Cabinet survives crisis as D66 backs accord

2nd April 2005, Comments 0 comments

2 April 2005 , AMSTERDAM — Democrat D66 rank and file backed the new coalition accord at a party congress in The Hague on Saturday, thwarting the threatened collapse of the Cabinet.

2 April 2005

AMSTERDAM — Democrat D66 rank and file backed the new coalition accord at a party congress in The Hague on Saturday, thwarting the threatened collapse of the Cabinet.

Some 2,700 D66 members gathered in the afternoon to hear party leader Boris Dittrich, Economic Affairs Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst and Education, Culture and Science State Secretary Medy de Laan defend the new accord.

And a large majority of those gathered approved the accord in a late-afternoon vote, despite the fact that many were critical of its contents.

Some said the agreements on government reform were meager and that important areas such asylum policy and the environment were left unaddressed.

Despite admitting to pre-vote nerves, Dittrich welcomed the outcome of the vote and said he was "immensely happy" with the large majority.

The D66 leader will now send a letter to party members to continue the discussion around the party's future. Some commentators had predicted the demise of the D66, but the accord and renewed commitment to democratic reform gives it new impetus.

The meeting in the Netherlands Congress Centre was called after main opposition party Labour PvdA blocked D66 legislation in the Senate last week, preventing the introduction of direct mayoral elections.

The Senate vote led to the resignation on 23 March of D66 Government Reform Minister Thom de Graaf, who was replaced as minister on Thursday by party chairman Alexander Pechtold. De Graaf voted in favour of the accord on Saturday.

During the congress, Dittrich apologised for the quick appointment of Pechtold, admitting it put party supporters "on the spot". Initially, he said the appointment would instill confidence leading up to the vital party meeting. He also said on Saturday it was important for a fully-fledged minister be present to defend the accord.

Angered by the Senate vote, D66 demanded and won new policy concessions from its coalition partners the Christian Democrat CDA and Liberal VVD over the Easter weekend. But D66 grassroots supporters were given the chance to vote on the new accord.

The new accord resulted in EUR 750 million extra in funding for education and knowledge and an agreement to revamp the public broadcast system, reducing the influence of the networks and scrapping entertainment shows.

Fearing the death knell for the public broadcast system, public network NCRV published an advertisement on Friday demanding D66 renegotiate the accord. The network later apologised for urging D66 members to reject the deal.

Meanwhile, the deal reached between the coalition partners also spelled out the coalition's continued commitment to work towards direct mayoral elections and reform of the electoral system.

Dittrich said on Saturday both the CDA and VVD could no longer avoid the move towards a constitutional amendment paving the way for mayoral elections. But he also said the discussion was not finished yet, particularly with the PvdA.

D66 founder Hans van Mierlo complained on Wednesday that the accord did not deliver enough in terms of democratic reform — one of the party's integral policies — and urged members to reject the accord. A quickly-arranged meeting with Minister Pechtold later in the week failed to immediately change his stance.

But Van Mierlo eventually voted in favour of the accord on Saturday, as did a majority of other party faithfuls. Had the vote gone the other way, the coalition government would probably have collapsed, sending the nation back to the polls. Elections are not due until 2007.

[Copyright Expatica News + ANP 2005]

Subject: Dutch news

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