Welcome to the newest episode of the Dutch cabinet formation
In the last exciting installment, we were discouraged because the Netherlands looked to be headed for a right-leaning minority government made up of the VVD (moderate right-wingers) and the CDA (Christian Democrats, pretty much centrists). To make up the numbers for crucial votes, the government was going to rely on Geert Wilders’ notorious PVV, usually referred to in the English-language press as the Freedom Party. This was widely seen as the worst of both worlds, because Wilders would not be bound by the expectations of responsible behavior that we have of ruling parties, but would still be “in power” enough to peddle his noxious blend of Islamophobia and trollishness.
The negotiations were going slowly, partly because some parts of the the CDA were getting cold feet about the price of cooperation with the PVV. In exchange for his support on economic measures, Wilders wanted to influence the way that the Dutch government treats immigrants and Muslims. The problem festered throughout August. Then, on September 1, a letter (Dutch, PDF) from Ab Klink, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport in the last government, hit the evening news. In it, he explained in detail why spoons don’t come long enough for him to sup with Geert Wilders.
This was a particular problem, because Klink was one of the CDA’s coalition negotiators. Furthermore, he was joined in his protest by two more of the CDA’s 21 MP’s: Ad Koppejan and Kathleen Ferrier*. After swift discussions behind closed doors, the CDA replaced Klink in the negotiating team, and the three dissidents promised to await the final coalition agreement before making a judgement.
This was not good enough for Wilders, who demanded that they commit in writing to support the final coalition agreement before he would re-enter negotiations. That demand is somewhere between unethical and illegal in the Netherlands, where each MP holds his or her seat personally, and has free choice about how to vote. (It is, however, fairly close to how Wilders runs the PVV.)
So on Friday, Wilders withdrew from negotiations on the grounds that he could no longer trust the CDA. Without the PVV, the right-wing coalition has no chance of a reliable majority on contentious economic issues, so this fifth round of cabinet formation is a failure. Informateur Ivo Opstelten has so reported to the Queen.
Speculation about what happens next is rife, but the consensus seems to be that someone—either VVD leader Mark Rutte or a new agent of the Queen—will draw up a coalition accord and shop it round (since getting the parties together to draw one up collectively has failed five times now). The hope is that either the larger parties can show some flexibility on their manifestos, or that enough individual MPs will agree to the accord without full party consent. In either case, the government will be fragile and cautious.
No matter what, the chances that Wilders will end up in government, or with influence in government, are much reduced. This is both good and bad; it means his ideas (like a €1000 headscarf tax†) won’t get the respectability of public office, but it also means he and his followers can paint themselves as the brave dissidents whom no one dares listen to‡.
Stay tuned for further developments.
* No, not her, but named after her
† Not for nothing has he been called een paling in een emmer snot, an eel in a bucket of snot.
‡ You know, the kind of people whose truths are just too brave for the majority to handle. The last time I listened to a debate he was in I nearly stood up and shouted “Bingo!”
I am not an expert in Dutch politics; I just live here. Linked items are in English unless otherwise stated. Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. Produced in a household that contains cheese. This guarantee does not affect your statutory rights.