. To obtain this it wanted to reform the electoral system after the American first past the post model. The electoral reform was gradually moderated, now the party favours German-style mixed member proportional representation. In this system, a national party-list election is used to make a first-past-the-post election representative to the nation-wide vote. This radical democratisation was combined with pragmatic and anti-dogmatic attitude towards politics. Hans van Mierlo, the party's leader between 1966 and 1972 and between 1986 and 1998 and the party's figurehead, was an important exponent of this tendency within the party.

Progressive liberals

D66's progressive liberal current has historically been much weaker than its radical democratic current. Progressive liberals seek to adopt a more substantive course for the party, breaking with its pragmatism. Under Jan Terlouw, between 1972 and 1982, D66 began to emphasise new issues like the environment, public education and innovation. He called D66 a fourth current, next to social democracy, Christian democracy and the conservative liberalism of the VVD. In 1998 the group "Opschudding" called for progressive liberal course for the party. In the party's manifesto, adopted in 2000, the party explicitly adopted a progressive liberal image. National political reasons explain the usage of the label social-liberal, since the more right-wing VVD describes itself as the liberal party.


Some of the party's most important policies include:

Electoral results


Election year House of Representatives Government
# of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
1967 307,810 4.4 (#7)
7 / 150
7 in opposition
1971 427,720 6.7 (#5)
11 / 150
4 in opposition
1972 307,048 4.1 (#8)
6 / 150
5 in coalition
1977 452,423 5.4 (#4)
8 / 150
2 in opposition
1981 452,423 11.0 (#4)
17 / 150
9 in coalition
1982 351,278 4.3 (#4)
6 / 150
11 in opposition
1986 562,466 6.1 (#4)
9 / 150
3 in opposition
1989 701,934 7.9 (#4)
12 / 150
3 in opposition
1994 1,391,202 15.5 (#4)
24 / 150
12 in coalition
1998 773.497 9.0 (#4)
14 / 150
10 in coalition
2002 484,317 5.1 (#7)
7 / 150
7 in opposition
2003 393,333 4.0 (#7)
6 / 150
1 in coalition
2006 193.232 2.0 (#8)
3 / 150
3 in opposition
2010 654,167 6.9 (#6)
10 / 150
7 in opposition
2012 757,091 8.0 (#6)
12 / 150
2 in opposition
Election year Senate Government
# of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
1999 8,542 (#5)
4 / 75
3 in coalition
2003 7,087 4.4 (#6)
3 / 75
1 in coalition
2007 3,270 2.0 (#8)
2 / 75
1 in opposition
2011 12,651 7.62 (#6)
5 / 75
3 in opposition

European Parliament

Election year # of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
1979 511.967 9.03
2 / 25
1984 120.826 2.28
0 / 25
1989 6.0
1 / 25
1994 481,826 11.7
4 / 31
1999 205,623 5.8
2 / 31
2004 202,502 4.25
1 / 27
2009 515,422 11.32
3 / 25
2014 732,145 15.4
4 / 26


This table shows the results of D66 in elections to the House of Representatives, the Senate, the States-Provincial and European elections, as well as the party's political leadership: the Parliamentary leader, is the chair of the parliamentary party and the lijsttrekker is the party's top candidate in the general election, these posts are normally taken by the party's leader. It also possible that the party leader is member of cabinet, if the D66 was part of the governing coalition, the "highest ranking" minister is listed. The membership and party chair of D66 is also represented.

Members of the House of Representatives

The 2012 general elections resulted in twelve seats for D66 in the House of Representatives, the Dutch Lower House:

Members of the Senate

After the 2015 Senate elections, the party had ten representatives in the Senate, the Dutch Upper House:

Members of the European Parliament

After the 2014 European Parliament elections the party has four representatives in the European Parliament:

The D66 delegation is part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the European parliament.

Prior to the first European elections in 1979, D66's appointed MEPs sat with the Socialist Group, before switching to Non-Inscrits from 1979 until 1984,[15] and the Liberal and Democratic Reformists (LDR) group from 1989.[16]

Municipal and Provincial Government

Provincial government

Since the Provincial elections of March 2011 D66 has had 42 members of the States-Provincial. It shows the areas where D66 is strong, namely the urbanised provinces such as Utrecht, Groningen, North- and South-Holland. The party is weaker in rural provinces like Friesland and Zeeland.

Province Seats
Drenthe 2
Flevoland 3
Friesland 2
Gelderland 4
Groningen 3
Limburg 2
North Brabant 5
North Holland 6
Overijssel 3
South Holland 5
Utrecht 5
Zeeland 2

Municipal government

28 of the 414 mayors of the Netherlands are members of D66. The party cooperates in several local executives and has 30 aldermen. It has 850 members of local legislatives and 16 members of borough legislatives. Fourteen of the borough councillors were elected in Amsterdam, and only two in Rotterdam.


The electorate of D66 have a relatively weak commitment towards the party. It ranges from sixteen percent of vote to two. D66 tends to attract unbound, 'floating' voters. D66 voters are relatively young, highly educated, wealthy and have strong post-materialistic values. The party's electorate is concentrated in the larger cities and smaller wealthier towns. D66 lacks pillarized organizations around it.


