VLOG: Dutch elections after the surge + Big Oil's big surprise

#6 Wk 12-21

Hi. Thanks for checking out this week’s Vlog.

On Friday March 26, I'll post on the past and future of D66 leader Sigrid Kaag, following the last-minute surge in votes for the new-ish Dutch ‘liberal’ party in the March 17 election.

Also coming up: a shift in official attitudes to Big Oil. President Joe Biden’s new appointee as chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has not yet started work. But after years of refusals, the Wall Street regulator for publicly traded companies has given a green light to a proposal from Dutch activists Follow This to grant shareholders a vote on oil companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The Sigrid Kaag Moment

Depending on your point of view, it looks a little like change. The March 17 election in the Netherlands brought big wins for both the majority VVD party and the ‘liberal’ D66 under its new leader, and soon-to-be deputy prime minister, Sigrid Kaas. Then again, both parties have a long record of governing together in coalition.

So the question of whether the new cabinet brings any surprises is moot.

Here’s one possible reason for optimism. Kaag, a career diplomat, was previously responsible for international development in the outgoing cabinet. Dutch foreign aid is unusual because all recipients are required to adopt principles for ‘open data’ as a condition for funding. Data is not, in itself, a panacea for bad governments, but it does make their work (successes or failures) more transparent.

Kaag called often during the election campaign for new leadership in the Netherlands, but sceptics recall the D66 largely supported Rutte’s majority VVD party in scaling back budgets for welfare and social programmes. Now, with Kaag at the helm, perhaps some of the lessons gleaned from the awkward work of public sector reform in developing countries can be applied closer to home.

More from me in this sub-1 minute vlog:

Electoral gains for D66, mostly from voters concentrated in metropolitan areas, knocked Gert Wilders’s euro-sceptic PPV, freedom party, off its perch as leader of the main opposition.

Between them, VVD, D66 and CDA are just three seats short of a majority - opening the door for coalition ‘scouts’ to broker an array of potential alliances with up to nine leaders of smaller parties with fewer than seven seats. 

Momentum behind the far-right parties continued to build, a larger trend following much of Europe. Thierry Baudet’s FVD picked up PPV’s losses among eurosceptics, nationalists and conspiracy-mongers, bringing the total share of the ballot for far-right parties to 20%. 

Left-wing parties across the board fared badly, prompting renewed calls for a merger of the green and left parties. That tepid flirtation has rumbled on for more than a decade, but may become more urgent now the clock is ticking: the average age of a voter for the PvdA, labour party, was 59. 

Dutch activists’ proposal lands at ConocoPhillips

The oil price is creeping higher after the shock of the pandemic, but the future for producers is shaky. The energy system which powered the 20th century won’t survive the 21st, as clean energy sources become competitive - and, in fact, cheaper. Fossil fuels are incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015.

Prospects for Big Oil are often portrayed as a corporate drama: the story of giants falling back to earth. Regular readers of 2ndOpinion will know that Follow This, a group of activist shareholders that cut its teeth at Royal Dutch Shell, takes a different view. Like it or not, they argue, we need Big Oil to lead the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

Any other plan will take too long to curb the pace of global heating, meaning the old energy incumbents should lead. By asking shareholders - the owners - to compel oil majors to adopt binding emissions targets aligned to the Paris goals, Follow This has pushed the roll-out of new renewable energy infrastructure higher up the agenda of Europe’s oil producers.

Under the Trump administration, the United States was beyond the reach of such proposals. Not any more.

In the 2021 AGM season, shareholders in ConocoPhillips will vote on a Follow This resolution for the first time. The Financial Times reported the latest decision by the US Securities and Exchange Regulator in SEC forces oil companies to hold investor votes on emission targets (paywall). The background is covered in my 2ndOpinion post The year of unintended consequences.

Keep well. Met vriendelijke groet!

Mark

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