Wilders quits consultations; government falls; new elections

This is just in: Geert Wilders has left the consultations with VVD and CDA, and government is in danger. We’ll likely have new elections in September or so.

Before continuing I’d like to thank all Dutch politicians for waiting for my homecoming before doing anything really spectacular. I’ve been in the US for the past three weeks, and have had no time for updates, even though interesting things have happened in Dutch politics. But the main item, Wilders basically retreating from the coalition, happened only just now.

The consultations

Due to the economic crisis and the new European budget rules, government had to find 14 billion euros in savings above and beyond what had already been agreed to in 2010 when it was formed. Prime minister Rutte (VVD) decided on an “intermediate formation” where government parties VVD and CDA and support party PVV would discuss these new savings and come with a plan.

That was seven weeks ago, and since then little of what’s being said has leaked, as is common with this sort of delicate negotiations. Still, it gradually became clear that Wilders wasn’t very happy with the results of the talks.

He also quit several weeks ago, but the break was mended within 24 hours and everybody assumed it was just negotiation tactics. In theory that could also be the case today, but using the same trick twice in a row isn’t going to help, and he has every reason to be wary of extra savings. Thus right now it is assumed that the break is for real and the Rutte government has a serious problem that could lead to new elections.

Wilders’s reasons for disliking the savings are, as always, rooted in his uneasy straddling of the left-right divide. On the one hand he’s firmly on the right when it comes to immigration, and leftist hobbies such as subsidies for cultural activities and development relations with poorer countries. On the other hand a large part of his following consists of populists who economically belong on the left, and who want the welfare state to continue to exist.

CDA and especially VVD feel that some modifications to the welfare state are inevitable. In addition, the CDA is adamantly opposed on any sort of change in development relations. Thus negotiations were fated to be difficult from the outset, and the very fact they went on and on for seven weeks reaffirms this.

The Brinkman affair

In addition to this tricky problem, other things didn’t go well for Wilders, either, in the past few weeks. About a month ago the second-best-known PVV MP, Hero Brinkman, left the fraction and struck out on his own in parliament. His reasons were mostly Wilders’s autocratic style, and he told eager journalists a little bit about the internal processes of the PVV, which amounted to: Wilders decides everything.

Brinkman’s defection brings the PVV back to 23 seats, and, more importantly, government + support from 76 to 75: exactly half of parliament. Brinkman hastened to declare he will continue to support government, and does not need to be treated as an independent party (i.e. he will not demand to sit in on the savings consultations), but this was still pretty bad news. The Rutte government became more and more dependent on ultra-orthodox SGP, whose two seats are exactly what it needs for a Brinkman-less majority.

The fall of Limburg government

Then, yesterday, the provincial government of Limburg, province of birth of both Wilders and CDA leader Verhagen, fell. This government consisted of VVD, CDA, and PVV — and note the difference with the national government: the PVV was actually part of the provincial one instead of merely supporting it.

Last week Turkish president Gül visited the Netherlands, which led Wilders into a predictable bout of sneering. Part of the official programme was a state dinner in Limburg, where apart from president Gül the Queen would also participate. Of course the provincial Limburg government, including the two PVV deputies, were also invited. They declined the invitation, until it became clear they hadn’t only insulted Gül (which was the point of their action), but also the Queen, after which they hurried to affirm they would be there after all.

This was only the last in a series of anti-Turkish gestures by the Limburg PVV, and when opposition parties PvdA and SP introducted a motion of censure, the CDA chose their side and withdrew their confidence in coalition partner PVV. Thus the provincial government fell, and blame is generally being laid on the PVV.

Also yesterday, Rutte made a little joke at the expense of PVV voters, essentially calling them stupid. (That’s true, but until now it was Not Done to draw attention to that fact.) I interpret this as the prime minister being sick and tired of the PVV, and wanting the cooperation to end.

Wilders walks out

Against this background of continuing pressure Wilders had apparently folded his game and walked out. Basically, it became clear a while ago that the consultations would fail, but the big question was who was going to walk out and take the blame. Today we know it’s Wilders.

Wilders had two unpalatable choices: either agree to extra savings and estrange a big part of his electorate, or walk out and take responsibility for the possible fall of government. He’s chosen the latter, which is likely the best choice from an electoral point of view: he can say with some justice that he’s defended the interests of his voters.

What happens next is unclear. Formally government has not fallen, since Wilders is not part of government. In theory VVD and CDA could continue and search for new supporters in parliament. The problem is, even assuming the SGP will stay loyal, that they need 22 seats, which is rather a lot. There are two options here: the PvdA (30 seats), or an improbable combination of D66, GL, and CU (10 + 10 + 5 = 25 seats). Neither seems particularly likely. New PvdA leader Samsom is said to want to go leftward, and supporting a right-wing government is not part of such a movement. D66, GL, and CU might agree with parts of governmental policy, but hardly with all, and they, too, wouldn’t mind new elections. (In fact, D66 leader Pechtold already called for them.) So Rutte finding a new supporter basis is unlikely.

In his reaction Rutte speaks of a government crisis, and agrees that new elections are a logical consequence. He and Verhagen also put the blame squarely on Wilders; and note that in Dutch political culture this sort of blame is a Very Serious Thing.

In his reaction Wilders says he’s standing for the interests of his voters, as expected. This is by far the best line he can take. He, too, is calling for new elections.

The right-wing government has fallen. Now it gets interesting. And better. It can’t possibly get any worse than this government.

<— Party profile — CU | A spectacular week —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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