“Rutte III” promises restrictive changes to Dutch asylum system

A record 209 days after their parliamentary elections, four Dutch parties have formed a coalition for a majority government that will lead by a single seat. Mark Rutte‘s center-right VVD, Democrats D66, Christian Democrats CDA, and the conservative Christian Union (CU) have hammered out a fragile accord that will lead the Netherlands into the so-called “Rutte III” era. Coalition talks initially included the environmental leftists Groenlinks, but talks broke down over a single issue: migration.

Now, thanks to a leaked version of the coalition agreement from AD.NL, we are able to see the consensus reached by the parties on migration and gain some insight into why Groenlinks may have found it so problematic. (Refresh your memory on the parties’ stances here.)

The coalition agreement sets out that the parties want to maintain a “recognizable Netherlands” that preserves and promotes Dutch traditions and customs. At the same time, the parties agree to introduce new limits and restrictions on immigration and asylum, and to pursue “a much stricter approach to Jihadism.” What will this look like in practice? Here are some highlights, found in the section about migration, asylum and integration (pages 50-55).

Make it more difficult for people who receive asylum to stay in the Netherlands

The parties would limit the number of times an applicant can apply for asylum or appeal a rejected asylum claim. Succesful applicants would be entitled to stay three, instead of the previous five years. After three years, authorities would seek to determine whether it would be possible for the person to return to the country they fled, and if not the person would be able to receive an additional two years protection. At five years, they would be eligible for an indefinite residence permit. By inserting a new hurdle at the three year mark, the government can possibly prevent more people who receive asylum from making it to a more permanent form of residency.

A two-track procedure for asylum claims

The agreement proposes that people seeking asylum from the Netherlands be divided into two groups during an initial evaluation. People who appear to have a good chance of receiving asylum would go to a smaller facility in the municipality they would eventually be housed in, and start right away on language classes. People who are deemed to have less chance will be housed in larger facilities, where their rejection will lead to immediate deportation.

Limit access to welfare for people seeking asylum and make integration mandatory

In order to ensure that people become “self-sufficient,” the agreement proposes that funds for healthcare, rent or welfare are no longer distributed directly to people who receive asylum themselves, but instead to the municipalities who shelter them to dole out, at least for the first two years. Following a test period, people may be able to enter the labour market exit this scenario.

People receiving protecting are expected to start language classes on day 1 and to eventually reach level B2 (formerly A2), and the state will pay for the courses. “Integration is a duty,” the parties write, and people who fail to integrate may lose their immigration status or fail to get a better status or more permanent residency. Aside from learning the Dutch language, integration also means respecting laws and equality, as well as finding employment.

Tougher crackdown on “jihadism”

An additional 13 million euros is allocated to counter-terrorism activities, especially, the agreement notes, for combatting “hate preachers.” The parties propose that new legislation is drafted to ensure that returnees to the Netherlands from conflict zones can be detained upon arrival to be investigated for their possible participation in acts of terrorism. In addition, the parties want more careful monitoring of asylum seekers to mark individuals as possible war criminals.

A shift to the right

If the leaked version becomes the official coalition agreement, it will clearly represent a shift to the right on migration policies in the Netherlands. VVD did not get its way on everything – for instance, they called for refugees to finance their own mandatory language classes- but in many ways this set of new policies is a win for those who oppose migration. It is clear that for Groenlinks this entire program was a no-go. They had called for equality between Dutch and asylum seekers on the job market, the right to state assistance for rejected asylum seekers, and other less restrictive policies. Left democrats D66 may have opposed some many of these changes, but had called during their campaign for smaller numbers of asylum seekers in order to focus on integration- and smaller numbers may well be the result of these policies once enacted.

 


Sources and Further Reading
Green Light for Coalition, (in Dutch), De Telegraaf , Oct. 2017
“Confidence in the Future” Governing Agreement [PDF] [in Dutch], Leaked by Ad.nl Oct. 2017
Dutch Coalition Agreement 2017- Migration & Integration (EN) [PDF] Poorly translated version of Migration Section
Header Image: Mark Rutte by Arno Mikkor on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2kMyfib (CC BY 2.0)
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Opinion: British “Progressive Alliance” failed from bad politics and bad faith

By Phil Butland

This is the latest in Migration Voter’s opinion series on strategic voting. Read our previous article on France here.

At the beginning of the British election campaign, the Green Party touted the idea of a “progressive alliance” against the Tories. To many people this seemed like a no-brainer. With the Tory manifesto showing the return of the “nasty party”, surely anything would be better than Theresa May coming back into power.

