The Netherlands experienced by a French resident, in Wassenaar, South Holland region, The Hague.
The far-right PVV party in the Netherlands has just come first in the results of the legislative elections in November 2023. The French media, accustomed to the French presidential majority regime, and eager for sensationalism, are not reporting the event in the context of proportional elections specific to a parliamentary system as the Netherlands has known for generations. They neglect the need to form a government coalition which necessarily involves compromises, and above all, they do not report the notorious inflection of the program of the PVV party for these elections, which abandoned its extremist dogmas to deal with 3 major crises which today affect the daily lives of the population.
The year 2023 in the Netherlands will have been marked by a change in my eyes. Almost all my work colleagues, and especially my relations and acquaintances, who usually did not display a strong political opinion in this tolerant country towards communities of foreign origin, started to complain and criticise the behaviour and morals of immigrants and asylum seekers. And this spontaneously, without me broaching the subject. They did it by seeing situations around them, in their neighbourhood life. The change in opinion was all the more striking as it came from non-politicised and non-militant people, of generally discreet character, and above all, typically Dutch, that is to say never wanting to stand out from the crowd, but rather to stay “normal” (“gewoon”) without ever trying to stand out.
The surprise results of the legislative elections of November 2023
This month of November 2023, the results of the legislative elections, aimed at replacing the resigned cabinet of Mark Rutte, have just caused a political earthquake by giving the PVV party, traditionally the far right, the status of the leading political party in the Netherlands .
The far-right PVV party has gained nothing so far. It comes first in the ranking of seats obtained (37), far behind the majority of seats (76) that the future coalition will need to have a majority in the parliament which has 150 in total. Geert Wilders, the boss of the PVV, must therefore find another 39 additional seats to form the coalition and be able to govern. That is to say that he will be in the minority, or on an equal footing, within his own coalition.
In countries with proportional elections and government coalitions, the party that comes out on top in the elections is still far from being able to govern. If he does so, it will be at the cost of a coalition, in which he will not be in the majority, and of the compromises that will result. Of course in France, the news of the (relative) “victory” of the PVV in the Netherlands is staged to cause a sensation. It is analysed through the prism of the French majority electoral system, and its notable absence from coalition practice.
A new softened and credible program from the far right
The far-right PVV party did not come out on top in the elections by playing on its traditional extreme and provocative program, which gave it its business when it was in opposition and criticised at all costs without endorsing any responsibility. On the contrary, the PVV provoked support by explicitly abandoning its caricatured themes of exclusion and Islamophobia, such as the ban on the Koran, the Islamic veil or the closure of mosques. He chose very concrete problems that Dutch society has been facing for some years, namely an acute housing crisis and problems in the health system, in particular the care of elderly people with dementia. The caricatured attacks against the European Union are also officially relegated out of the program, to allow the party to no longer limit itself to the sterile role of the opponent, but to adopt the responsible attitude of a political party which wants to take handle the daily problems of the Dutch.
The 3 perceived crises
For several years, the Dutch, in particular students and young workers starting to work, have no longer been able to find housing. The situation has become critical, to the point of arousing resentment against asylum seekers and immigrants who access it. A friend's language teacher, who gives language lessons to refugees, often illiterate, is herself indignant at the difference in treatment suffered by her neighbours. She was offended a few weeks ago that a Syrian family of 4 children, with an illiterate mother and a husband who did not work, was able to obtain a family home in their village near Leiden, where so many young workers are desperately seeking to find accommodation. She said she was shocked that another accommodation in the neighbourhood, which could have helped a young local couple, was allocated to a woman arriving from Mongolia living alone with her child and without work. For several years, locals, in particular students who have to abandon their courses because they cannot find accommodation, have felt treated less well than asylum seekers. Residents are now being pushed into the practice of sharing accommodation with several people in the same accommodation. Of course, the government coalition will need more than limiting immigration to resolve the dire housing shortage.
Care for the elderly
Health is also of great concern to the population, which has difficulty managing the fate of the elderly, particularly those suffering from dementia. This is a human and practical problem that the Dutch do not like to leave unaddressed and without effective measures. It is not a question of political dogma but of a situation to be resolved.
Increase in immigration and inappropriate behaviour in social life
The third area of concern is that of the behaviour of individuals who do not respect the rules of community life. If there is one principle that is established as the cornerstone of Dutch society, it is that of “living together” (“Samenleving”) which must be preserved and cultivated at every moment. Everyone in their community can live with their original traditions and morals, provided that the harmonious functioning of life in society is not threatened. The Dutch attach the greatest importance to a balanced life in the community, following the principle of good "living together" established as a quasi-constitutional rule. Good human relations in the community, made of tolerance, assistance, respect and pacifism, are established as the cardinal law of life in society. However, for several years, incivility and behaviour not respectful of the Dutch way of life have been increasingly poorly perceived.
My colleague from the fencing club living in The Hague recently told me about changes in behaviour on the road and in the street, which he considered disrespectful and offensive, on the part of communities of North African origin. As a good Dutchman, he explained to me that he would undoubtedly have to adapt to the new situation, but he added with regret that “they are not trying to adapt and assimilate”.
My neighbour, a former official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having spent most of his professional life in Muslim countries, in Jakarta in Indonesia, had felt like a “foreigner in his own country” when he returned a few years ago for his retirement. This feeling of loss of cultural reference points was reported by Martin Bosma, politician and journalist, in his book “In a minority in my own country” in 2015.
These behaviours and this mentality foreign to Dutch culture, which directly disrupt society, no longer apply in the Netherlands.
To conclude, I give you the correspondence I had on this subject with a Dutch friend, living in Rijswijk near The Hague. In a few lines, everything is said:
“First of all, I have to say that I generally don’t have much interest in politics.
However, I told you last time that I notice that behavior, especially in traffic, is getting tougher and that drivers often do things that they did not do before, or that were much less frequent. I think this is due to the influence of non-Western people.
In fact, I didn't find the election result surprising. As you may know, the current government fell because of the immigration problem and the fact that the influx of foreigners is having an increasingly harmful effect on a growing part of the Dutch population, particularly in regarding the housing problem. This housing problem means for many they are on a waiting list for a long period of time (sometimes years), while some immigrants are sometimes helped to access housing earlier.
Many Dutch people want a different policy from the government and this time people voted much further to the right, in order to be able to impose a different policy. The fact that the PVV emerged victorious in the elections has also created an additional problem for itself, as it realizes that it clearly needs to adjust its own policies to make a coalition with other parties possible. They have already considerably weakened their policies. It's already very clear.
For many, the question of whether a coalition with other parties will succeed is very important. Either way, we'll be hearing a lot about it in the media in the near future. Hopefully the above provides a little more clarity on what and why these changes are currently happening in politics. »
Christophe Carreau, Wassenaar, The Hague, November 2023