Our Dutch correspondent H. Numan provides an overview of the current political situation in the Netherlands for non-Dutch readers. Surprisingly enough, it’s more optimistic than anything we’ve heard from Western Europe in a long, long time.
A new Dutch referendum
by H. Numan
As we experience massive political avalanches on almost a daily basis in Europe, this one slipped our attention: the Dutch will have a real referendum. In April 2016. Very much against the will of the government and the political establishment.
What happened? Parliament passed a referendum bill on 1 July 2015. Neither the government nor the parliament (well, most of them, anyway) liked this bill a lot. So it’s as meager as they could possibly make it. One needs to collect 10,000 signatures in order to apply for a referendum. Once that number has been reached, 300,000 signatures within six weeks are required to get the referendum. On top of that, the referendum is advisory, not legislative. Mind you, a real and consequently legislative referendum is old hat in Switzerland. Where you need a lot fewer signatures and get much more time to collect them. The Swiss also have no problems changing their constitution via referendum. All it requires is more signatures.
The most popular weblog by far in The Netherlands is GeenStijl.nl. The name is difficult to translate; ‘no class’ comes close. It’s somewhat conservative, mostly but definitely not exclusively, targeting a younger predominantly male audience. They tend to kick where it really hurts. Nobody is spared. Very often the PVV is targeted, so much so that you may get the impression it’s just another Wilders-bashing site. But they are also the biggest open and honest blog reporting bad situations in the country, political and otherwise. They lash out at anyone. No holds barred. Nobody is spared. Several cabinet ministers found that out to their regret. Notably Ella Vogelaar, former minister of Integration and Housing, who had to resign after she completely bungled an interview with GeenStijl. She performed so badly in that interview she was forced to resign the same week.
For example, the Dutch police are very hesitant to put photos of criminals online. One has to protect the privacy of muggers, rapists, burglars and other unsanitary folks. And above all, no photos confirming right-wing suspicions, so no photos of Muslims, blacks or anything politically incorrect. GeenStijl has absolutely no qualms about that. A ‘Sandlandistan’ chap spitting in a bus driver’s face, caught on camera? Smile buddy, you’re now online. Politically incorrect? Absolutely! You have a lawyer writing a cease and desist letter to get rid of your mugshot in Dumpert? That goes online too. With some snippy remarks accompanying it.
GeenStijl started the first real referendum, under the name GeenPeil (peilen = to poll). The 10,000 signatures they got in a matter of days, and the remainder for the 300,000 limit they reached comfortably (341,666 signatures) a few days before the deadline. They met the legal requirements, and the government is now required by law to hold the referendum.
The issue at hand is the association treaty between the EU with the Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia (the former USSR republic, not the US state). According to the EU, nothing to worry about. But in reality very much so. If only because in that association treaty real EU military and financial support will be given to those states. The treaty itself can be found online. If you care to read 300 pages of bone-dry civil-servant-speak written by civil servants who want to hide something in a maze of words, that is.
Keep in mind that the government is not obliged to follow up the results of the referendum. The referendum law only allows for advisory, not legislative referendums. That’s another sign of how much the government (dis)likes the opinion of the people they represent. Just like the first Dutch referendum. When the people with neither political support nor a financial budget to speak of, voted a resounding ‘NO!’ against the EU constitution. The government had a massive budget, control over most media and literally tried to scare the people into voting yes. That was also an advisory referendum. The government, after their massive defeat, rejected the results and duly signed the treaty of Lisbon. Which was the very same constitution under a different name. As they will no doubt do this time. Or try to.
However, this time it’s different. Very different. This cabinet is sailing in troubled waters already. No fewer than four cabinet ministers face a vote of no confidence. Two so far escaped the ax, with two more on the chopping block.
That’s for starters. The party that actually introduced the referendum (way back in 1966) as one of their main focal points, is D66. The other being the election of mayors. They were founded in 1966, and wanted more democracy, hence the name. That party has become a mainstream party, and as such they are against this referendum. Now we finally have a mere advisory, not even a legislative referendum, they are dead-set against it. Their other focal point was electing mayors. That crown jewel they dropped when a D66 politician accepted his appointment as mayor of Nijmegen. D66 is a somewhat left-wing liberal party, focusing mainly on above-average income voters who feel a bit embarrassed by being affluent.
