Searchlight - July 2010
Never before in Dutch democratic history was the victorious party in a parliamentary election as small as on the evening of 9 June 2010, election day. The right-wing liberal opposition Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) ran out "winner" with only one-fifth of the votes, representing 31 seats in the 150- strong parliament, gaining 9 seats compared with the 2006 elections. The Labour Party (PvdA), which forced this early poll when it left the government in a row over the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan, lost 3 seats and came in second with just 30 seats.
The real winner however, was – adding to its breakthroughs in 2006 when it went from one seat to nine, in 2009 (from zero to four seats) in the European Parliament) and earlier this year during council elections – the anti-Islam right-wing populist Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders.
Almost one and a half million voters made it possible for the PVV to become the country's third party by increasing its share of the seats from nine to twenty-four and making itself a contender for posts in a in a coalition.
The governing Christian Democrats (CDA) crashed, losing twenty seats, ending with just twenty-one. Their prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende was collateral damage, he stepped down and left politics.
The PVV started its campaign by launching "Agenda for hope and optimism". In reality, its programme recycled the same old stuff: zero tolerance on law and order issues, harsher legal penalties, 10,000 extra police and a limitation on the freedom of judges. On immigration, it is still wants a ban on the Koran and on the burqa, a halt to immigrants from Islamic countries, a reduction of refugees, no social benefit for other immigrants for the first 10 years, the closure of Islamic schools, a moratorium on the building of new mosques and a ban on ritual slaughter. And, to toughen its stance, the PVV also called for "ethnic registration" of anyone with dual nationality, thus questioning their loyalty. The planned controversial tax on Muslim women's "headrags" – actually headscarves – is still in the programme, but has now been "corrected" to "Tax headscarves".
Wilders, for the occasion, reshaped some of his conservative hard neo-liberal economic views into a broader, sometimes even social democratic, programme. He had little choice because his former policies were undermined by the economic crisis. Of course, the PVV now wants to pay any changes by slashing funding for integration and development aid. The party's programme pays a lot of attention to promoting nationalism by prescribing that every school and public building should fly the Dutch flag, that local traditions be respected and that the Dutch (and Frisian) language should be protected in the constitution. On national Memorial Day, 4 May, the PVV wants to commemorate "all victims of (national) socialism", thus not making a selection between victims of the Nazis and the victims of "Socialism".
In a nutshell, the PVV's policy is one of defining and re-constructing who are "the Dutch" and who are not. For the latter, it is a future of punishment for not being "Dutch" and exclusion from society.
During the campaign, in which Wilders was hardly ever seen visiting towns and cities, the PVV publicised the outcome of an "independent" investigation into the costs of immigration. Wilders commissioned the probe from an economic research agency after the government had refused to answer a battery of his questions.
The cost of immigration by non-Western immigrants is € 7.2 billion each year, a figure that Wilders constantly used in TV debates. But the report is not trustworthy. They used old numbers on immigration and made prognoses on the workers who came from Turkey and Marocco in the seventies and eighties last century. Times have changed, so have immigrants. Immigration, however, turned out not to be the key issue but how to manage the economic crisis. Strangely, foreign policy, important enough to precipitate the collapse of a government earlier this year, hardly figured in the campaign, a commentary on the collective shift of the Dutch towards their own backyard.
The PVV picked up most of its votes in the south of the Netherlands, in the Limburg region. In some towns of this region, the PVV grabbed almost 40% of the vote. Also in some towns around Rotterdam, it scored highly and, in The Hague, it polled more even than in the recent council elections when it came in second party with 16.7%. Also, in the so-called Bible-Belt, that runs from the province of Zeeland right through South Holland, North Brabant, Utrecht and Gelderland to Overijssel, traditionally the territory of the CDA, the PVV grew significant, from 5,9% to 14% of the vote. The so-called "anti-jihad" in the USA and Europe movement is celebrating Wilders' gains, saying the result has blocked the road to "Eurabia".
The question is now is whether VVD is willing to govern together with the PVV and, secondly, whether the CDA is willing to do so. Wilders has already indicated his willingness to do a deal to ensure that the Labour Party is frozen out of government.
However, besides its anti-Islamic agenda, the PVV also differs from the VVD and CDA on economic issues. Prominent ex-Ministers of VVD and CDA as well as the bosses of the main Dutch employers' organisation have warned of damage to the Netherlands' image abroad and of the economic consequences that could ensue if the PVV enters a coalition government.
Jeroen Bosch for Alert! and Antifa-Net in Amsterdam