Wopke Hoekstra will continue as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDA) for the foreseeable future after being backed by senior party colleagues at a crisis meeting prompted by the party’s calamitous showing in last week’s provincial elections.
Hoekstra emerged from the talks with provincial leaders at a hotel in Maarssen, near Utrecht, shortly before midnight saying the government needed to act on the ‘very clear signs’ from voters, after the farmers’ party BBB won 20% of the vote.
The CDA won less than 7% and is expected to shrink from nine seats to five in the senate when the upper house is elected on the basis of the results in the provinces in May. The four coalition parties are likely to take just 22 of the 17 seats, while the BBB will have 17.
‘There was great despair and anger and discontent about the result,’ Hoekstra said. ‘If there is a gulf between the country and The Hague, that means there is a gulf between the country and the CDA in The Hague.’
Party chairman Hans Huibers said Hoekstra’s own position was not in doubt. ‘He is our political leader and our leader in the cabinet,’ Huibers said. But he admitted that the talks had been ‘intense’ and the ‘connection between The Hague and our [local] divisions’ needed to improve.
Hoekstra did not say what policies needed to change in response to the broad support for the BBB, but the vote has deepened divisions within the coalition over the government’s reduction plans to reduce nitrogen compound emissions by buying out farms.
The CDA has already called for an extension to the deadline of 2030 to cut nitrogen pollution by half, while party activists want compulsory purchases of farms to be ruled out.
But coalition partner D66 has already indicated it is unwilling to change course on the nitrogen plans. ‘A deal is a deal,’ party leader Sigrid Kaag said on Tuesday.
Rutte under pressure
Caroline van der Plas, leader of the BBB, said she expected the government to fall before the end of the year after meeting prime minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday at a restaurant in Wassenaar to discuss the way forward.
The BBB is the largest party in all 12 provincial governments, which will give it a significant role in working out the detail of the nitrogen strategy and the target of buying out more than 11,000 farms.
‘My expectation is that they won’t be able to resolve the issue,’ Van der Plas said. ‘D66 doesn’t want to budge, CDA have to do something about this election result or it’ll get even worse for them.
‘But I think the situation in the coalition is going to become untenable and we’ll have a general election before the end of the year.’
Rutte is also under pressure from his party’s membership to change course in the wake of the election result, even though his right-wing liberal VVD party suffered less damage than its junior partners at the polls.
A letter signed by around 100 local party officials attacked the leadership in The Hague for failing to respond to concerns on the ground and directing policy from the top down, serving up ‘pre-prepared morsels’ that local divisions are expected to implement.
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