Illegal immigration

In 2012, when VVD and PvdA negotiated their coalition, it was decided that being an illegal immigrant would in itself become a punishable offence. So far, illegal immigrants could be sent back to their country, but the fact that they were present in the Netherlands was not a crime. The VVD aimed at changing this, and eventually the PvdA agreed in exchange for social-economic concessions.

Clearly, this VVD request was part of its strategy to become interesting for right-wing anti-immigration people who’d voted Wilders. The VVD wanted to woo back these voters, and that meant becoming tougher on immigration.

This proposal did not sit well with the PvdA, which, as part of the left, is rather more relaxed when it comes to immigration. Party leader Samsom had a tough time selling this concession to the PvdA members and he spent a lot of political capital, but in the end he succeeded.

Nothing happened for a year and a half. I’m not totally sure why; maybe the PvdA tried to hold up the legislative process, and there were plenty of other things that had a higher priority than a bit of symbolism that wouldn’t actually change anything concerning illegal immigration. Then again, slow deliberation is one of the hallmarks of Dutch politics, so maybe we shouldn’t read anything in this.

Then, earlier this year, it became clear that the VVD wanted to get on with it. Again, the purpose was wooing PVV voters. However, although the PvdA had agreed to support the proposal, meanwhile the Rutte II government had to take into account the constructive opposition of D66, CU, and SGP, too.

CU party leader Slob refused to support the proposal; even going so far as to threaten to cancel his entire support for government if the proposal went through. Maybe he had a political goal here, and if so it would be anti-CDA. To be honest I’m not sure how the CDA regarded the proposal, so I can’t judge. But the CU takes Biblical exhortations to protect the weak seriously, so Slob’s action may just be based on policy, and not politics.

Then came the local elections and Wilders’s Less Moroccans gaffe, and apparently this changed the situation. Yesterday, it was announced that the proposal was cancelled. The VVD had agreed not to pursue it any further, in exchange for the PvdA agreeing to a tax break for upper-middle incomes. So, although illegal immigrants can still be sent away, they will not become criminals by definition.

Which lessons can be drawn from this episode? The most important conclusion is that the VVD now seems to be less afraid of Wilders. It can afford to relax a little on immigration without worrying about voters swinging rightward. It could be that the VVD miscalculated here, but the liberals have been very careful in this respect (not to say frightened), so it could be that Wilders is truly less dangerous now.

Another conclusion is that the constructive opposition is flexing its muscles. The CU has succesfully forced government’s hand, and that is the more important since budget negotiations for 2015 are about to begin. CU leader Slob immediately asked for a tax break for lower incomes, too, while the SGP wants more money for defense and D66 is looking to lower the lowest-bracket taxes. (Source: Volkskrant.) It would seem CU and D66 can strike a deal here, and in any case, with a victory under their collective belts the constructive opposition has strengthened its position relative to government.

Finally, the PvdA. Although at first sight the PvdA won here since its proposed policy won, Samsom spent a lot of political capital in getting the members to agree to the criminality of illegal immigration in the first place. Besides, this will have cost the PvdA some voters. The real problem is that it was not the PvdA who defeated the idea, but the CU. (At least, that’s how it appears. But appearances count.)

So all in all I’d say that the PvdA lost here, the constructive opposition won, and the VVD liberated itself from its fear of Wilders. That’s the state of affairs as budget negotiations start up.

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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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