Geert Wilders, one of the most notorious politicians in modern Dutch history, has finally been given another chance at government participation as VVD leader Yesilgöz refuses to exclude the leader of the PVV from government participation.
The PVV (The Freedom Party) and the VVD (People’s party for freedom and democracy) have always had a peculiar relationship. From Wilders’ departure from the VVD to government participation with the liberals, to outright exclusion under the leadership of Mark Rutte: the two parties have always been at odds with each other. In this article, I will broadly outline the history of the two parties.
Splitting and the First Elections
Ever since Kees van der Staaij resigned in August, Wilders has been the longest-serving member of parliament, with over 9138 days in the chamber. He began this lengthy career in 1998 as a member of the VVD. He split from the VVD in 2004 after refusing to align with the VVD’s stance on Turkey’s EU participation. Wilders strongly opposed the country’s EU membership and refused to commit to conforming to any future faction decisions. This situation became unmanageable for the liberal party, leading to Wilders leaving the VVD faction. This is how he became the sole member of the ‘Groep Wilders‘ (Wilders Group). A year and a half later, the Balkenende-II cabinet resigned, necessitating new elections. Wilders seized this opportunity by founding a party and participating in the 2006 elections under the name Groep Wilders/Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV). Wilders succeeded in securing 9 seats, and his own party had taken off.
Rutte Wins the Battle for the Prime Minister’s Office
The PVV positioned itself to the right of the VVD and clarified its positions in the election program “A Netherlands to Be Proud of Again.” Despite a decent electoral gain, both the PVV and the VVD found themselves in the opposition. During this time, there were few clashes between the liberal and the more right-wing party. The two seemed reconciled while Wilders was busy establishing his profile and distinguishing himself from other parties.
However, this does not mean that the turmoil surrounding the PVV had laid down – quite the opposite. In the early years of the party, there were enough controversies surrounding Wilders personally and the PVV in general. In 2011, Wilders faced prosecution for discrimination and incitement to hatred, but he was acquitted. The relationship between the liberals and the PVV became interesting around the time of the fall of the Balkenende-IV cabinet due to the cabinet crisis over the Uruzgan decision. This decision concerned an extension of a military mission in Afghanistan. New elections were held. The VVD became the largest party, with the PVV securing the third position. The PVV was also the biggest gainer, with a seat increase of 13 compared to the previous elections.
Mark Rutte led his liberal party to an absolute victory, becoming the largest in the history of the party in the Second Chamber. Much has been written and read about the subsequent cabinet formation, but for us, it is interesting that the liberals, along with the Christian Democrats (CDA), formed a minority cabinet. It was mainly a minority cabinet in name because they obtained support from Wilders’ PVV, which helped them secure a majority in the Second Chamber.
Cabinet Rutte-I took office in October 2010 and fell in April 2012. There were occasional tensions between Geert Wilders and Mark Rutte. It was during this cabinet period that Wilders famously uttered the words “doe eens normaal man” (“act normal, man”) to Mark Rutte, who responded in a jovial manner with the equally famous words “doe eens lekker zelf normaal man, sjongejonge” (“you act normal yourself, man!”). However, there were no major clashes between the PVV and the VVD.
The support structure of the first Rutte cabinet provided room for both the VVD and the PVV, allowing them not to compromise on all decisions. The support structure involved forming a minority cabinet backed by a faction in parliament, which “tolerated” and supported the policies of the minority cabinet. There was indeed a support agreement with the PVV, so the cabinet could rely on a majority for the matters outlined in that agreement. However, the PVV was not obliged to blindly follow the cabinet’s actions. For instance, the PVV voted against a cabinet decision to send a successor to the ‘Task Force Uruzgan’ to Afghanistan. The cabinet felt compelled to seek an alternative majority, which eventually materialised. The PVV could distinguish itself and continue defending its own positions, while the VVD did not feel compelled to adopt Wilders’ more extreme views. It was a win-win situation for both, although the construction proved somewhat unstable.