Here’s how a progressive alliance works. One of the peculiarities of the British election campaign is that an MP only needs to win more votes than any other candidate in his or her electoral district. With multiple candidates, most MPs do not even have the support of half the people who voted.

A progressive alliance would mean that in each district the local parties would decide which candidate would be most likely to beat the Tories. All other candidates would stand down, and the result would be a Tory wipe-out.

So why did the progressive alliance not happen? In this article, I will argue that it was a mixture of bad politics, bad faith, and the pessimistic (if, at the time, understandable) view that just because Labour was polling 20% behind the Tories they were incapable of winning on their own.

Bad Politics

Firstly, the bad politics. One of the conditions on which the Greens insisted was the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the progressive alliance. This posed a number of problems, not least that just seven years ago the LibDems fought an election campaign based on one major promise  – the withdrawal of tuition fees.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto of 2010 declared “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income” around the time of the National Union of Students conference in April of that year. LibDem leader Nick Clegg issued a youtube video titled “Say goodbye to broken promises”. The first frame was a piece of paper on which was written “No student tuition fees – Labour”.

libdem vid

On 28 April Clegg claimed tuition fees would double under a Conservative or Labour government: “We think it’s unfair when you graduate and you haven’t even taken your first step in the world of adult work to be saddled with £25,000 worth of debt”. Every Lib Dem candidate who was subsequently elected signed a “Vote for Students” pledge, promising to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next parliament.

The election resulted in a hung parliament and the LibDems could have joined a coalition government led by Labour or by the Tories. They chose the Tories – who promptly tripled tuition fees. On 9 December 2010, in the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, MPs approved raising the cap on tuition fees by a 323 to 302 vote. 28 LibDem MPs voted for the bill and only 21 voted against. Indeed one of the arguments that claim current LibDem Leader Tim Fallon is somehow progressive is that he was one of the minority of MPs who voted for party policy.

The LibDems propped up the Conservative government for its full term, and were punished at the subsequent election where they lost nearly all their MPs. In 2010, boosted by a strong campaign in student constituencies, 57 LibDem MPs were voted into parliament. In the 2015 election, only eight remained.

But surely they’ll have learned from their mistakes? Apparently not. Under new leader Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian who has received due flak for his views on gay marriage, the LibDems have repeatedly refused to rule out entering another coalition with the Tories. Under these circumstances, they had no need for a progressive alliance – and a progressive alliance had no need for them.

Despite putting on a progressive front, Farron has called abortion “wrong at any time”. Former Campaigns manager to the gay LibDem MP Simon Hughes, Mark Gettleson has said:

“Tim Farron now presents himself as a changed man. He says he now regrets abstaining on equal marriage, despite not distancing himself from his amendments. He’s changed his mind too on his opposition to the Equality Act’s ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services … But it is not enough to repent of the past when it becomes convenient to do so.”

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Farron appealed to the Labour MPs working against Corbyn (and the majority of their party) and Conservatives, telling The Guardian “Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking. To the right, I have talked with a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.”

His appeal to centrists in both parties continued in April 2017, when he refused to rule out forming another coalition with the Tories. As with former LibDem leader Nick Clegg, who opposed student fees out of office then helped push them through, we must judge Farron not on what he says but what he has done and what he’s likely to do in the future.

That’s a maybe, but surely Labour could make some deal with the Greens? After all, during the dark years of Tony Blair, the Greens remained the conscience of the nation, with many people – including myself – voting for them as a progressive alternative to Blair’s politics of war and austerity.

Now I could certainly see a good case for the Greens and Labour making a voting alliance, especially in the (many) constituencies held by Labour MPs who have consistently campaigned against Corbyn. Since the general election in 2015, Labour has trebled its membership to over 500.000 people. Although most people have joined because of Corbyn’s leadership, a majority of MPs, and their house journal, the supposedly progressive newspaper The Guardian have tried to undermine him every step of the way.

Following a continuous barrage of Guardian articles declaring Corbyn to be “unelectable” 172 Labour MPs submitted a no-confidence vote in Corbyn with just 40 supporting him. 20 shadow cabinet ministers and around 30 other junior ministers resigned, coordinating their resignations at hourly intervals to sustain media pressure on Corbyn. Nonetheless, in this second leadership election, Corbyn won an increased majority with over 60% of the vote, including a vast majority of individual party members.

