The Dutch government has collapsed, amongst acrimonious debates between members of the government coalition, and after a parliamentary debate in which mmbers of both left wing and right wing opposition parties attacked the goverment forcefully.
The government tore itself apart in a conflict about the Dutch military mission in the Afghan province Uruzgan. The Netherlands has a military force of 1,906 troops in Uruzgan, it is the ‘leading country’, in NATO parlance, of the NATO mission in that province.
The coalition goverment consisted of three parties. CDA, Christian Democrats, led by prime Minister Balkenende, is one of the main right wing parties. CU, Christian Union, are another Chritstian party, much smaller, also basically right wing. The PvdA, Party of Labour, is a social democratic party. CDA and CU wanted to extend theUruzgan mission, in a somewhat smaller form. PvdA wanted to stop the mission in 2010.
Now, in 2007, the government promised that the Dutch troops would end the mission in 2010, after which they would be withdrawn. The PvdA position was: we should stick to that promise. CDA said; now, with a new US president, a new strategy, a new situation, we should be open for an extention of the Dutch military role in Uruzgan. They put pressure on the PvdA.
That party, not at all a principled opponent of the NATO mission, sent contradictory signals. They stuck to the agreed end date of the mission. At the same time they took an attidude of we-can-talk-things-over. This opened space for the CDA, expecially Maxime Verhagen, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to keep on the pressure and work for extension of the mission.
in February, NATO sent a formal request in that direction. PvdA Vice-Prmier Bos said, basically: no way, I did’nt even know this letter was coming. CDA insisted that PvdA shuld at least be prepared to discuss it. Verhagen also said: Bos must have known that this NATO letter would come, and its outlines could’nt have been a surprise for him. Confusion all around.
It is highly unlikely that Bos indeed knew nothing. NATO only sends a formal request when the government is more or less certain to agree, after consultation between government and NATO. Either Verhagen has not communicated the PvdA rejection very clarly. Or else, Bos is only acting surprised, without really being surprised. Or both.
During the parliamentary debate, last Thursday, CDA and PvdA did’t even make a serious effort to hide their differences. On last Friday, the government met in an endless session lasting deep into the night. CDA demanded that PvdA drop its ‘NO’ against the NATO request. PvdA stuck to its position, insisting that they only said what was evident to everyone: there was no Parliamentary majority for an extented mission in Uruzgan, and besides, the mission was supposed to end in 2010, as was agreed in 2007. The break became final, the government fell apart.
This means that an extension of the mission in Uruzgan now is highly unlikely. Those 1.906 soldiers will probably come home in 2010. NATO is upset, it fears contagion of the Afghan withdrawal syndrome. This may hep the rather prominent coverage of the Dutch governmental crisis in international media. I have seen extensive articles on Aljazeera, on the BBC, in Le Monde (translated, found via MR Zine). As an opponent of the whole military intervention and NATO occupation in Afghanistan, I can only be pleased by this development. The more trouble for the NATO occupiers to find soldiers to send there, the better.
This does not mean that we should be especially supportive of the PVDA fo saying no to the mission. The party has supported the current mission. The party is not against operations like these, it is no anti-war party. Their rejection of the extention of the mission was partly for electoral reasons; Ducth military operatons in Aghanistan have cost the lives of 21 Dutch sldiers, the mission is not popular. Also, the Dutch military is a bit overstretched by this mission, it neads a break, to fight another day. That may also have played a part in PvdA opinion.
The collapse of the government is, on the whole, postive. This was a governmnt preparing drastic austerity measures, this was a government busy changing the retiremant age from 65 to 67. It was a colition between Right and an teenyweeny bit Left – but the policies were right wing, only softened somewhat to ake the population swallow it. No tears should be shed for them.
However, the coming period will not be easy for workers and the left. Opinion polls show weakness of the left wing Socialist Party (SP). Opinion polls also show the strength of the radical Right; the PVV, a party with fascist leanings, led by islaophobe demagogue Geert Wilders. And the workers’ movement in the Netherlands is not exactly in good shape. The fall of the government was most enjoyable, but the prospcts are not good.