Our expatriate Dutch correspondent H. Numan has kindly supplied Gates of Vienna with a comprehensive guide to the arcane details of the current political crisis in the Netherlands, designed to help non-Dutch people understand the intricacies of what’s going on in the Hague.
The invisible power of the queen
by H. Numan
I read that some people are surprised about what is going on in the Netherlands. The PVV won massively, but they won’t be invited into a new cabinet. There are many reasons for that. The two most important ones: the establishment doesn’t want it. And most important: the queen doesn’t want it.
The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy. True enough. However, if the queen had slightly more power, one would have to call it an absolute monarchy. Ironic, as The Republic of the United Netherlands was one of the oldest republics in the world…
When The Netherlands became a kingdom in 1813, king William I accepted a constitution only grudgingly. He wanted to rule as an absolute monarch. In 1848 Thorbecke saved king William II from hanging by having him adopt a new concept: the king doesn’t rule anymore, but reigns. From then on, the government was responsible for governing, not the king himself.
But… that is just appearance. In reality, the queen has an immense influence on politics. Queen Beatrix is one of the richest women in Europe. Her personal assets are estimated between 6 and 14 billion euros. She can therefore influence matters indirectly. She is well known for using state assets privately. Such as the AIVD to investigate someone she doesn’t personally like. Or using a navy yard to maintain her royal yacht. But it goes even further than that. Several letterbox companies on the Channel Island have as an address Noordeinde Palace (Tulip and Daffodil Co., Ltd.)… That’s tax evasion at best, or money laundering at worst.
The wealth of the queen shows up occasionally: Dutch royal scandals never appear in Dutch media, unless they have been published elsewhere first, notably in Bild Zeitung. The Dutch royals enjoy far more privacy from the media than any other rich and famous people on earth. Does the queen, by sheer coincidence of course, own shares in most media companies? Who knows?
There is much more: for example, the government is responsible for everything she does, not the queen herself. Supposing the queen says something that becomes an embarrassment, the government is responsible. The crown prince is particularly familiar with that. He embarrasses himself about once every week. It’s actually quite convenient to have a national government at hand to clean up your mess.
The queen has one massive weapon which she uses occasionally: she can force the government her way by threatening to resign. A kind of royal sledgehammer. Don’t think the queen will hesitate to use it. Queen Juliana did on at least three publicly known occasions:
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- The Greet Hofman scandal
Greet Hofman was a kind of religious quack who had a very strong and unhealthy influence over queen Juliana. Far too much for a government to accept. In fact, the queen was borderline mental case. The crisis was solved by placing the queen virtually under house arrest for a time.
- The Lockheed scandal
Prince Bernard was found guilty as hell in taking (large) bribes from Lockheed. The queen told the government that in case of a trial, she would resign the throne. Prince Bernhard was not prosecuted.
- The ‘A’ and ‘B’ princes affair
The Dutch Royal family is very good at procreating. So good that it creates a problem: should the state support all those princes who will never ever be in line for the throne? Especially since the family is extremely wealthy. Queen Juliana bluntly even didn’t debate this. She flatly refused to sign any legislation, should it come to that. The matter died a quiet death.
These are the biggest affairs, well known in The Netherlands. You can rest assured there are quite a few skeletons in the royal cupboards we don’t know about. Add to that: Queen Beatrix is much more outspoken and hands-on in governing than her mother or grandmother.
And now the biggest political weapon the queen has: she, and she alone, appoints the person(s) who investigate the possible cabinets (‘informateur’), and later the person who will actually form a cabinet, and usually becomes prime minister (‘formateur’). She doesn’t have to justify why she appoints somebody. It is impolite to ask, and supposing one does, “In my opinion, this is the most qualified person to do the job” is quite sufficient. As you can understand, all this is serious ‘behind the screens’ power.
Now let’s look at the election results. The VVD (conservatives) won marginally. They took 31 seats in parliament. The PVV won 24 seats. A landslide victory, true. But not enough to become partner in a cabinet. The Maoist party (They call themselves “Socialist Party” nowadays) likewise won a few years ago and never got into a cabinet either. Nothing wrong here, this is quite normal in Dutch politics. The Netherlands has always had coalition governments. It’s a matter of negotiating.
But this time it’s different. The most likely and desired cabinet would be VVD and PVV with CDA. The Christian Democrats however, were sliced. From the biggest party they ended up as number 4, behind VVD, PvdA, PVV, in that order. Maxime Verhagen, currently the leader of the CDA, bluntly refused to even start debating possibilities, let alone begin negotiating.
So what is possible next? The queen comes into play right now. She very clearly doesn’t like the PVV or Wilders. She has said as much on many occasions. The last time was a few months ago when she revived an old custom: she invited a bunch of parliamentarians for tea with biscuits and a lecture on the palace. One of them spilled the beans. He told the newspapers the queen warned about ‘undesirable parties splitting the nation’. He was forced to resign the next day.
Her Majesty then appointed a new ‘informateur’. One of her close confidants, Tjeenk Willink. Mr. Willink is vice chairman of the ‘Raad van State’, member of the PvdA, and a sure bet to look for a coalition without the PVV.
The current option investigated is a literal monster. A coalition of no less than five parties, being the VVD, PvdA (socialists), Green-Left (ex communists), D66 (left wing liberals) and the CDA. This political monstrosity has the blessing of the queen and of the establishment. It excludes the PVV, the Maoist Party and what’s left over. Basically, all major parties form part of this cabinet — except the PVV.
First of all, the more parties that form the coalition government, the more likely it is it will collapse prematurely. A two party coalition is most stable; three parties usually works well. More than three parties is asking for trouble. When you do that with two socialist parties together with the communist party and the conservatives, that’s not asking for trouble, but begging for it. I’d be really surprised if such a freak cabinet will survive 5 months. Anything more is a plus.
It is also political suicide for the VVD party. Their victory is already called the victory-defeat… The very fact that the VVD is open for this option is causing many members to resign from the party, or announce they will not vote for it anymore. And that is just during the initial discussions. As Mark Rutte isn’t exactly stupid, I assume he is under severe pressure ‘from above’ to commit political suicide.
Since the queen is doing her very best to get this government up and on its crutches, for the first time the royal privilege to appoint the ‘informateur’ is now openly debated. The invisible hand of the queen is seen as a greedy claw to hold on to power, regardless the consequences. It won’t go any further than that. A constitutional change is practically impossible.
Now, don’t be disappointed. Geert Wilders is anything but stupid. Of course he is furious. He should be. If he wasn’t he might as well do something else. But look at it logically. The PVV team is brand new. It is very likely they will make mistakes. Any tiny mistake will be blown out of proportion. If not by the opposition, most certainly by the left wing media – which is all the media there is in the Netherlands.
Apart from that, on what issues can the PVV stand firm? Suppose a VVD-PVV-CDA cabinet were on the table. In order to be allowed in that cabinet, they would have to sacrifice everything. Wilders is clever enough to realize that waiting a few more months will pay off handsomely.
The VVD will be sliced for cooperating in this extreme left wing cabinet. The left wing parties will do nothing but – pardon my expression – bitch-fight amongst themselves. The CDA won’t do anything, just try to heal their wounds. The present queen is old. She should have resigned a long time ago, if the crown prince weren’t so capable of creating gaffes and blunders. She would have, too, but she hangs on just to prevent the PVV from getting into a cabinet.
I expect that a left-wing cabinet won’t last long. Five months? A year? That’s already stretching it. By that time the current coalition will have embarrassed itself into a crisis. The queen probably will have resigned right after this current coalition is sworn in.
After that, it’s payback time for Wilders.