Despite this, in the current election campaign, many candidates have openly snubbed the Labour Leadership. Phil Wilson, Tony Blair’s successor as Labour MP for Sedgefield proudly told Facebook that “I am no supporter of Jeremy Corbyn” and “it is my name on the ballot paper here, not Corbyn”. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly said that voters would “laugh me off the streets” if he put Corbyn’s policies on his leaflets (

As Corbyn has gained ground on the Tories, both The Guardian and the rebel MPs have largely fallen into line. The Guardian’s sister paper The Observer even claimed that Corbyn “should be commended for the dignified way in which he has dealt with an immensely hostile media onslaught from the rightwing tabloids”, even though some of the greatest hostility came from its own stable. Nevertheless, it is clear that even if Corbyn wins the election, he cannot be sure of the support of the majority of his parliamentary party, and will need the backing of other progressives both inside and outside parliament.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Green’s suggestion of a progressive alliance this time round was tainted by bad faith from the start.

Bad Faith

It wasn’t just the insistence that the LibDems be involved. As soon as Labour wavered on the idea of a progressive alliance, the Greens – and their only MP, the genuinely progressive Caroline Lucas – spent much more time attacking Labour than they did the Tories. A particular low point was their election broadcast of 12 May. This broadcast lambasted Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May equally, while saying that the Greens were the only true anti-establishment party.

And yet what has characterized this election campaign had been Corbyn’s ability to tap into an anti-establishment feeling shared by millions who have suffered under the Tories. Addressing rallies of thousands of people and with the support of actors like Maxine Peake and film directors like Ken Loach, Corbyn has turned the election into a two-horse race. A couple of weeks ago, the Tories led by 20% in the polls. At the time of writing, polls are predicting a hung parliament. A yougov survey for the Sunday Times put support for the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 38% . On top of this, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists are unlikely to support the Tories, nor are the Greens or Sinn Féin who are likely to take their seats in Westminster for the first time.  And there’s still over a week to go.

Voting intention 1-2 Jun]-01

Corbyn’s success comes from a series of positive demands – for a minimum wage, a decent health service and for humane treatment of refugees , that comes from standing for something. Horse trading with the Greens and particularly the Liberal Democrats would have blunted this message. A progressive alliance is based on preventing the worst from happening and is in its very nature negative and reactive.

The Greens may have called upon Corbyn to join them in stopping the Tories, yet they only have one MP, and their only real chances of getting any more lies in constituencies with Labour MPs. Standing down in other areas would have helped them concentrate their resources – and to save a lot of money they will lose from lost deposits.

Does this mean that a progressive alliance is always a bad idea or that British progressive voters should vote Labour everywhere? I do believe that this time round, all British voters should vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but in two areas there is a case to be made that the Corbyn candidate is not necessarily the Labour candidate.

The first area is Scotland. After decades of Labour misrule and a refusal to address the national question, Labour was punished in Scotland at the last general election, where the SNP ran a left social democratic campaign and won all but 3 of the 59 seats available. One of the few pleasures of the last parliamentary sessions has been watching the 22-year old SNP MP Mhairi Black regularly excoriating the Tories for their soulless policies (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

The Corbyn effect is only just starting to take hold in parts of Scotland, and in many cases, progressive voters will be torn between choosing between the SNP and Labour. Scotland would actually be one place where a progressive alliance could be effective, yet the SNP have no interest in helping Labour try to win back the support that they have squandered in Scotland.

The other constituency where progressives should consider voting against Labour is Bradford West,  where I lived for many years and would be voting if I still had the right to vote in the UK.  Salma Yaqoob is a former leader of RESPECT, the party set up by George Galloway after Tony Blair launched the war on Iraq. In 2017, Salma is standing against Naz Shah, a Labour MP who has gleefully joined the plots against Jeremy Corbyn. There is no question that Salma is the candidate with the better politics and the more personal integrity.

There are still two possible reasons not to vote for Salma. The first would be if her candidacy would split the progressive vote and let the Tories in. This seems to be highly unlikely – and there is some talk of the possibility of Salma actually winning.

The second reason to doubt is that this election – more than most others – will be used to judge the personal and political qualities of the two main leaders – Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. There are many Labour right wingers who will jump on any losses of Labour under Corbyn to remove him and to return the party to its old neo-liberal leadership.

And yet it seems to me – albeit from 1000 kilometres away – that even if Corbyn wins the election (something few people were even considering even a week ago) he will be opposed by most of his own MPs and the presence of someone like Salma in parliament would be of considerable use to him – not to mention the platform it would offer her to speak out for genuine progressive politics.

Lessons for Germany?

Finally, I would like to sum up by asking what this all means for the coming German elections and for the LINKE party, of which I am a member. Many party members are excited by the possibility of die LINKE entering government, as a junior partner to the SPD and Greens. I am more sceptical – not least because taking part in a government following the same austerity programme as today’s SPD would open the way to the mixture of neo-liberals and out-and-out fascists in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) being able to pose as being the “real” anti-establishment party.

