Tag Archives: netherlands

Parliamentary scrutiny of a Unitary Cabinet government during the coronavirus crisis – Part 3

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Even in the society of the independent-minded Dutch, a distinct “rallying around the flag” effect can be seen. The leaders of the populist parties questioning established politics (Geert Wilders, PVV, and Thierry Baudet, Forum for Democracy) or the capitalist aspects of Dutch health care and general government (the Socialist Party) used the first new-style plenary Corona debates for sharp, often ad hominem, attacks with overblown rhetoric on Prime Minister Rutte and his ministers. The debate lasted from 14.00 until around 22.00. The Health minister collapsed at the rostrum from overwork and resigned the next day. That scene had a sobering effect on the three attack dogs and when PVV and Forum lost badly in the next weekly poll they toned down the rhetoric and joined the more practical, factual line of arguing of all other parties.

With that toning down of parliamentary politics after the first dramatic debate, the parliamentary party leaders appear to have started a Whatsapp or Zoom group to regularly consult on Corona and other issues.

The Second Chamber Presidium had asked the government around 20 March to supply a list of all Bills (on non-Corona-related issues) they wanted to see being debated and adopted in the coming months. The government sent back a list with 84 Bills; President Khadija Arib immediately saw that 41 of those Bills hadn’t even been introduced to parliament. She sent the list on to the specialist parliamentary committees, who very soon let it be known that there was an impression that, in some cases, the Government was trying to get some controversial big laws passed. President Arib thereupon asked Rutte for Government to review this list, pointing to the limited parliamentary time in Corona times, and asked for a justification for every Bill that the Government really wanted debated.

Reviewing the list of Bills saw parliamentary committees (re)start meeting online, but journalists soon complained they weren’t able to see what happened in those meetings. The Presidium forwarded written summaries of those meetings to the media. But commentators and parliamentary sketchwriters pointed out that in principle all parliamentary sessions should be open to the public and media. And sketchwriters pointed out that every Prime Minister, however popular, even in “interesting times” of high crisis should be subjected to the same parliamentary and media scrutiny as always.

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Parliamentary scrutiny of a Unitary Cabinet government during the coronavirus crisis – Part 2

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After Prime Minister Rutte’s March 12 press conference, the Second Chamber ordered (!) all parliamentary parties to make researchers start working from home; only a skeleton staff of co-ordinating people remained and MPs not having meetings retreated. The First Chamber (Senate) only meets on Tuesdays and can only veto or pass laws; their meetings were temporarily suspended (many members are above 60 years old). This was unprecedented.

After Rutte’s 15 March press conference, the Second Chamber Presidium took a double drastic step: only plenary sessions and debates about the progress of the national Corona crisis (one a week) would proceed.  Scrutinizing activities by specialist parliamentary committees were to be conducted online via written contributions and committee debates would be conducted online. The weekly “Question Time” hour was cancelled for the time being. Because Parliament too falls under the maximum 100 persons in a room rule (we have 150 MPs), the 15 parliamentary parties were allowed to have one or two MPs from each participating in plenary debates. To obey the constitutional quorum for plenary sessions, other MPs would sign in but retreat after that.

This sort of thing has never happened since the foundation of the Dutch unitary state and its two-chamber parliament in 1814-15. Right after occupying the Netherlands, the Germans disbanded parliament in May 1940; it reconvened after liberation in summer 1945.

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Parliamentary scrutiny of a Unitary Cabinet government during the coronavirus crisis – Part 1

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Thankfully dedicated to Captain Tom Moore, the NHS backyard walker, whose generation of Britons, Canadians and Poles restored Dutch democracy exactly 75 years ago. Without them, all this would be impossible.

I’ve been a D66 parliamentary researcher for 30 years, and as a history graduate (Leiden University) I know quite a lot about Dutch constitutional and political history. But the developments in that terrain I’m about to describe are absolutely unprecedented, since the Dutch unitary state, monarchy, and dual chamber parliament were established in 1814-15.