D66 is one of the five big parties, the others being PVV, VVD, SP, CDA, and D66 in that order [for more information on the parties, see the key at the bottom of this post]. D66 has to discover as Volkswagen just did that honesty is the best policy. Dropping your core political principles is usually not a very good idea. The VVD paid the price. The PVV is an offspring of the VVD and almost double in size. The CDA paid that price; the socialists are going to pay that price (currently 39 seats, they are polling at 9) in the coming elections. D66 will be no exception. They’ll have to bite the bullet too.
Far more important is that the PVV has completely recovered from supporting the government as a silent partner in the minority cabinet Rutte I. They dropped from 23 to 13 seats, and are now consistently leading the polls. Currently at 34 seats. Supposing elections were to be held today, a majority cabinet under Prime Minister Geert Wilders is a real possibility. That is the ultimate nightmare for the left and the left-wing establishment in particular.
Dutch politics can be very difficult and complicated; I’ll describe how a cabinet is formed in a separate article. This brings me to a third changed factor: the monarch. Queen Beatrix was a bit of a weirdo: the richest woman by far in Europe, who introduced a very strict court protocol, much preferred the socialist Labor party. She intensely disliked the PVV and Wilders. She made it abundantly clear that she would do everything in her power to prevent Wilders from becoming PM or even a minister. That queen has retired and the current king is new in his job. We don’t know his political ideas — not yet, that is. He might, or might not, continue the line of his dear old mum. We’ll have to wait and see. Under queen Beatrix’s reign the PVV could only expect to govern if they won more than 60 seats. Never, in other words. Right now, it’s a real possibility with 34 seats.
Something else has changed, too: in the past, the queen would appoint an ‘informateur’, usually an experienced politician who would scout what cabinet can be formed. She didn’t have to justify why she appointed someone. That gave her immense indirect power. She usually appointed labor politicians, always trying to form a labor cabinet as the first option. This has been abolished. Now, the chairman of the Parliament will do that. He or she (currently she) has to follow rules and procedures, and is fully accountable as to who will be appointed informateur. This greatly increases the chance that the PVV party will form a cabinet.
And lastly, the situation abroad has changed. Trains loaded with refugees arrive from Greece and the Mediterranean. To return to Greece loaded with money. You don’t hear much about Greece these days, do you? The fact that Tsipras was reelected with a very comfortable majority barely hit the news. We dumped about €500 billion into Greece, with a lot more to come. While all the time Tsipras made it abundantly clear he expected much more money, and has broken every agreement so far.
That insignificant bit of no news is replaced by the current problem, which is the refugee invasion. For a real invasion it is. The battle for Europe has begin without anyone’s even noticing it. As usual: Europe is fast asleep and wants peace in our time. We do have a Winston Churchill in Holland. He hasn’t been elected yet. Exactly the same goes for France, and in other EU nations opposition is growing as well.
Now to get back on topic, that advisory referendum about the EU association treaty. Within six weeks GeenPeil was able to collect 341,666 signatures to start it. The outcome of that referendum will almost certainly be a resounding no. That puts the current cabinet into a very difficult position. Assuming of course that they survive that long. The cabinet has lost the justice minister and his number two, as well as the junior minister for finance. With, as I said, four more on the chopping block. “Let’s keep the cabinet afloat, otherwise Wilders becomes PM” doesn’t work forever.
Until this referendum came up I expected the cabinet to fall or resign and to be succeeded by another ‘boycott the PVV’ coalition. Now I’m not so sure. To me it seems that a Wilders 1 cabinet is not only possible, but even becoming more likely as the European situation massively deteriorates. If that were to happen, it we might be saved by the bell once more.
The last battle of Europe was in progress when Winston Churchill was elected on 10 May 1940. Remarkable how history repeats itself.
— H. Numan
Key to the parties:
|PVV||Party for Freedom|
|Partij voor de Vrijheid|
|Classical liberal, Islam-critical
|VVD||People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy|
|Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie|
|Partij van de Arbeid|
|Left-wing populists, former Maoists, to the left of communists
|CDA||Christian Democratic Appeal|
|Christian democrats, center-right
|Politieke Partij Democraten 66|
|Centrist social liberals