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Christian Democrats debate cooperation with populist politician
Geert Wilders divides coalition party
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
THE HAGUE – There is little hope left that the Dutch electorate will be introduced to a new coalition cabinet before Prinsjesdag on the third Tuesday in September, when the caretaker cabinet headed by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende will present another Speech of the Throne and a new budget. It is expected that caretaker Minister of Finance Jan Kees de Jager will table an austere budget in which the shortfalls of the current 2009-2010 budget will be offset by significant cuts in the new one.
In addition to finalizing his final Balkenende cabinet budget, De Jager has also been participating in the coalition talks with conservative liberal VVD leader Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders of the populist PVV, which is widely but erroneously being reported as a rightwing party. Rather, Wilders, who is the only member of his PVV organization, has taken centrist positions on the budgetary measures pushed by the VVD and Balkenende’s Christian Democrats, (which call for deep cuts), on pension reform, and on other fiscal issues.
Prominent members of the Christian Democrat Appeal have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to a minority government depending on Wilders’ support in the Second Chamber. Among the practical aspects, they cite concern about the lack of majority support in the First Chamber for a minority cabinet since Wilders' PVV has no seats in the Senate while the CDA and the VVD together hold only 35 of the 75 seats.
Even stronger are the philosophical reservations among top CDA figures about Wilders populist views and ongoing statements, also in the foreign media, which appear to frequently fly in the face of established law, contradict the constitution on basic rights such as equality and freedom of religion, and call into question Dutch commitment to international treaties and conventions which it has signed and ratified in the past. These CDA figures fear that the Netherlands could face a public relations nightmare separating Wilders populist and very divisive rhetoric from his role as a tacit supporter of a coalition cabinet, which must adhere to the accord. Wilders’ party will not be represented in the cabinet.
CDA’s caretaker minister of Social Affairs, Piet Hein Donner, who is a highly respected legal scholar, recently noted that the political establishment in the Netherlands, in coming to terms with Wilders and the PVV, has gone from making light of the range of ideas advanced by populist Pim Fortuyn (murdered on May 6, 2002) and Geert Wilders, to ignoring and condemning them, to now shunning them. He asked the Christian Social Conference he attended what the best Christian response would be: to 1) by avoiding on principle each form of cooperation, and exchange motions of disapproval, or 2) engage in dialogue and possible cooperation, and very closely protect principle and values, and seek to reestablish common ground from which to weaken fundamental differences. He did not state his own preference.
While the talks for a new coalition itself reportedly are near a conclusion, the CDA then must evaluate the accord, likely at a party congress. From all appearances, the accord will be a severe test of party unity, perhaps pitting prominent members such as former prime minister Dries Van Agt, former cabinet member Hannie May-Weggen and others, against the party's membership base which is more conservative and also more sympathetic to Wilders' complaints about trends in Dutch society.
Obscured by all the attention put on Wilders and his PVV is the ongoing change of the Dutch political landscape. Tracked by opinion surveys, significant swings in voter preference between elections have been registered. That fact itself would be a sufficient reason for a careful analysis of the cause of these shifts, which go back several decades. Are long established parties so much out of tune with the electorate? If so, why?
(With so many democratically run parties in the Netherlands, one question stands out above the others for many people: why are 1.5 million voters marking their ballot for Wilders and the PVV, a one-man show, near a time the country as a whole celebrated the 65th anniversary of the 1945 Liberation when freedom from dictatorship was restored? Is a democratic politic system still the best one for government?)
As is well-known, Wilders focuses much of his devastating criticism on Islamic immigrants and their problems of adjusting to Dutch society. Crime rates among Dutch-Moroccan youth are very high. However, many of those who originate from the non-Islamic Netherlands Antilles and Surinam are an ongoing concern as well, as are several other immigrant communities. Does the problem lie in Islam or perhaps in the enforcement of Dutch laws and values, or both? No party denies the existence of these problems but there is no unanimity on how to solve them within the context of the constitution and law.
Out of deep concern over trends in the political establishment to further restrict freedoms, the Christian Democrats have been very careful to bind both the VVD and the PVV to the very basic liberties laid down in the constitution. These liberties are not deemed to be safe with the PVV and Geert Wilders or most other parties.
Some Dutch political parties of progressive persuasion have billed the Netherlands in the past as a global trendsetter in social issues (i.e. euthanasia, legalized prostitution and same-sex marriages and rights). Due to political uncertainty not much has been said about this role in recent years. However, Geert Wilders has most definitely assumed such a role in a very bold fashion as foreign media increasingly pays attention, a focus which may well be linked to unease at home about similar issues. Sensing this, Wilders has promised to launch an international umbrella for groups following similar ideas as his own.
Dutch analysts will immensely help their own country as well as other nations with similar issues by exploring why there is such a growing unease among the electorate. With this in mind, they can work to ensure that the issue is firstly properly understood, secondly options surveyed, and thirdly laws enacted and enforced.
The electorate as a whole should thank both Fortuyn and Wilders for raising red flags and articulating the issues. Thanks especially to former Somali-Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who now works in the U.S. for a public policy think tank, for rethinking Wilders ideas and reminding the country that these ideas are unworkable in law. An atheist, she provides an uncanny analysis of Dutch society and even suggests a solution in her recent book Dutch political parties will not repeat, save one or two very small Christian ones….