But even if die LINKE wants to join a coalition government, Jeremy Corbyn has proved how it is possible to gain electoral support by offering clear, progressive politics. Which is why die LINKE campaign must be centered on supporting the weakest – including migrants and refugees – and fighting together for a better society.

If we limit our offer to saying “at least we’re not as bad as the other lot”, we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail to inspire.


Phil Butland is the speaker of die LINKE Berlin Internationals (https://theleftberlin.wordpress.com/, lag.internationals@die-linke-berlin.de)


Sources and Further Reading
Green Party Urges Electoral Alliance, The Guardian, June 2016
Nasty Party“, Wikipedia
 Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto 2010
Liberal Democrats: Say Goodbye to Broken Promises. Youtube, April 2010
Tuition Fees and the Lib Dems, Channel 4, Oct. 2010
Fact Check: Lib Dem Rebellion on Cards, Channel 4, Oct 10
Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, UK Parliament, 2010
Mark Gettleson: Why Tim Farron’s Record on Gay Marriage MattersHuffington Post, July 2016
Tim Farron: Corbyn win ‘potentially changes everything’ for Lib Dems, The Guardian, Sept. 2015
Tim Farron: Lib Dem leader refuses to rule out coalition with the Conservatives (Video), The Independent, April 2017
Labour shadow cabinet and ministers resignations – the letters in full. The Telegraph, June 2016
Green Party – Party Election Broadcast: 2017 General Election, Youtube, May 2017
SNP MP Mhairi Black “excoriating the Tories” in Parliament (videos): July 2015, Feb. 2016, Dec. 2016, July 2016, Youtube.
Header Image via Andy Miah on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2qQ7Q1x

Dutch coalition talks collapse over differences on immigration

Dutch coalition talks have come to a halt over disagreements on migration, infomateur Edith Schippers announced Monday.

The Dutch election took place over two months ago, but coalition talks are still underway, (which isn’t unusual for the Netherlands). At the time, we pointed out that it was going to be a tremendous uphill battle to make changes to asylum and immigration because of a few factors. First, the fact that the top parties all excluded the possibility of forming a coalition with Geert Wilders’ PPV party (which came in second, with 20 seats) meant that it would be necessary form a broad, and maybe unstable coalition. In this case, the center-right VVD, Christian conservatives CDA, environmental leftists GL and democratic liberals D66 have been attempting to negotiate an agreement- despite representing a broad spectrum of different political views. (Read our explainer of where the parties stand on migration and asylum here.)

The second issue was the fact that there were big gains for both pro- and anti-refugee parties. The three parties with the strongest results all took harsh stances on asylum policy, but the parties that made the biggest gains in seats campaigned on multiculturalism and openness to people seeking asylum. So it’s understandable that politicians might not be completely clear exactly where the public stands on immigration and asylum policy. This uncertainty, in combination with a coalition stretching across the center right to the left, was bound to create disharmony on the topic of migration and asylum. And it looks like it has.

Health Minister Edith Schippers, acting as informateur, announced in a press conference that the negotiating factions were unable to overcome their differences on migration, among other topics. “The substantive differences proved too great,” Schippers said.

What differences were the final stumbling block? It could have been a number of specific issues, but we would be willing to bet that the largest differences were between VVD and GL. Remember, the VVD, led by current PM Mark Rutte, wrote in their platform that while refugees have a right to security, that right applies to their own region, and people who make it the Netherlands are more likely to be “economic migrants.” “Asylum applications in Europe are no longer needed.” This strict view varies totally from Groenlinks, who support working rights for people seeking asylum, minimum assistance for rejected asylum seekers, and a continuation of the practice of accepting asylum seekers to the Netherlands. CDA’s position is much like the VVD’s, and while D66 had a more liberal stance on asylum policy, they also concur that the Netherlands should accept smaller numbers of people. It’s reasonable to assume that Groenlinks was the barrier to an agreement, a view most of the press is concluding as well.

On twitter, GL leader Jesse Klaver wrote, “We have made every effort, but this formation attempt has failed. The differences were too great. And that is a great pity.” Geert Wilders also chimed in, tweeting, “As the second party of the Netherlands PVV is fully available.”

Now that its back to square one, will anyone take up Wilders on his offer? Or will we see Groen Links out, in favor of a minority government that is willing to back VVD’s tough asylum policy? There could still be a long way to go before we know what kind of government the Netherlands will have.