The highest organ of the D66 is the General Assembly, in which every member can participate. It convenes multiple times per year. It appoints the party board and has the last say over the party program. The party list, including the party's Parliamentary leader, for the Senate, House of Representatives, European Parliament candidates are elected directly by the members. The party has between 250 and 300 branches all over the Netherlands.


Current Party Board

  • Letty Demmers (Party chair)
  • Robert Strijk (Treasurer, Deputy Party chair)
  • Said Kasmi (Regional and local party contact)
  • Henk Beerten (Political secretary)
  • Michiel Verkoulen (Members and fundraising)
  • Annelou van Egmond (PR, Communications and Target groups)
  • Robert Farla (International Party secretary)
  • Saskia Boelema (Education, training and talentscouting)

Linked organisations

The party's scientific institute is called "Hans van Mierlo Foundation" (as from May 2011). It publishes the "Idea" (Dutch: Idee). The party's magazine is the "Democrat". The education institute is called Education Centre D66. D66 has an organization for cooperation with Eastern European liberal parties called "Foundation International Democratic Initiative D66".

The youth organization of D66 is called the Young Democrats (Dutch: Jonge Democraten; JD). It has produced several prominent active members of D66 like former MP Boris van der Ham. The JD publishes the Demo. JD is a member of European Liberal Youth and the International Federation of Liberal Youth.

D66 is cofounder of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, a democracy assistance organisation of seven Dutch political parties.

International organisations

D66 is a member of the Liberal International and of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). D66 joined the Liberal and Democratic Reformists (LDR) group in 1989,[16] became a full member of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) in 1994 and a full member of the Liberal International in 1986.[17]

Relationships to other parties

In the recent decade's general elections, political commentators positioned D66 at the centre of the political spectrum and that most inclined to progressive reform.[18] This offers the party a lot of possibilities for co-operation with others in the Dutch political landscape. Historically, D66 has co-operated in cabinets with the Labour Party (PvdA). They were in four cabinets together (Den Uyl, Van Agt II, Kok I and Kok II); and they formed a shadow cabinet during the early seventies. The relations with the PvdA came under heavy tension three times: in 1981 when D66 decided to continue to govern with the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), after the PvdA ministers had left the first Van Agt cabinet; in 1989 when PvdA formed a third Lubbers cabinet without D66; and 2003 when D66 joined the second Balkenende cabinet.

Ideologically the social-liberal D66 is linked to People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), although VVD is considered a party of conservative liberalism. This resulted in three coalition governments (Kok I, Kok II and Balkenende II). Both D66 and the VVD are member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and their respective members in the European Parliament are affiliated to the ALDE Group; they have campaigned with the same ALDE programme in European Parliament elections; they have together formed electoral alliances and they have worked together in one VVD/D66 European Parliament parliamentary party.

See also


  1. ^ Vít Hloušek; Lubomír Kopeček (2010). Origin, Ideology and Transformation of Political Parties: East-Central and Western Europe Compared. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 109.  
  2. ^ Dimitri Almeida (2012). The Impact of European Integration on Political Parties: Beyond the Permissive Consensus. Routledge. p. 98.  
  3. ^ Barbara Wejnert (26 July 2010). Democratic Paths and Trends. Emerald Group Publishing. p. 28.  
  4. ^ Thomas Poguntke; Paul Webb (21 June 2007). The Presidentialization of Politics: A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford University Press. p. 158.  
  5. ^ Simon Lightfoot (2005). Europeanizing Social Democracy?: The Rise of the Party of European Socialists. Routledge. p. 74.  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Tompson, William (2009), The Political Economy of Reform: Lessons from pensions, product markets and labour markets in ten OECD countries, OECD, p. 440 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Oprichter van Mierlo: heeft D66 nog zin?".  
  10. ^ Politieke Voorkeur sinds augustus 2008 on
  11. ^ Trends sinds de laatste tweede kamer verkiezing on politieke
  12. ^ (Dutch) "Politieke Voorkeur sinds Januari 2009," (Jan 24, 2010)
  13. ^ (Dutch) "Alexander Pechtold is dé oppositieleider van dit moment," Hanneke van der Werf and Nynke de Zoeten, Nova: Den Haag Vandaag (19 April 2008)
  14. ^ a b (Dutch) Hugo Logtenberg, "Alexander Pechtold: Ik heb meer dan ooit criticasters nodig" on (02-04-2008)
  15. ^ Emil J. Kirchner (3 November 1988). Liberal Parties in Western Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 412.  
  16. ^ a b William Heller; Carol Mershon (23 June 2009). Political Parties and Legislative Party Switching. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 153.  
  17. ^ Democrats 66 on
  18. ^ In his model depicting the political space in the Netherlands at the general elections of 2006, Dutch political scientist and lecturer in politics at the Free University of Amsterdam and creator of the Electoral Compass concept, André Krowel, positioned D66 and GroenLinks as the most progressive, with D66 situated at the centre of the political landscape and with GroenLinks most to the left in that model.

External links

  • Democrats 66 official site
  • Democrats 66 official site (English)
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