The grassroots rebellion is more dangerous than it seems

The supporters of the coalition parties are stirring. The members of D66 demand that the nitrogen agreements remain in place and give a long nose to the CDA, which wants to break up the coalition agreement. The supporters of ChristenUnie strongly support the family reunification of beneficiaries and call the cabinet plans unacceptable on this point. VVD members are against the nitrogen plans and find the asylum approach too weak. The supporters of the CDA have had enough, now that party leader Wopke Hoekstra agrees to limit the asylum flow.

The rebellion is unfortunate for the party leaders, but has no immediate consequences. The party congresses or member assemblies can find anything, but they do not determine cabinet policy. Former minister Henk Vredeling’s (PvdA) winged statement still applies. “Congresses don’t buy planes,” he said in 1975 when PvdA supporters opposed the purchase of the F16, the successor to the Starfighter, the ultra-modern fighter at the time. And that is not how they relate to the asylum policy and the nitrogen approach. It is reserved for the factions in the House of Representatives.

Mark Rutte, Sigrid Kaag, Wopke Hoekstra and Gert-Jan Segers don’t really need to worry yet. They can ignore the supporters as long as the political groups do what is agreed in the coalition agreement and new cabinet plans are not treated too critically. Because we’re not going to make it harder for this government than it already is, are we? So far, it seems to be working: Rutte refuses to adjust the nitrogen plans for the time being, despite the supporters. CU speaker Don Ceder counters his members’ criticism of the refugee home by stating that ‘ChristenUnie has got a lot back’. And Sigrid Kaag has not yet really responded to the call from her D66 supporters to keep their feet in the nitrogen register.

Kaag is usually very clear in his words, but rarely goes the extra mile. Mark Rutte was told in the Omtzigt debate that ‘our paths diverge here’, but less than a week later she sat happily at the negotiating table with the VVD leader again. She did not necessarily want to govern with ChristenUnie, but lifted that blockade after four months to allow a continuation of Rutte-3. And about Hoekstra’s action, which put a bomb under the nitrogen plans behind the government’s back, Kaag said that trust is gone. If you find it, you give up your trust in the coalition partner. But Kaag didn’t dare. D66 isn’t doing so well in the polls.

Lots of shouting, little action. However, this ubiquitous discontent is not without danger in the long run. At least not if it resonates with the group. Daan de Neef, Member of Parliament for the VVD, is the first to openly oppose his party’s asylum policy and face the consequence of resigning. Quite remarkable for someone who has turned out to be a confidential adviser, important party adviser and speech writer for Mark Rutte. As an MP he was not head and shoulders above the rest, but as a confidant his departure is downright painful for the Prime Minister. Party chairman Sophie Hermans very easily said goodbye to De Neef, who has made his mark in the party in 18 years. But it often happens at VVD.

De Neef’s action not only stimulates critics within the VVD to continue the resistance, but the departure of the VVD member can also be followed in other parties. The ‘inhumane and icy’ asylum policy also brings members of the CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie party members into a state of conscience.

It will be a warm autumn. All governing parties organize congresses, either voluntarily because an autumn congress must be held, or forced to bring peace to the tent. But success is not guaranteed.

Voters have already abandoned most governing parties: In the EenVandaag polls, VVD loses seven seats, D66 loses six and CDA also loses six. Only ChristenUnie knows how to stay standing by hanging and suffocating. With the election for the Provincial Council (and thus the Senate) approaching, this is not a pleasant prospect for Rutte-4.

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