No rebellion, no rift, not even tears. Scenes such as in 2010 did not occur this weekend at the CDA party congress. It is only once through the Brabanthallen in Den Bosch that it is ‘five to twelve’ – and that is when the chairman of the day mentions lunch.
CDA members have been worried about the interruption microphone all morning. They have questions. Why was Pieter Omtzigt, who narrowly lost a party leader election to Hugo de Jonge last year, not yet nominated when De Jonge withdrew at the end of last year? Why did minister and party prominent Ank Bijleveld say in an interview with NRC that the party would have been spared a lot if Omtzigt had not been given a new term as Member of Parliament?
Also read: the interview that defense minister and CDA-prominent Ank Bijleveld in July gave to NRC
And: what is the story of their party, which has been looking out of control for a year now, after a change of government, an election defeat and a growing pile of reports about where Christian democracy is headed? There is concern among the supporters about the future of the CDA. This has only been reinforced by the departure of Omtzigt from the party in June of this year. The meeting in Den Bosch is a direct result of Omtzigt’s departure from the CDA: angry members requested an extra inserted party congress, and received the support of sufficient members.
Existential confrontation does not occur
The comparison with October 2010 is easily made. Then a gigantic congress in the Arnhem Rijnhal exposed the deep Christian-democratic divisions about one central question: whether the CDA could form a cabinet with the support of the PVV. Five thousand CDA members were there, a two-thirds majority voted in favor, the cabinet was formed, fell within two years and the CDA struggled for a decade with the question of what kind of party it wanted to be.
“That’s when all the misery started,” says Ad Koppejan early in the day in Den Bosch, referring to 2010, when he opposed the tolerance deal with the PVV as a Member of Parliament. “That’s where the wrong ideas came to power within the party. And now it is finally realized that that was a wicked way. This Congress could mark the end of that.”
There will be no existential confrontation on Saturday. As clear as the party’s choice was in 2010, so diffuse are the options put forward by the members. The party top must reflect longer on its own mistakes. Or no, the CDA should just “go ahead” and dare to look ahead again. Change course and do not lose sight of the voters in the cities, says an Amsterdam CDA member. No, it sounds from the other quarter, pay more attention to farmers who are in trouble due to the nitrogen crisis.
These are big questions for a seeking people’s party without a permanent board, without a clear course and with an unclear role in the formation. One member, Zuidas pastor Ruben van Zwieten, resigns his party membership over the microphone out of dissatisfaction. But there is no large-scale resistance from Omtzigt supporters. Endless talking and evaluation, say members, will not get the party any further. “The advantage of a lot of reports in the drawer,” one of them jokes to the board, “is that the drawer is full and no more reports can be added.”
Resolution on IS women
Members would rather get started now. And on Saturday they do not go along with the advice of the party top on proposals from members on crucial points. A resolution that evokes to repatriate IS women and their children from Syria is adopted by more than 54 percent of the voting members, despite an argument by acting party leader Anne Kuik to vote against.
Even with a proposal to make the abolition of the student loan system a breaking point in the formation, the members defy the advice of the party leadership. More than 70 percent of voters support the proposal, spurred on by long lines of young CDA members at the interruption microphones: “The fate of my generation rests in the hands of this congress,” they say.
The party leadership would rather have seen it differently. Interim party chairman Marnix van Rij calls in advance to vote against so as not to get in the way of the formation team and the faction. Wopke Hoekstra is looking for a compromise after the congress. “One hundred percent of the members realize that constitutional MPs speak without hindrance,” he says, but he promises that the proposal will be “on top of our list”.
Also read: Is it a ‘breaking congress’ or is it going Hoekstra can finally prove himself?
Hoekstra can go to the formation table with one more point on his shopping list after Saturday. Nearly 90 percent of members agree with a proposal stating that the Completed Life Act is “incompatible” with the Christian Democratic values of the CDA and that “no compromises” should be made. Hoekstra had said on Friday that he wanted to make that subject a free issue for the MPs of his group.
It is now up to Hoekstra to bring unity back to his party. He will deliver his first congressional address as party leader on Saturday, visibly tense. Hoekstra was advised in advance by fellow party members to show self-criticism for the members about everything that went wrong in the campaign for the elections to the House of Representatives. The party lost four seats after the election. “Was I sufficiently prepared”, Hoekstra wonders openly. “Didn’t it look too businesslike? Have I managed to bring our deeply lived roots, our individuality, sufficiently into the limelight?” There are no answers to those questions. Afterwards, Hoekstra says that it had been “rhetorical questions”.
Hoekstra says about the formation that the CDA will “continue to be constructive”. That is a phrase that has often been heard recently, but Hoekstra will add something new on Saturday: the party is “willing to take responsibility”. In an explanation, he says that the faction in the House of Representatives started the negotiations “initially with hesitation”. The fact that things didn’t want to go smoothly with the formation made the doubt disappear. “I think that at this stage, after waiting so long, we don’t have the luxury to say: you know, we don’t participate in that, we don’t give in.”
With this, Hoekstra is moving from a “constructive” party leader, who mainly positioned himself publicly on the sidelines, to one who wants to take management responsibility and become an active part of the formation. New elections, something that other political parties now see as a possibility, Hoekstra calls “a certificate of inability”.
At first glance, it seems that Hoekstra has reassured his members on Saturday. There are still concerns: about some polls where the CDA scores six seats, about the upcoming municipal elections and how they will go, about a lack of concrete ideas. But there is also a cautious optimism among members who hope they have witnessed the end of what has been a politically catastrophic year for them.