As a party founded in 1966 to update Dutch democracy to the 20th (now 21st) century, we in D66 believe in as much dualistic politics and decision making as possible between the Executive and the Legislature. So we enthusiastically support the informal working arrangement that has now arisen between the Rutte coalition government (of which we are the Progressive, Pro-European wing) and the Second Chamber, the main part of our parliament.

First, a short sketch of the Dutch parliamentary government system, and some notes about what was usual with government communications.

In the Dutch constitution, Parliament is a totally separate branch of government. MP’s who become ministers have to resign and are replaced by the next candidate on the party election list, and we don’t have a “Leader of the House” cabinet member helping to arrange the parliamentary agenda. The Presidium of sitting MPs (the Speaker/President and one MP from every parliamentary party) arrange everything.

The President of the Second Chamber (elected by all other MPs) is politically in charge of the whole parliamentary staff. The  Chamber has its own budget and own plenary budget debate. It’s quite usual in Dutch coalition politics to have a President from the opposition benches; every MP sitting in the President’s chair is obliged to be politically neutral and just apply the Standing Orders and procedures during sessions.

As far as I know a government, let alone the king, cannot prorogue parliament at will; there is no article about that in our (written) Constitution. Parliament is fully in charge of its recesses and working days/weeks.

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Don’t carelessly jettison the European inheritance of the BBC in trying to modernise it (Part 2)

Part 1 can be read here.

The clinching factor for all continental Europeans from 1939 was the role of the BBC World Service during the Second World War; and the fact that the BBC World Service on medium wave could be received on car radios, and on transistors on European beaches and gardens in many of the present EU member states. The stupidest budget cut of the Coalition Government in 2011 was, in my eyes, cutting this medium wave availability, restricting the BBC World Service to local DAB+ stations, and to BBC4 at 4.00 o’clock in the morning.

Don’t underestimate the prestige and love that the impartial, objective reporting of news by the BBC (from disasters like Dunkirk to victories like El Alamein) acquired in occupied Europe, where all peoples suddenly lost freedom of speech and got 1984-like manipulated news. The BBC in 1939-’45 also hosted national exiled broadcasters in their own time slots, like Radio Orange for the Dutch. In so doing the BBC even helped establish an obstreperous French officer (marginalised in his army top brass; a political nobody) with a battlefield commission as a lowest tier general, as a pivotal figure in all French politics from 1944 until his death in 1969. The BBC thus helped form EU postwar history; ITV or Sky can’t possibly claim that.

The BBC programming and drama meantime had a huge influence on the continent; smaller national broadcasters such as those in the Benelux countries readily bought BBC programs and directly rebroadcast them or reworked them. I learned my first English from the BBC “Walter and Conny” language course around 1967. The socialist broadcaster VARA put out the Onedin Line; and the daily NTS/NOS radio and TV news readily quoted and quotes the BBC on British and international events.

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Don’t carelessly jettison the European inheritance of the BBC in trying to modernise it (Part 1)

I’ve just been watching the BBC Newsnight broadcast of Monday 20 January 2020, which was mainly filled with debate about what the future of the BBC could or should be in this Netflix, social media platform world we live and work in today.

I’m deeply concerned that Britain, while thinking of how to adjust to the 21st century mass- and social media landscape (and post-Brexit geopolitics), risks ignoring the inheritance of prestige, respect and exemplary performance the BBC has grown to acquire with all inhabitants of the EU.

Now that Brexit is upon us, Britain risks losing the mobilising force in the EU of its BBC broadcasts and programmes. This is just at a time that the whole gamut of its institutional ties in the EU framework (with Euratom, Erasmus, Eurojust, EMA, EU Social Fund, etc, plus the Brussels diplomatic channels and Comitology) have been cut in one great, very foolhardy swoop, only partially and years later to be replaced with special bilateral arrangements between EU and UK.

These EU branches never were important issues in the Brexit debate in 2015-’19; the only time Downing Street discussed Euratom was around the moment of triggering Article 50, when they suddenly realised that mechanism would be jettisoned too. Erasmus and EMA are mentioned in passing.  See Tim Shipman, “Fall out: A Year of Political Mayhem”, Harper Collins, London, 2018, p24, 39, 116-7; look for the other terms in the indexes of this book and his “All Out War” on the Referendum: none!

