By guest writer Daniël Vredenberg
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help!” were the famous words which President Ronald Reagan spoke in 1986. There is no pronunciation that aged so well, because this statement is now more accurate than ever. However, looking at the current political situation in the Netherlands, the seven most terrifying words in the Dutch language can be created, namely: “Ik ben volksvertegenwoordiger en ik dien u!”
In Italy, in the city of ancient Siena you can find a series of frescoes by Lorenzetti about good and bad government. In the Middle Ages the rulers of Siena were constantly reminded of how they governed. All they had to do was, take a look at the wall and then look at the city outside the window. If the city looked like the frescoes of good government, the rulers were satisfied. If the city was neglected and looked like the frescoes of bad government, the rulers knew a job had to be done.
For the rulers of Siena, reality was not far away. Today is something different. Politicians often live in their own reality, high in the towers of parliament. The distance between citizens and representatives is increasing while the main aim of a representative of the people is plain and simple: to stay in touch with reality. It is for a reason that Dutch parliamentarians are given the opportunity to travel into the country two or three days a week in order to experience what is going on in the country. And when they sit back in their benches, they must take their practical experiences into account in the decision-making process. In other words: listen, gain knowledge and include that in your representative task.
This fairy tale sounds beautiful. Reality is different. Politicians nowadays look more at each other than at their citizens. Nowhere is this more evident than in the child benefits scandal. Early signs that parents were being mercilessly and completely unjustly grabbed by the government, resulted in discussions in the weekly council of ministers about precedent setting. The ministers did not debate about the best way to help or compensate the parents, they actively looked for the best way to hide the problems they created themselves. Their approach was to silence other representatives such as Pieter Omtzigt, not raising awareness about the unjust situation. It is no longer about serving your country, it is about serving yourself and with that your own reputation. The main thing the child benefits scandal exposes is the remarkable incompetence of the current generation of Dutch ‘leaders’.
The longest-lasting formation ever, is that in the national interest? Prime Minister Rutte’s very first promise to the Dutch electors was that a rapid formation had to take place. The first promise has already been broken. That destroys hope for the coming years. And again, the political leaders look at each other while the outcome of the elections was clear. A sitting cabinet does not very often get a majority again. A cabinet in caretaker form is incapable of fulfilling everything they wish for because the work should not be taken away from the future cabinet with new voter mandate.
At the moment, the current cabinet has been out of commission for almost a year. This means that for a year, no major decisions were made in the Netherlands about the future of the country while the situation calls for drastic action. Think of the housing crisis, the earthquakes in Groningen, the climate crisis, huge inflation, higher energy prices and so on. All these problems are pushed forward with a big snowplow by the current ‘leaders’, a sentence which Mark Rutte himself often used. Do we actually need elections when nothing is done with the results? It is not the voter who determines what happens and who is allowed to settle in cabinet, the politicians do that themselves when they feel like it. That is why politicians only look at each other more than at their voters. Power cannot be obtained from the voter, but from that other politician who enables you to settle in cabinet. As a result, it no longer matters what is going on in the country, it matters what the other politician thinks of you.
It is often said that politicians must lead by example. If this is the right example, then the Netherlands is doomed. For this reason, the Dutch government also fits under the frescoes of ancient Siena, but then under those of bad government. Replace those walls full of mud in the current parliament with the frescoes of Siena, so that our ‘leaders’ are reminded of what they do it for. For the people.