Minister's departure marks transformation of Dutch Labour
Dutch integration minister Ella Vogelaar's resignation on Thursday last week highlights a shift to the right on the topic of migrant policy by the Dutch Labour Party.
Undoubtedly, Vogelaar's poor communication skills, painfully exposed by the Dutch media since her tenure began in February 2007, contributed to the fact her own party ousted her. But in the end it was a difference on migrant issues that sparked her departure.
Last week, Vogelaar decided to cancel plans that blocked the entry of criminal juveniles from the Netherlands Antilles, Dutch islands located near South America.
Created by Rita Verdonk, who served as migration and integration minister from 2003 to 2006, the plan aimed to register in a single database all juveniles from the Netherlands Antilles, considered one of the most problematic migrant groups in the Netherlands.
Verdonk - known by the nickname "Iron Rita" - wanted to make sure juveniles from the Antilles with a criminal record would not enter the Netherlands, even for a short visit. The plan received support from most rightist and centrist parties, including Labour.
But not from Vogelaar, who held on to Labour's traditional position on migrants, promoting a softer approach focused on negotiations with all problematic ethnic groups.
Yet for her own party, the time to talk had long passed. Labour demanded a stronger hand to curb crime, violence and unemployment among migrant groups and, if necessary, enforce their integration into Dutch society at large.
That represented a 180-degree-shift from its stance in 2002, when the change in the party's outlook began.
The campaign for that year's parliamentary elections was characterized by harsh confrontations between Labour leaders and the late populist politician Pim Fortuyn.
Fortuyn, assassinated just days before his new party achieved a victory in the Dutch parliamentary elections on May 6 of that year, was the first Dutch politician who openly spoke about socio-economic problems caused by migrants.
Among others, he proposed a ban on further immigration and advocated a strong hand against foreign-born criminals.
Ridiculed by the established political parties, particularly Labour, as a "mere populist" with "extremist ideas," Fortuyn's new LPF party instantly won 26 of the 150 parliamentary seats in May 2002.
But his party was unable to survive after his assassination. In the 2006 elections, LPF disappeared from parliament.
Fortuyn's political legacy had by that time penetrated the Dutch political scene. Suddenly, all parties from left to right openly spoke about Moroccan juvenile criminals rather than juvenile criminals.
Geert Wilders and Rita Verdonk left the Liberal VVD party advocating Fortuynist positions. Each founded parties of their own and continue to gain popularity among the Dutch electorate.
As a result, rightist and centrist political parties vying with them for votes, including Labour, no longer shun Fortuynist views and strong positions on migrant problems.
Vogelaar's resignation and the subsequent surfacing of Labour's shift to the right is the clearest example of this trend. But the split between Vogelaar and her party only shows that the question of dealing with migrant and integration issues in the Netherlands will not clear up any time soon.
17 November 2008
Rachel Levy, dpa