The political events of recent days in the Netherlands confirm that the gap between the citizenry and the political elite in most European countries is currently so great that even the most exhausted, brilliant political leader can be brought down.
The Netherlands’ longest-serving prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced his retirement from active politics in the Dutch parliament on Monday morning after his coalition government collapsed on Friday. Rutte has been the prime minister of the Netherlands for almost thirteen years and last year became the first Dutch prime minister to lead four successive governments. The previous record was held in the 1980s by Ruud Lubbers who was prime minister for twelve years and was able to lead three governments.
Over the weekend, 75% of Dutch voters indicated in a poll that they want Rutte to step down after his coalition government, largely by his own doing, collapsed on Friday. In addition, 62% of Dutch people said in the same poll that it is a good thing that the Rutte IV government has fallen. Only 15% of Dutch people were satisfied with the job performance of the current government.
The dislike of Rutte and his government has already built up in the Netherlands in the last few months. In March, the four coalition parties that currently form the government took a big beating at the ballot box in provincial elections. In the Netherlands, the upper house of the parliament, the Senate, is made up of the provincial legislators, which resulted in the coalition also losing their majority in the Senate after the March elections.
Yet it was clear in the last few weeks that Rutte was convinced that he would be able to see out at least his own term until 2026. Over the past thirteen years, Rutte has succeeded, for better or worse, in substantially expanding the Netherlands’ role within the European Union, and broadly Dutch influence in the political and economic affairs of the EU. To his credit, he has tried to convince the EU to curb excessive spending, usually with the support of countries like Sweden, Denmark and Austria. A large majority of Dutch voters are dissatisfied with the enormous costs at which the EU bureaucracy is run in Brussels and Strasbourg.
While Rutte was and still is outspoken in favor of sound fiscal policy, free trade within Europe and a strong internal European market, he was also one of the loudest voices in favor of social-liberal issues. In doing so, he constantly clashed with conservative EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe. Over the past two years, Rutte has led a fierce attack on the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, and even told Orban during a meeting of the leaders of EU member states in 2021 that the Hungarian government will withdraw its legislation, which contains explicit content on alternative sexual behaviour. banned in schools, must withdraw or, if he refuses, Hungary must instead withdraw from the EU.
With that, Rutte has set himself up directly against conservatives in Europe. In his own country, an already liberal Netherlands, access to abortions, the rights of LGBTQ persons, access to so-called euthanasia and other more extreme liberal policies have increased in the last thirteen years under Rutte’s leadership. Today, the Netherlands is a hyper-individualistic country, stripped of the kind of values, culture and identity that are necessary to ensure progress for a nation.
The dwindling Christian minority in the Netherlands, which is increasingly limited to a strip of towns in the so-called Bible belt, is increasingly labeled and even isolated. The pressure on Christian schools to admit unbelieving and even Muslim children is increasing to such an extent that these schools are likely to experience a crisis over the next few years. The question of who and what a Dutchman is today is becoming more and more difficult to answer.
In the past few years, Mark Rutte has also repeatedly made major concessions to left-wing parties, probably because of his obsession with always reaching consensus within a coalition government. With this, the Netherlands has recently started to implement some of the most radical climate policy, which included, among other things, a major attack on the agricultural industry. Legislation has been forced through the Dutch parliament which stipulates that the nitrogen output of the agricultural industry must be reduced by 50% by 2025. Among other things, the Dutch government wants to buy out, or even expropriate, 3,000 of the 50,000 Dutch farmers’ farms in order to transform them into nature parks. Suicide among Dutch farmers has increased sharply in the past two years.
However, the single issue that rang Rutte’s cap was immigration. Immigration is also currently the single most important reason for the unpopularity of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the Belgian prime minister, Alexander de Croo, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, the Austrian chancellor, Karl Nehammer, and the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez. Across Western Europe, ethnically original Europeans feel that they are losing their lands and continent.
