“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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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.

 

Where do the Dutch parties stand on refugees?

One of the unusual features of the Dutch electoral system is the large number of parties and multiple possibilities for coalitions. When it comes to refugee politics, a very hot issue in the upcoming race, the parties are all over the map and range from very strict on refugees- saying the Netherlands should not take a single one- to very welcoming, saying refugees should be welcomed without a limit and entitled to the same rights as Dutch citizens. To make it a little easier to navigate we’ve divided the top parties by their stances, using their own positions from their own platforms. Remember: multiple of these parties will have to find enough common ground to govern together, so we are likely to see big compromises.

PVV- Zero refugees, close the borders, exit the European Union and ban Islam

The Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV, is the far right party of Geert Wilders and takes the strongest stance against refugees and people seeking asylum, particularly if they are Muslim. Their platform is that the Netherlands should accept zero refugees, close all asylum centers, withdraw residence permits that have already been granted, and use the money that is currently given to people in the asylum process to support the “ordinary Dutchman.” In addition, immigration from Muslim countries will be banned, and people who hold dual citizenship and have a criminal record will be de-nationalized. Finally, a vote on leaving the European Union will be posed by referendum (the so-called “Nexit”), and the Koran would be banned (this would likely also require a referendum to change the constitution to allow for discrimination against religious groups.)

VVD- Netherlands is obligated to accept refugees, not economic migrants

The Die Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) is the party of current PM Mark Rutte. Although they arrive at the conclusion in a different way, their position on refugees is nearly as hardline as PVV’s. While refugees are entitled to a safe haven, that should be granted in their own region and not in Europe. In the current situation, they say it is no longer possible to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants, so efforts should be given to stabilizing the region refugees originate from and preventing them from endangering themselves and making problems in the Netherlands. The majority who come to the Netherlands cannot possibly be refugees, VVD argues, as they traveled all the way there, passing through safe regions, so they should not be given false hope and resettled in municipalities. Those who do make it should be processed as quickly as possible and deported as quickly as possible. Anyone who remains must integrate as quickly as possible and pay their own way through language courses, and is entitled to the minimum of public assistance- container houses, healthcare, and food. People who fail to integrate should lose residence rights.

CDA- Refugees must be set up to be able to return

The Christen-Democratisch Appèl or CDA is the once dominant Christian union party that has a center-right viewpoint. On the issue of refugees and asylum, they partially echo the VVD in granting that refugees are entitled to protection, but this protection can be better granted in their own region. This way, they are also better enabled to return when a conflict has ceased. Thus, they support the creation of regional “safe havens” and financial support for governments hosting refugees. Refugees already in Europe should be distributed according to a quota system, with countries who don’t participate losing EU funds. Refugees already within the Netherlands should receive training so that they can be well-prepared to return to their countries as soon as possible- and those countries who will not accept their citizens back should be ineligible for trade or development cooperation. Anyone who will eventually receive Dutch citizenship must give up their previous citizenship, take an integration test and learn Dutch.

SGP – Allow refugees, but combat abuse of the asylum system

The Staatkundig Gereformeerde Parti or SGP is the Dutch Calvinist party, a socially conservative center- right party that received some international attention when it was sued for refusing to allow women into its ranks.  The SGP believes that the Netherlands should continue to accept refugees, especially those who have been persecuted because of their faith, but that as a small and densely populated country, the number of disadvantaged/ economic migrants must be limited and there should be stricter requirements for family reunification. Only those who agree, in writing, that they want to contribute to Dutch society should receive funds for integration courses, and public funding for refugees should be limited to the basics.

CU- Certain groups of asylum seekers are at a higher risk

The ChristenUnie or CU is a socially conservative Christian party, which nevertheless is somewhat liberal on issues such as the environment and immigration. Their position on refugees is that the Netherlands should continue to accept refugees while supporting assistance for them in their origin region and supporting a more equal distribution of refugees throughout Europe. Refugees should be distributed throughout the Netherlands, but in good communication with local municipalities and lots of opportunities for integration and volunteer activities in the home. The asylum process should be sped up so people know what their prospects for staying are as soon as possible and can start to integrate. They are especially concerned about the safety of LGBT and Christian refugees in asylum homes and favor more support for these groups. They also want more attention and special assistance for victims of trafficking, FGM and child marriage, and support a more liberal policy for child refugees. They also advocate basic support (food, shelter) for rejected asylum seekers.