Cabinet Rutte-I fell due to the Catshuis crisis, which arose after the 2008 financial crisis that swept through the entire EU. The government deficit in the Netherlands increased, and in 2012, the Central Planning Bureau announced that the budget deficit in the Netherlands would exceed 3 percent. To prevent this, budget cuts were necessary.
The VVD, the CDA, and the PVV retreated to the Catshuis to negotiate budget agreements. During these negotiations, complete media silence was agreed upon. During the Catshuis negotiations, a PVV member decided to split from the party. This resulted in the VVD/CDA/PVV coalition losing its majority in the House of Representatives.
This likely did not help the negotiations, which were already somewhat strained. Tensions had risen, especially between Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders. The latter eventually withdrew his support for the Rutte-I cabinet, which felt forced to resign. The cabinet fell.
After the fall of the Rutte-I cabinet, new elections were called, in which the VVD significantly gained, reaching 41 seats, an absolute peak in the party’s history. The PVV was less fortunate, dropping from 24 to 15 seats. The second major winner of the elections was the PvdA (Labour Party), securing 38 seats. The subsequent coalition formation process was quite swift, taking only 54 days to form a government (for comparison, the next Rutte cabinet took 225 days before they could ascend the steps of the royal palace). The PVV was not explicitly excluded by the liberals during this formation; instead, they quickly turned to the social democrats to form a government.
There weren’t many headline-making clashes between the right-wing Wilders and the liberals of the VVD during this time. However, this period was when Geert Wilders delivered his infamous “Minder, minder, minder (Less, less, less)” speech, for which he would eventually be prosecuted. This speech would later have repercussions during the formation of the Rutte-III cabinet.
Rutte-II completed its term and organised new elections. Before the elections, Rutte already stated that he did not want to form a coalition with the PVV anymore, citing the “fewer Moroccans” statement as the reason. Wilders, in turn, refused to enter into a coalition with Rutte again. It’s essential to note that this was election time, and Wilders’ opposition was directed at Rutte personally, not the VVD as a party. The two men, who had once been at the centre of power, began mudslinging and excluding each other during the election campaign.
Due to the fragmented political landscape, they could afford to do so. Neither party necessarily needed the other to form a coalition. If the PVV performed well, it could turn to the right to form a coalition again. The VVD could go either way, being a more stable centrist party. Wilders, however, had the misfortune of not only being excluded by the VVD but also finding other parties uninterested in forming a coalition with his party. The chances of Wilders returning to a coalition diminished.
The same roughly applied to the formation attempt of Rutte-IV. Even before the elections had taken place, the liberal leader stated that he did not see governing with the PVV as an option. He did not provide a reason, but it is assumed that he followed the same reasoning as during the 2017 election campaign: he believed that the PVV’s statements did not align with the values of the Netherlands and the rule of law.
Rutte got his way. A new coalition involving the PVV, whether in a regular or supporting role, did not materialise. The liberal leader and longest-serving prime minister announced on July 10 of this year that he would retire from politics after the new elections. The baton as the liberal leader was passed on.
Yesilgöz: a different route
And that brings us to the present. Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius, Minister of Justice and Security, is the new leader of the VVD. The party with which Wilders once entered the Second Chamber, the party that consistently excluded him under the leadership of Mark Rutte, now has a new leader who wants to take a different course, including regards towards Wilders. When asked if the PVV would be excluded again, she answered in the negative. As long as Wilders would adopt a milder tone, it might be possible to govern with him. Later, the politician did mention that she has “nothing with Wilders’ one-liners,” but the door is not closed yet.
For right-wing Netherlands, it seems like a dream cabinet is taking shape. To what extent this is true remains to be seen. If there’s anything unpredictable in Dutch politics, it’s the formation of a new government. The chance of having a Wilders-I cabinet is small, but a coalition including the PVV is closer than ever. What is a nightmare scenario for progressive Netherlands may come true, thanks to the new leader of the liberal party. During the formation period, it will become clear whether Wilders, after years of opposition, will be reunited with the party he once left. The voters have spoken, and predicting the composition of the next cabinet is challenging.
Picture by Patrick Jaksic, via Pexels