Let me fill in some personal and Dutch facts so you can see where I am coming from in this debate.

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No deal Brexit preparations: Dutch look closely but don’t see much (Part 1)

Whoever looks at British-Dutch relations, especially in trade and food (herring), you see a relationship dating back to the Roman Empire, with the Frisians (a tribe in the North of the present Netherlands) kicking off the chain of English/British-Dutch relationships. 

The modern relations can be traced back to the British-Dutch anti-Spanish alliance of queen Elizabeth I (sending over her confidant Leicester) in the Treaty of Nonsuch (1585; see Jonathan Israel’s book about the Dutch Republic; Clarendon/Oxford University Press; Oxford, 1995, p. 218-230). This treaty was implicit recognition of the Republic; and the shenanigans between Leicester and the Dutch stadholder and his minister Oldebarnevelt in 1585-87 gave definite form to the Republic, until then a confederation of rebel provinces. It ended up with Leicester returning home; but Nonsuch was reinforced and broadened in the 1598 Treaty of Westminster.

The Low Countries’ principalities trading with England (Flanders, Zeeland, Holland, Friesland) were all smaller than England, and this didn’t change with seven rebel provinces forming a republic; especially because shortly afterwards, under king James I, the union between England and Scotland started being formalized until the Acts of Union (1707). So the Dutch and Flemish peoples are used to look very closely what happens in their big neighbor  the UK, especially as it affects our (Dutch) trade relations (re-exporting a large part to the rest of the EU), and our and their national economy. The UK is around three to four times bigger than the Netherlands if you look at our populations and economies (GDP).

The hard Brexiteers around Boris Johnson are emphasising, now that a No Deal Brexit on their holy grail date of 31st  October seems ever more likely, that the British government is even better prepared than under the March Brexit deadline. 

We Dutch simply don’t believe them, because we see at best a piecemeal, halfhearted if not comically incompetent British preparation (hiring a shipping company without ships, aiming to disembark at a British port city that on BBC TV News does look more disheveled that well-prepared for intensive disembarkation operations).

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Dutch UK correspondents warn that the mood among EU expats has really soured

 

In his Sky interview on Sunday (quoted by Caron Lindsay in her earlier post), Sir Vince Cable warned that the Wimbledon tournament is hit by a serious strawberry crisis. British strawberry fields will (forever?) remain unattended because the people (EU workers) needed to pick the fruit have scampered home, afraid of the uncertainties of staying in the UK where both May and Corbyn keep pursuing a hard Brexit, never mind May’s sweet-talking at the recent Brussels summit (which was roundly dismissed, if not disbelieved by Juncker, Tusk and German prime minister Merkel).

In the Dutch liberal quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad of Saturday 1st July, the anthropologist and journalist Joris Luyendijk (famous for his Guardian blogs and international bestseller “Swimming with sharks” about the worrying ways of thinking and operating in the City of London banking sector) gives an assessment of the mood among well-educated, professional EU citizens that should alarm any Briton who wants the British economy to flourish.

And in the biggest Dutch daily, de Telegraaf of 23d June, Dutch expat and former Telegraaf UK correspondent Arnoud Breitbarth (now working in the British musical industry) voices frustration (“we’re treated like second class citizens from the moment the Brexit Referendum was announced”) and despair at possibly having to leave the UK where they’ve lived for decades.

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Churchill inspires D66 fightback against Trumpism and Farage’s people-expulsing “Hard Brexit”

This past week, both the Guardian and the Sun  had articles about the deputy ALDE liberal group leader Sophie in’t Veld  in the European Parliament getting involved in the mistreatment of ordinary EU citizens, living and working in the UK and being married to Britons, by the May government and its over-enthusiastic Brexiteer ministers. Both newspapers only failed to mention which party Mrs In’t Veld belongs to: none other than D66, the social-liberal inheritors of the pre-War VDB.

