Right-wing Parliamentary Excursion

20 February 2011

Right-wing Parliamentary Excursion

The right-wing parties were determined, whatever the cost, for the first time in Dutch Parliamentary history, to force through a vote on the question of whether we should travel now or later.

Harry van Bommel

For the first time in Dutch Parliamentary history, a right-wing majority - consisting of the free market liberals of the VVD, the populist right PVV and the three Christian parties – have pushed through a plan for an official parliamentary excursion. In the past, decisions on destinations and timing of any such visits would invariably be taken by consensus. Only five of Parliament’s ten parties will travel this weekend to Israel and the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon. What’s going on?

As long as eighteen months ago the Committee on Foreign Affairs had decided that a visit to Egypt would be beneficial, given the important role that the country plays in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This destination was unanimously broadened to include Israel, the Occupied Territories and Lebanon. In order to make the logistics of this possible we would make only a brief stop in Jordan. Developments in Egypt would have made a visit to that country a lot more interesting, but also uncertain. Unrest had increased further and safety could not be guaranteed, so the delegation decided that we could not, unfortunately, visit Egypt. Because the core of our excursion’s programme was to be removed, the Labour Party pulled out, which I could understand. The Mubarak regime fell with unexpected speed, however. The protests continued, but the demonstrators eventually left Cairo’s Tahrir Square. On hearing this I immediately suggested that we go to Egypt after all. This created a problem: we would have to decide with whom we would speak. The Parliament had been sent packing and the transitional government had not yet been formed, so how to decide? There was yet another problem. Israel decided that the delegation could not visit the Gaza Strip, where we wanted to speak with UN representatives who are attempting to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, and to see with our own eyes the consequences of the war in Gaza. This was a new setback.

This week the delegation gathered once again to decide what to do. The Green Left and the centrist D66 now followed Labour and argued for a postponement. I proposed that we should still try to go to Egypt on a modified programme. This was looked into and appeared possible, with the proviso that we should meet with guests only at our hotel or in the embassy. The delegation for this part of the trip would consist of only a few MPs, because Labour, the Green Left and D66 had pulled out, the SGP’s religious beliefs prevented its members from travelling on a Sunday, and the PVV was concerned about security risks.

Yesterday it became clear that if the trip were to go ahead it would involve only a limited section of Parliament. With this in mind, I decided to join Labour, the Green Left and D66 in calling for a postponement. The right-wing parties were determined, however, whatever the cost, for the first time in Dutch Parliamentary history, to force through a vote on the question of whether we should go now or later. Given the right-wing majority in Parliament, the outcome was predictable. Labour, the Green Left, D66 and the SP abstained.

I find it extremely regrettable that with this vote we have broken with the practice that Parliament’s programme of visits is decided by consensus. Putting an excursion together is always a question of give and take but with this decision the right-wing majority has been all take. That bodes ill for the future. There is always a majority which supports the governing coalition of the day and which can at any time force through a vote on the destination and timing of a trip. Parliament’s limited travel budget will in this manner be gobbled up by governing parties, a development which would be extremely undesirable.

The Chair of the Parliamentary Committee considered after the decision that given the composition of the delegation, the trip could no longer be called a parliamentary visit. It has become a right-wing excursion. This unfortunate state of affairs will therefore be placed on the agenda of Parliament’s executive.

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