Edition 8 March 2019, by Stephen Swai
Regardless what you might think of him, there is a never dull moment when it comes to Klaas Dijkhoff, the party leader in Parliament for the People’s Party for Democracy and Freedom (VVD). With VVD leading opinion polls in 2019 and Mark Rutte not having announced his intention to run for re-election, is Klaas Dijkhoff a possible successor?
Politician of the year
Just last year, Dijkhoff was voted politician of the year in the annual online vote organized by current affairs television show EenVandaag. The poll caused great controversy, because all five nominees were men, and saw PVV leader Geert Wilders and GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver coming second and third respectively. “The panel members felt that Dijkhoff really knew what the issues in the country were,” stated EenVandaag.
Dijkhoff has made a slew of statements that have drawn attention from the Dutch public, but caused polarization it at the same time.
Last year, Dijkhoff made headlines when he suggested that the Netherlands should imitate Denmark by introducing tougher penalties for people from “problem areas” with high crime rates. His “ghetto plan” suggested a string of measures, including compulsory pre-school education and tougher sentencing of criminals. He also backed the introduction of compulsory lessons in democratic values and traditions. “People that will not cooperate should face benefit cuts,” he declared.
In an interview with a newspaper, Dijkhoff said that integration had failed to give people the freedom they wanted. He urged the government to draw up a list of areas where non-western immigrant population stood at above 50% and where unemployment and crime rates were high.
Although his comments dominated the early part of the budget debate and pushed the opposition’s criticism of the plan to scrap the tax on dividends into the background, it was shot down by MPs during a debate on the government’s new spending plans. Socialist Party leader Lilian Marijnissen questioned whether Dijkhoff wanted an introduction of class justice and whether that same approach should be adopted for the Zuidas, the Amsterdam business district, where fraud is more prevalent.
Banning Sinterklaas demonstrationsIn December, a mob attacked a handful of protestors against a Sinterklaas procession by throwing eggs and hurling racist insults. Though Mark Rutte was criticized by MPs for his lackluster response in condemning the attacks, Dijkhoff took the opportunity to urge mayors to ban or relocate demonstrations during the Sinterklaas festivities in 2019. He saw the demonstration as an attempt to disrupt the children’s party and the long-standing Sinterklaas tradition. The Sinterklaas tradition has increasingly received opposition due to its racist practice of blackface.
Some regarded the plea for a ban or relocation of demonstrations as a futile attempt by a charismatic leader. Prohibiting demonstrations is at odds with the constitution. “The government must enable demonstrators to have an audience, which is not possible at an industrial site,” said Jan Brouwer, Professor of Law and Society at the University of Groningen.
Further elaborating on the impossibility of the idea, Brouwer pointed out that previous restrictions by mayors were reversed by judges. “Years ago, the mayor of Arnhem referred protesters to an industrial estate, where they were allowed to protest at 8 am on Saturday, which was later declared invalid by the court,” said Brouwer.
Climate change agreement
The relentless politician was back in the spotlight when he opened the 2019 election year by denouncing what he called the “dramatic” attitude of the coalition parties in regard to the climate change agreement. He said that he didn’t feel bound by the climate agreement that the cabinet had concluded with a number of social organizations and companies, since the common man had too little say in the matter. “If it’s a choice between the cabinet and the interests of ordinary citizens, I will always be on the side of the citizens,” he said.
Dijkhoff focused his condemnation of the climate agreement on the burden placed on the shoulders of the citizens, who would have to pay for its implementation. He said that the Netherlands should not aspire to be a ‘beacon of light’ for the world at the expense of its own citizens. His party opposed switching off gas in older homes and banning gas in new homes in the near future. Banning gas would help the climate, but would result in a bill of €200 billion for homeowners.
As if the whole thing was not dramatic enough, Dijkhoff decided not to show up to a parliamentary debate on climate change, with many political pundits calling it a divisive action that would cause a split in the four-party coalition. This energized the opposition, which celebrated the opportunity presented to them. The opposition MPs decided to boycott the debate because Dijkhoff was not in the house to discuss his comments. “He should be here to debate the damage he has inflicted,” Labour Party (PvdA) leader Lodewijk Asscher was quoted saying. D66 leader Rob Jetten saw Dijkhoff’s backpedaling as a political stunt ahead of the provincial council and Senate elections, and declared that he didn’t take the whole thing seriously.
Later, when he finally showed up for the debate, Dijkhoff said that the general idea in society, that the climate agreement would cause great upheaval, was not correct, nor did it contribute to support for the agreement. During the debate he changed his earlier tone and declared that the climate change agreement could bring some benefits.
Nuclear power plant
Dijkhoff also supported the idea of a nuclear power program. During a national kick-off of the VVD tour Stand-Up politics in the run-up to the provincial elections, Dijkhoff said that he thought a nuclear power plant in the Eemshaven was possible, if sufficient support could be obtained. He elaborated that that a nuclear power station in the Eemshaven should be built in consultation with the people of Groningen. “If there is no support, it will be more complicated. The Netherlands could also use more nuclear energy in the future by cooperating with other European countries,” he added.
According to the polls, there are chances that VVD might lose its majority in the Senate in the March elections. It is expected that climate change will take center stage during the election campaign. Right-wing opposition parties think the government’s climate policy is exaggerated and far too expensive, while opposition parties prefer a more ambitious climate policy.
Asylum children’s pardon
Dijkhoff was also at the center of the debate about the asylum children’s pardon. It all started when the CDA announced, supported by D66, ChristenUnie, GroenLinks and PvdA, that more children asylum seekers and their parents should be eligible for a residency permit. Dijkhoff and his party were firmly against it.
The children’s pardon applies to children who have been living in the Netherlands for five or more years without a residency permit and have become integrated into the Dutch society. Currently, there are about 700 such children. Figures from the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) showed that the vast majority of applications based on an earlier children’s pardon were rejected. In 2016 only one child was given a pardon out of 120 applications. The parties in favor of relaxing the children’s pardon said that the existing agreement was not working in practice and something had to be done to change that.
Initially, the VVD was against the extension, saying the coalition’s 2017 agreement had said that the existing regulations were to stay in place. “The coalition agreement is a foothold”, said Dijkhoff. After a reported stalemate, the VVD stance changed and it agreed to negotiate. The coalition parties agreed to reassess the cases of around 700 child asylum seekers who had not been given refugee status, but have become integrated in the Netherlands. However, once these cases are assessed, the children’s pardon will be abolished completely.
“We had to find a new balance and I think we succeeded. If you decide that you want to change the coalition agreement, we have to talk. The talks were good; it was about the content, because we know what’s at stake,” Dijkhoff stated. After the new agreement, PPV leader Geert Wilders called the VVD a group of quitters and cowards.
It is expected that under the new children’s pardon, about 90 percent of the children asylum seekers, that is, 630 children, will be allowed to stay. Their parents will also stay, thus bringing the total number of people who will receive a residency permit to 1300.
What is next for Dijkhoff? We will have to wait and see, but this is one politician with a plan.