SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Netherlands new right-wing government

FOLLOWING THE general election in May a new government has been formed. Its proposed policies are clearly on the right and are a continuation of the previous ‘purple’ coalitions between conservative parties and the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA). The economic prospects are bad and co-operation between the coalition partners will be sorely tested.

The opportunist populist formation, Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), will add to the coalition’s instability. The economic problems are one cause, but the personnel and political problems within LPF are another, following the assassination of Fortuyn during the election campaign. The position of the LPF’s parliamentary leader is now vacant after Mat Herben stepped down following continuous criticism from the membership. He was reproached for having given away too much during the negotiations to form the coalition and that his conduct in parliament was insufficiently aggressive. The LPF also seems to be finding it impossible to set up a party structure, having had problems organising a congress and electing an executive.

After the government was formed it was revealed that Philomena Bijlhout, a new LPF minister, had previously been a member of a people’s militia that supported the Surinam dictator, Désiré Bouterse, who is responsible for the killing of several political opponents. Another leading member of the LPF tried to settle a dispute over hospital treatment through connections with a ‘friendly’ minister. The minister for health, Eduard Bomhoff (ex-PvdA), tried to fire a top civil servant in an embarrassing incident for the government.

Looking for candidates for ministerial posts, the LPF has attracted a number of ex-VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy, a rightwing liberal party), CDA (Christian-Democratic Appeal) and PvdA members, which raises a question over its capacity for ‘renewal’.

Undoubtedly, LPF will use the murder trial against Volkert van der Graaf – an environmental and animal rights activist – as a decoy for its own failures and to attack the left. Vice-chair Ferry Hoogendijk has already criticised the judge who is handling the case for political prejudice.

Nonetheless, there is no indication that the series of blunders is about to end. The discredited nature of establishment politics was one of the key issues in the LPF election campaign. Soon after its election, however, dishonesty, nepotism and curtailing party democracy all came to the surface within the LPF itself. Its support has since halved in the polls. And the VVD has begun to catch up, which will make the coalition even more unstable.

In the elections, people mainly voted against the purple coalition. The result showed the extent of discontentment rather than enthusiasm for Fortuyn – however lyrically some may have expressed the loss of their political messiah. Even the enthusiasm for the political thoughts of Fortuyn is fading quickly, if the lack of interest in his reburial can be taken as a measure.

The coalition cabinet, headed by Jan Peter Balkenende of the CDA, will not increase expenditure on health, education and public safety, although all the parties promised this during the elections. It has been made harder for the chronically ill and people with disabilities to qualify for benefits, which adds to the great difficulties they face in finding jobs and their general poverty. Subsided jobs, mainly in education, healthcare and public safety (many people are employed to patrol shopping areas and estates, etc) will be cut. Students must pay more tuition fees.

Changes in healthcare insurance have widened the gap between rich and poor. The general premium for healthcare, which will be the same for everybody, benefits the rich. Subsidised saving, whereby workers could save money from their wages without tax penalties, will disappear. This system, which allowed workers to withdraw the money after several years, was a relatively advantageous way of saving. Thousands of jobs in the public sector will also be axed.

Another subject in the election campaign was the ‘integration’ of ethnic minorities: the questions of inner-city ghettos and language education problems. Aspects of forced integration will now be put forward. A language course will be obligatory with fines imposed on those who fail to complete it. It will be more difficult to marry somebody from out of the country, and there will be fewer positive initiatives, such as mixed education and housing. Asylum rights will be further restricted.

The economy is in recession and, because of the amount of stock market gambling by pension funds, higher premiums are on the way for employees. The economic setback will cause the government to cut its budget even more than the proposed €7 billion (£4.5bn) – it will look for another €3.5 billion.

The main question is, of course, whether there will be the development of a mass resistance to the government’s policies. There is every reason for that to materialise. Under the heading, ‘Turn the Tide’, a large number of organisations that had been active in the anti-globalisation movement have united to organise activities and lead the resistance. The Socialist Party (which includes members of Offensief – the Netherlands CWI section) is also involved. On the basis of a very weak and general text they are trying to unite many organisations, including the PvdA – even though it was responsible for similar measures when it was in power.

While raising the need for a more militant programme, Offensief has put its name to the declaration. If the movement develops, the dynamics of protest will make it very difficult for the PvdA to control it. It is essential that the trade unions participate in the protests against the government’s plans. And the first cautious steps in that direction are visible.

Ron Blom

Offensief – CWI Netherlands


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