In recent years, the Netherlands has experienced an enormous influx of legal and illegal immigrants. While legal immigration is strictly managed, the scale of illegal immigration is so great that the Dutch government no longer has the capacity to house all the asylum seekers and refugees. Illegal immigrants are mostly people from Muslim countries who are also extremely dependent on government assistance for housing, basic care, health and education. In the Netherlands, as in its neighboring countries, immigrants are also disproportionately involved in criminality.
It is mainly people from North Africa and the Middle East, and mostly young single men, who settle illegally in the Netherlands. After settlement, they then try to take large, extended families to the Netherlands as well. A large majority of Dutch voters want strict action to be taken against illegal immigration. Rutte has promised such action during every previous election campaign in the past decade, but each time succumbed to pressure from left-wing coalition partners.
Last week, however, Rutte brought down his own government in the hope that the Dutch would instead blame the left-wing coalition partners, who are in favor of extended rights for asylum seekers and refugees, for it. After thirteen years, however, it was clear that a majority of Dutch people saw through Rutte’s strategy. His political oxygen has run out. By Monday, he had informed members of the Tweede Kamer der Staten-General, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, of his decision to withdraw from the to enter active politics.
Alone in the row of chairs for cabinet members in the meeting hall, Rutte looked lonely on Monday. The single 56-year-old Rutte’s life was dominated by a political career for two decades. He was known as an extremely hard-working, almost obsessive political operator. With time, however, he lost touch with the realities in his own country.
Rutte was more comfortable at EU or NATO meetings in Brussels or in the White House or the Reichstag on state visits than among ordinary Dutch citizens who have to live daily with the enormous disturbance of mass immigration, a radical climate policy and the social transformation of the Dutch society.
Integration and assimilation of immigrants has long ceased to be a workable strategy in any Western European country. All over the Netherlands there are complete neighborhoods of almost exclusively Moroccan or Turkish citizens with their own mosques, their own shops, their own community institutions and even their own media. These people mostly have dual citizenship and still vote in elections in their own countries. For Turks or Moroccans, but nowadays also Afghans, Pakistanis and Syrians in the Netherlands, their presence in the Netherlands is purely transactional.
The first mosque in the Netherlands opened on 9 December 1955. Later this year, the 500th mosque in this country will open. More people in the Netherlands visit a mosque weekly than attend a church service in a Christian church. The influence of this on the complete social character of the country over a fairly short period of time is so extensive that millions of Dutch people begin to experience a deep-seated alienation from their own country. The situation with immigration is even worse in Belgium, France, Germany and Austria than in the Netherlands.
The end of the Rutte era creates an opportunity for Dutch to take a different direction. In the last few years, there has been an even greater fragmentation in Dutch politics with twenty political parties/groupings currently dividing the 150 seats. Coalition politics is therefore becoming more and more difficult.
The loss of culture, faith, a love for one’s own Dutch language, landscape and character raises questions about whether any coherence can still be found in the Netherlands. While the Netherlands is doing well economically, a country whose citizens have always been at the forefront of trade in Europe and which benefited greatly from Brexit due to their existing close economic ties with the British, it is not doing well socially at all . No community can survive in the long term just from material success. Something more, something bigger, something better is also needed.
The BoerBurgerBeweging, which finished first in all twelve Dutch provinces in March’s election, does present a different kind of politics. The party’s leader, Caroline van der Plas, said in parliament last week that the next Dutch prime minister should focus exclusively on the issues of ordinary Dutch citizens, while foreign affairs should be left to the minister of foreign affairs.
The issues that will be debated over the next months in the run-up to November’s election in the Netherlands are not only Dutch challenges, but also Western European challenges. In conjunction with this, upcoming elections in Spain (later this month), two German states namely Bavaria and Hesse (8 October), Austria (2024), EU elections (6-9 June 2024) and Belgium (9 June 2024) should be seen . A major political upheaval in Europe is possible. Its consequences in a rapidly changing world with greater economic and security risks and increasing population shifts from poor, underdeveloped countries to richer Western countries will be far-reaching.