Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dutch Treat: How Holland's New Government May Set Europe's New Direction

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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By Barry Rubin

The Netherlands is about to  be Europe's great experiment: Can a center-right government manage an overblown welfare state, nationally suicidal multiculturalism, and virtually open-door immigration policies in a way that can maintain popular support and solve problems?

After months of negotiations failed to bring about a broad cross-spectrum coalition a new government has finally been formed. The partners are the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), a European liberal (that is, conservative) party, and the Christian Democratic Party, (CDA). While the VVD has been growing, the CDA has been in decline. Together they have 52 seats.

To be sure of a majority, the government will be supported from the outside by the Party for Freedom, (PVV) led by Geert Wilders, giving a grand total of 76 seats, a razor-thin majority. Another small Christian party with two seats might offer support when needed. 

What makes this arrangement controversial is the role of Wilders, often described as “anti-Islam” and made into something of a bogey-man in Dutch politics. While Wilders is harderline than the two coalition parties, there is a basis for consensus among them. For example, he is tougher on regulating mosques generally and reducing immigration especially from Muslim-majority countries, but the new ruling parties support closing radical mosques and reducing immigration in general.

Yet Wilders' role has arguably undermined the conservative side since if he hadn’t run, the two other main conservative parties would have gained almost all of his votes and had a big majority.

And so Wilders is something of a distraction here, who will be used by the left to call the new government various names. But the real power resides with establishment figures, the leaders of the VVD, Mark Rutte, and of the CDA, Maxime Verhagen. Conservative and center parties received 55 percent in the elections.

Both of these parties support lower-taxes, the free market, smaller government, less government regulation, limited immigration, and friendship toward the United States and Israel, along with a tougher stance on radical Islamist groups. So while the international media is going to be focused on Wilders, the Dutch majority supports a program that might be called Wilders without the most controversial bits.

Among the key points in the new government’s program:

--Heavier punishments for repeat criminals and the hiring of more police, including a special increase in those dealing with animal-cruelty crimes (a big issue in Holland).

- Immigrants will receive Dutch citizenship for a five-year trial period during which it would be revoked and they would be deported for being convicted of any crime requiring twelve years’ imprisonment.

--A ban on the burqa, with no headscarves permitted for judges, prosecutors, or police.

--"Substantial" reductions in legal immigration.

--First-cousin marriage, common among Islamic immigrants, will be banned.

--Spending cutbacks including for the minister of defense, including a withdrawal of the Dutch forces from Afghanistan.

Will this program be implemented and will it lead to more social peace and economic stability in the Netherlands? All of Europe will be watching.

The leader of the small Christian Union party, which didn't enter the coalition, has just written an op-ed proclaiming:

"We shouldn't be silent about the dark side of Islam. Large parts of Islam still have non-negotiable objections against the most fundamental political and religious liberties. An example is that apostasy in Islam is forbidden. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have peace with Islam but it demands dialogue, debate, and even sometimes confrontation."

Even the leader of the left-wing Green (Groenlinks) party, Femke Halsema, has been emboldened to say that hardline views have broad support among Dutch Muslims and are forcibly imposed on many women and homosexuals, whose rights should be protected. Whether she thought this would help her politically in the new climate, was genuinely moved for the first time to extend her views to Muslim, as well as Christian, communities, or some combination of these factors is not clear.

What is clear is that many Dutch leaders understand that the majority finds the current situation intolerable and that some response must be made to these complaints. But will anything change?

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