A Dutch Reversal of Fortuyn
Hylarides, Peter C., Contemporary Review
WHEN my article 'The Netherlands Confronts Assassination and Election' was published in the July 2002 issue of Contemporary Review, I did not expect to have to write a sequel so soon after the last election (May 2002). I ended that article on a positive note, hoping that the biggest winner of the election, the LPF (Pim Fortuyn List), would make a difference for the 1.6 million voters who elected them. It could have been possible with 26 seats out of a total amount of 150 in parliament and a relatively quick formation of the new government consisting of Christian Democrats (CDA), Liberal Democrats (VYD) and the afore mentioned LPF. The coalition, however, collapsed after having been in power for
only 87 days. It was almost an experience of Italian proportions! Admittedly, there were already doubts about the new government when it started in July, but hopes were high.
In the end, it took less than two months to form a government headed by Jan Peter Balkenende (CDA), the Dutch version of a well-aged Harry Potter. As is usual in the Netherlands, the Queen appointed an informateur after consulting all leaders of parliamentary parties. This informateur, in general a politician from the largest party in parliament, then has the task to explore which parties are likely to form a coalition government. At first it was not clear which way the negotiations would go. Of the two parties who gained the most seats, only the LPF had made it perfectly clear that they had a preference for a centre-right government together with the Liberal Democrats and the Christian Democrats, whilst the latter preferred to keep several options open. The VVD indicated that they would like to go into opposition, which did not come as a surprise. After all, they had been part of the despised 'purple' coalition with the Social Democrats (PvdA) and Leftwing Liberals (D66) and had, as a direct result, lost 14 of their 38 seats in parliament.
It would not be long before CDA and VVD would change tack and decide to sit around the negotiating table with the LPF, as continuing opposition to cooperation could be considered as cheating the voter. The three personalities involved were Gerrit Zaim (VYD), Minister of Finance in the 'purple' coalition, the already mentioned Balkenende and Mat Herben, the rather uninspiring successor to the murdered Pim Fortuyn. Presiding over the meetings was informateur, Professor Piet Hem Donner (CDA).
Important issues on the agenda were, amongst others, crime, assimilation of Muslim immigrants, stifling bureaucracy and, as in Britain, healthcare and education. All these issues had played a great part in the May election and were mainly responsible for the huge LPF victory. Furthermore, the more abstract issues of standards and moral values in society played an important role. Within weeks an agreement was reached by the three parties. Contrary to promises made about a new style of politics in which the relationship between government and parliament would be more dualistic than the monistic approach of the past 30 years, the resulting document was as detailed as previous ones. It had become practice that agreements reached between parties during the government formation were extensive in form, which gave the coalition parties in Parliament less scope for expressing deviating opinions. This new document proved no different. An elaborate agreement, with many details hammered out, would form the basis for gove rning the country for the next four years. Within a tight financial framework, stress was laid on issues concerning integration of minorities, public safety and security, education and healthcare. Some of the measures to be introduced were a clear break with the past: Immigration and asylum are to be limited and illegal residency becomes a punishable offence; compulsory identification for all citizens by means of a new identity card; a new healthcare system which better meets the demands of patients and introduces competition between suppliers of healthcare and insurance companies; and less tolerance with regard to the production and sale of soft drugs. …