As one of three parties at the origins of Dutch abortion legislation (very similar to David Steel’s brilliant Liberal inheritance on that point in Britain), D66 fully supports the initiative by our Trade & Development minister Mrs Ploumen to try to compensate family planning advice and abortion services in the Third World, scrapped by Mr. Trump and his Christian-fundamentalist Vice President Pence. We’ll support continuing that compensatory policy in the next Dutch coalition government formed in the coming summer.

People who know about the career of Winston Churchill will be outraged by the fact that president Trump, who cosies up to jingoist-Russian, NATO-threatening and EU-subverting president Putin, put up a bust of Churchill in his Oval Office. You only have to look up Churchill’s Wikipedia item to see that from 1934 onwards (Hitler walking out of the League of Nations and abandoning his Versailles restrictions), Churchill sought and got data about German re-armament (Luftwaffe) and harried the appeasing Tory governments to re-arm Britain. An enormous contrast; Trump is behaving more like the self-seeking, protectionist European governments, not paying attention to foreign policy, which proved such easy pickings for Hitler and (in Poland and the Baltic) Stalin.

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Farage’s legacy and continental populist laws put EU expats in UK in impossible quandary

 

With Farage’s legacy (Britain leaving an EU it never loved) and Trump’s victory in the US (appointing Putin’s friends on key White House and ministerial positions), the world is getting back to the “each for his own, beggar-thy-neighbour”-politics that were such a stunning success in bringing wealth to everybody in the 1930’s.

What the possible success in upcoming European elections of populist parties (many already being sponsored by Putin) will mean to European expats living in the UK (often being married to a British citizen) is becoming clear with the cases of a Dutch engineer/housewife and a German aerospace executive who both received orders from the UK home office to leave the country forthwith, as reported by The Guardian.

In the case of the Dutch woman, who was unjustly rejected in her application for British citizenship, an earlier Dutch political success by convicted racist populist Geert Wilders has aggravated the significance of applying for British citizenship; and will do so in the case of all Dutch inhabitants of the UK. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they are in their thousands).

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Official, authoritative Dutch government calculations: “Every Dutch citizen stand to lose 1000 euros through a Brexit”

 

The morning papers in the Netherlands and NOS (our BBC)  all reported last week on a report of the government’s Centraal Plan Bureau (CPB = Central Planning Office, authoritative since its start in the late 1940’s like your IFS; they seldom are far off the mark in their predictions). I base this piece on articles in De Volkskrant (our Guardian) and Financiele Dagblad (equivalent of the Financial Times) and the NOS news website. It makes for worrisome reading.

The immediate effect of a Brexit is, according to the report, that it will cost 1.2% of GDP by 2030, that is, 575 euro per Dutch citizen. Indirect consequences like loss of innovation because of lower trade can increase that by 65%, to 1000 euro each. The damage will be sector specific; the most seriously affected (around 5% loss) will be

  • the chemical sector (that is for example DSM, and our petrochemical sector near Rotterdam);
  • electronics (Philips, just now specializing in expensive medical technologies);
  • food processing (our emblematic dairy industry: Friesland Foods and our extensive chicken and pork breeding industry; in Brabant province there are more pigs than humans).
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Some Dutch Remarks on English relations with the Continent

 

Just a couple of remarks as an indication of the Dutch perspective on English/British relations with the European continent.

First compare when the English were successful, and when not, in a struggle against France and French Hegemonism, and later against Nazism:

  • When the English kings (without Scottish support) tried to get the upper hand over weak French kings, you ended up with a 100 Years War, without succeeding in the end.
  • When the United Kingdom joined the Dutch Republic (from 1688 up to 1702 with a Orange “Stadhouder”, federal president, and from 1702 with the support of the “regenten” of Holland), their joint armies under Marlborough were stunningly successful in withstanding Louis XIV’s attempt to gain hegemony over Europe.
  • In the Battle of Britain, the RAF was already using French, Polish and Dutch squadrons (322 Spitfire Squadron) to combat the Luftwaffe’s bombers, fighters and rockets (V1, V2); without the Dutch, Poles and French, Churchills “so few” would have been even fewer. Without the Poles, there would have been no Enigma decoding at Bletchley Park.
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They can’t keep us social liberals down – congratulations from D66

Dear fellow Liberal Democrats,

My most sincere congratulations with your encouraging results at the local & regional elections last week.

