Eelco Keij: We, the Dutch abroad, also constitute the nation’s interests

The VVD and CDA have done a u-turn on restricting dual nationality rights for Dutch expats abroad. ‘But don’t start changing your mind on such a fundamental issue without apologising first. And stop blaming the PVV,’ writes Eelco Keij.

This month, it emerged that former US Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently acquired the Swiss nationality – which she was promptly willing to forego when the news was leaked. On second thoughts, she renounced her dual nationality in clear, patriotic language. It was the only way she could hold on to the right-wing vote.
Government parties CDA and VVD are opting for precisely the opposite method in their campaigns leading up to the elections on September 12th. After trying to decimate the number of Dutch people abroad (by restricting dual nationality) and wilfully ignoring the outcry this provoked, they have wasted no time in presenting themselves as the keepers of this large group of fellow citizens.
Admittedly, the VVD talked of ‘internal division’ on the subject but there were no concrete signs from parliament pointing to a different voting tack. ‘People abroad should be able to vote on September 12th!’ came the plaintive cry directed at minister Spies. Cheap, cheaper, bargain basement.
Them and us
Over the past few years the forced difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’ has been emphasised in policymaking. In the wake of this crusade against fellow citizens abroad the Dutch-language programmes of Radio Netherlands Worldwide were done away with. Last week, the era of a unique Dutch representation abroad came to an end with a marathon broadcast made with much sadness, style and pride.
As one of the people who started the petition against the Dutch draft legislation to limit dual nationality I know that this particular bill hit the Dutch diaspora everywhere extremely hard. I was inundated with life stories bubbling over with an anger that could no longer be contained from Dutch people all over the globe telling of endless years of frustration. The draft legislation was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
During our campaign another moot point surfaced which plagues the estimated 850,000 Dutch people abroad. Being allowed to vote doesn’t always mean being able to vote: it can take far too long to get all the requisite documents.
Bad postal services or late or incomplete government information confront many Dutch citizens abroad. This is especially true in the present case when the fall of the cabinet made it necessary to call elections quickly.
Changing reality
Dutch electoral law is very strict when it comes to the time scale for new elections. There are three good reasons why the law should be amended to reflect a changing reality.
1) Globalisation has meant that people are opting to emigrate for short periods of time (with a wish to return)
2) Over the last few months, the dual nationality campaign has made Dutch people abroad aware of the fact that together they represent a factor capable of influencing national politics
3) Dutch politicians are beginning to understand the importance of the Dutch abroad
Of course it is to be applauded that VVD and CDA have seen the light and are turning their attention to these potential parliamentary seats. They are joining the likes of GroenLinks, PvdA and D66 who tried to stop them in their anti dual nationality tracks several times over the past few months.
But don’t start changing your mind on an issue like this without apologising, and stop singling out the PVV for all the blame. Everybody makes mistakes. Admit to them, apologise and learn from the experience. And if you want to restore confidence, make very clear that you won’t do it again.
We, the Dutch abroad, also constitute the nation’s interests.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Volkskrant

Eelco Keij is one of the founders of which campaigns against dual nationality restrictions.

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