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Clashing truths in the Netherlands around April 1, 2021

I think that the parliamentary meeting of April 1 in the Netherlands showed conflicting religious and scientific truths as they can work in the political debate within Dutch culture. Fractions develop their own identities, which are linked to those of their parties and, if they are part of it, to that of the governing coalition. They represent what I call religious truths, even when it concerns moral beliefs that are not religiously anchored. The parliamentary meeting of April 1 also shows that there are truths that can assert forms of authority that transcend religious truths, I call them scientific and governance truths respectively. The scientific truths come into their own when accepting or not accepting what the Prime Minister says he has forgotten. The governance truths are expressed in the formulation of the motions and in the ways in which they were adopted and rejected.

Parliamentary elections were held in the Netherlands on 17 March 2021. On March 31, the new parliament met for the first time. The representation of citizens in the Dutch parliament is shaped by parliamentarians who are placed on electoral lists by political parties and who were elected at free elections. If a party acquires more than one parliamentarian, they form a fraction. On March 31, the Dutch parliament has 150 MPs, distributed over 17 fractions.

On January 15, 2021, the government resigned due to the child allowance affair (see quote). Between March 17 and April 1, exploratory activities were already being developed whether and, if so, which fractions could jointly form a government that had sufficient support in parliament. In view of the sheer number of fractions, a Dutch government can traditionally only be formed through a coalition between some of them. One of the two explorers heard during a meeting on March 25 that she was infected with the corona virus, immediately gathered her paperwork together and rushed outside, to her home. She was photographed outside. In that photo it became visible what was on the outer piece. That piece contained the agenda. On the agenda was the name of the Member of Parliament who had brought to light the issue that led to the government’s resignation. Not only was that name on the agenda, it said “position elsewhere?” It was suggested that discussions were being held about sidetracking a highly effective and recently re-elected representative of the people.

After the photo became known, the exploration was stopped until the next parliamentary meeting. There the question of what that agenda item actually meant would be raised. The meeting took place on March 31, but was suspended until April 1 to make further documents available. The April 1 meeting provoked an increasingly embarrassing spectacle. In the previous week, when asked, the Prime Minister had repeatedly assured the press that the position-elsewhere? item on the agenda had not been raised by him in the exploratory discussions. He further suggested that Dutch constitutional law does not allow explorers (who had handed in their roles) to be accountable to parliament. The latter suggestion was already judged unsustainable on March 31. And the requested documents (including the official reports of the exploratory talks) made it clear on April 1 that the only person who had discussed the said Member of Parliament with the explorers was the Prime Minister.

His response was that he couldn’t remember. He accepted the documents, but in all conscience he could not remember the subject, even after reading them. Nobody believed him. Every time he was called a liar, and he often was, he declared that he was not a liar because he had truly forgotten the event. It became an embarrassment. In the end, a motion of censure was passed, supported by all parliamentary fractions except his own, and a motion of no confidence was rejected, but supported by all fractions not part of the government coalition.