A special “congratulations” to the batch of young Liberal Democrats, who became party members and activists after your/our meltdown in 2015, and got elected within the year. I enjoyed seeing one of them, Caroline Warner, making it to the BBC online liveblog of results with her tweet, after “waking up [being} a councillor” in Tandridge.

The BBC clearly was aware of this important aspect of this Lib Dem revival…

I attended your Autumn Conference last year, and was impressed with the quality of that new generation of “post-meltdown members” who had already been chosen as constituency representatives and mounted the rostrum delivering impressive, passionate speeches on all kinds of subjects. A promise for the future indeed!

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What the UK can learn from the Dutch referendum

With just under three months to go the EU referendum, the low turnout and overwhelming majority against the Ukraine-EU Association Treaty in a Dutch referendum is not a good omen. It is a good moment to take stock. The campaign is about to start, with the official designation of the Remain and Leave campaigns due soon. What lessons can the UK learn from the Dutch referendum experience?

The good news first: the UK referendum really matters, whereas the Dutch one did not. The Ukraine-EU Association Treaty is important geopolitically but for the average Dutch voter, ratification will not change their daily lives. It allowed them a protest vote seemingly without consequence. Those that could bother to vote – less than a third of voters, with many supporters staying at home in the hope that the required 30% threshold would be missed – predictably took that opportunity with both hands.

Here, the EU referendum will have a very real impact on people’s daily lives. That should focus minds but there is a risk: a referendum is rarely about the subject on the ballot paper. Only when the question is crystal clear and on a topic of relevance to the voters will the campaign focus on that. The Scottish referendum campaign was a good example of where that worked well. Everybody could relate to the question at hand and because it was such a momentous decision, people were extremely engaged in the debate.

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Fraser Nelson is wrong: Cameron’s supposed EU re-negotiation allies are set on a very different path

european union starsLike so many Eurosceptics, Fraser Nelson was at it again this morning in the Telegraph: taking a couple of things they heard from foreign politicians and adding it all up to make something that matches exactly what they want: less Brussels.

Nelson was continuing his theme from the Spectator a couple of weeks ago, describing a Northern Alliance Cameron had been building to reform the European Union in his image. There is one problem with all that: it simply is not true.

In the UK, the Dutch are …

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This week in Europe… 11-14 September

Of course, it’s not just the Commons that is back this week, as the European Parliament has returned from its summer break. And, thanks to the ever helpful Angelika Schneider in the ALDE office, Liberal Democrat Voice is able to keep up to date with the efforts of Liberal Democrat MEPs.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted the first European-wide law on the protection of crime victims, to improve support for them. The new EU law sets minimum standards for all 27 countries, such as free access to medical and specialist …

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The Independent View: Labour is a puppet of the unions – Lib Dems must stand up for non-unionised workers

As a member of the Dutch liberal party the VVD who was studying in the UK during the last election, I was pleased that the Lib Dems formed a coalition with the Conservatives. Yet I feel that a strategy that distinguishes the party from Labour is just as important as one that distinguishes the Lib Dems from the Tories.

Instead of stressing coalition differences, the Lib Dems have the opportunity to show that they are a true alternative to Labour. The Lib Dems should stress that, unlike Labour, they protect ordinary workers by deregulating the labour market, and do not …

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How Clegg switched sides at half-time

No, not more revelations from the memoirs of New Labour’s svengali, Lord (Peter) Mandelson – rather a diary piece by Hugh Muir in the Guardian.

LDV readers may recall Nick Clegg’s conflicted loyalties in deciding whether to support Holland or Spain in Sunday’s World Cup final. It appears he found out a way to resolve them:

… at a cross-party reception for the Lib Dem thinktank Centre Forum, the deputy prime minister admitted that while he began watching the World Cup final supporting Holland, as the Diary said he would, he switched sides halfway through and began rooting for

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