PvDA – We accept refugees but our capacity isn’t limitless

The Partij van de Arbeid or PvdA is the left-leaning worker’s party that focuses on employment and social welfare. In their plan they embrace a European response to the refugee crises with a distribution system, and specifically cite the Geneva Refugee Convention as being the decider of who may stay. But the Netherland’s capacity to help is limited and the country has been put under pressure by accepting refugees- thus they take a strict stance against economic migrants, and encourage more say for municipalities in choosing how many refugees they will accept. A fair asylum policy must make special provisions for the vulnerable, especially children.

SP- Provide ample assistance here and in sending countries

The Socialistische Partij is a leftist social democrat party that takes a Euroskeptic stance on issues like the euro and freedom of movement, hoping to restrict EU policies and migration that suppresses wages. Nevertheless, in their platform they propose a European solution to asylum, namely, that reception centers are placed at international borders and then people found legally able tEo stay are distributed throughout Europe, incuding throughout the Netherlands. Like other parties, they support regional assistance to prevent people from leaving in the first place, and development cooperation in Africa but not with a “post-colonial process.” Refugees within the Netherlands should be equally distributed (“not just in poor neighborhoods”) and should receive ample assistance including mental health care. ‘No one should have to sleep on the streets”, they say, and people in asylum shelter that are at additional risk of violence should receive extra attention.

D66- Smaller numbers mean better opportunities

The Politieke Partij Democraten 66 or D66 is a progressive, pro-democracy and pro-European party founded in 1966. While “not everyone can come to the Netherlands,” they point out that the majority of Syrian refugees are sheltered by neighboring countries. They support strengthening European borders and capacities and accepting genuine refugees (but not economic migrants.) A smaller number of refugees will make opportunities for them to integrate stronger. In the meantime, they deserve assistance and the same rights to housing and healthcare as Dutch people have.

GL- Be realistic and humane towards refugees

The GroenLinks party advocated for a “confident and relaxed” Netherlands and is explicitly in favor of multiculturalism and against racism and discrimination. Their platform on asylum calls out as unrealistic proposals like closing the borders and instead proposes a workable and humane solution. While international development is in order, in the mean time international humanitarian obligations should be followed. They are in favor of European distribution but also believe the applicant’s choice should carry weight – especially in the case of minors who might want to live with relatives.Asylum seekers in the Netherlands should be able to work from day 1 and should have a decision within a reasonable amount of time. Rejected asylum seekers are also entitled to minimal assistance so they don’t end up on the streets.

With these positions in mind, we should be in a good position to speculate where parties have common grounds or irreconcilable differences once we have coalition options come election day (in less than a week!)

Interested in testing out which party suits you best? Stemmen Tracker lets you take a survey and matches your answers to a party.

(Image via Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2m7mezk)

The Far-Right’s Coalition Conundrum

As elections approach in the Netherlands, France and Germany, people interested in immigration issues are no doubt focused on the chances of the far-right parties, whose platforms focus explicitly on reducing flows of immigrants and refugees. The Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) has promised to reduce immigration of Muslims, leave the European Union, and strengthen borders. The Front National‘s (FN) Marine Le Pen has similarly proposed a Brexit-like referendum to leave the European Union and opposes immigration of refugees and EU migrants into France. And Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) calls for closing German borders to Europe and revamping the law to reduce asylum.

All three of these parties have seen major increases in popularity in their home countries, with both PVV and FN leading in some polls, while AfD, although losing a bit of support, is still making a very strong showing considering the relative newness of their party and their position in comparison to more established national parties such as the Greens. As a result, some are saying that, after Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, Europe should be prepared for a big upset. Continue reading