Sources and Further Reading
Election Explainer: Netherlands, MV
Dutch Election Results: Mixed Signals on Migration, MV
Where do the Dutch Parties Stand on Refugees?, MV
Press Conference: Edith Schippers on Formation Failure, RTL (video) (Dutch)
Jesse Klaver on twitter
Geert Wilders on twitter 
Dutch Must Restart Coalition Talks After Collapse on Immigration, Bloomberg, May 16.

Dutch Election Results: Mixed Signals on Migration

The day after the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands the global press is still firmly focused on PVV candidate Geert Wilders. His far right party had a solid evening but failed to beat incumbent VVD or receive enough seats to make a coalition without him impossible, meaning that he will likely remain in the opposition despite being the second largest party in the Netherlands. (For more on why this is, see our Dutch Election explainer or our previous analysis of Wilders’ coalition conundrum). Many are hailing this as a defeat for populism and a victory for Europe/ centrists /the progressive left. But of course, we are interested in digging into what the implications of the results are for immigration and asylum policy in the Netherlands.

Pro-Refugee parties won big…

The parties with the most liberal views on refugees made significant gains. GroenLinks, whose campaign focused on diversity and opposition to racism and xenophobia, while endorsing rights for refugees and rejected asylum seekers, more than tripled the number of seats they gained in comparison to 2012, going from 4 t0 14 seats, while D66, perhaps the second most pro-refugee party (at least on paper) gained 10 seats to tie for third biggest party. Meanwhile, brand new party DENK gained 3 seats, with a message of tolerance for people with migration background to the Netherlands, backing such positions as diversity quotas for government positions and the introduction of policies that de-stigmatize foreigners and counter racism.

In one of the biggest shockers of the evening, workers party PvdA lost a staggering 29 seats. That they did so poorly while other liberal parties made gains is interesting, but from our perspective its worth noting that this was the only party who was Left on social issues but took a somewhat harsher tone on refugees and especially economic migrants, and they were decimated.

…But Anti-Refugee parties won big too

Geert Wilders’ PPV, who took by far the harshest stance of any of the parties against all forms of refugees, immigrants and foreigners, gained 5 seats, becoming the second largest party in the Tweede Kamer. Less hyped but equally important, the CDA surged to tie for third place, picking up 7 seats. The CDA‘s position is similar to the VVD (who remains biggest party despite losing 10 seats) that refugees should stay in their own region, and those who do come to the Netherlands should only receive support to the extent that they can be well set up to return. Additionally, they support tightening up rules on family reunification. SGP and CU both did solidly with a similarly strict stance on refugees (while making provisions for especially vulnerable groups, such as children.)

Meanwhile, the far-right Forum voor Demokratie (FVD) made it into the parliament for the first time, gaining two seats running on a platform that centered on direct democracy, restricting immigration and leaving the EU. Party leader Thierry Baudet presents himself as a younger and more intellectual Wilders-type, with connections to the US alt-right scene.

The resulting government seems unlikely to make big shifts in asylum policy

It always takes some time to form a government in the Netherlands, and given that all major parties have vowed to exclude PPV, the second most popular party, any likely coalition will probably be a combination of VVD, CDA, D66 and one or more others. Rutte will likely remain PM, and parties that are basically opposed to the Netherlands accepting more refugees in one way or another will hold at least 72 out of 150 seats in parliament and will dominate the ruling coalition. Its thus safe to say we can expect more of the same: subsistence level support for asylum seekers, lots of rejections, and suport for development cooperation in regional sending zones.

Depending on whether Groenlinks or SP also join the ruling coalition they may seek to liberalize immigration policy, but will face an uphill battle.

Questions going forward:

Is high voter turnout far-right kryptonite? As the evening unfolded the media was surprised by the extremely high voter turnout – 82% overall. High turnout doesn’t necessarily benefit the left or the right, but as state broadcaster NOS reported, younger people favored more liberal parties, and high voter turnout usually means increased youth participation.

Does flirting with the far-right work equally well for the center right and the left? As many have pointed out, the VVD and CDA both took a page (or at least a line) out of Wilders’ book in the way they talked about refugees and immigrants, most notably when Rutte said immigrants should act normal or “piss off” in a tv interview. Talking tough on refugees and immigrants, but not using what Rutte called “the wrong kind of populism” managed to keep these parties in the lead. Not so for PvdA, who campaigned on protecting Dutch identity and patriotic values while backing restrictive measures for refugees and asylum like VVD and CDA, but lost terribly for it. Left/liberal parties who didn’t emulate this type of rhetoric, however, did well, especially among young people.

What does this mean for the French election? That may be the most important question, but the answer is far from apparent.