By John Dunkelgrün
Most of you will have noticed that the results of last week’s election were pretty spectacular. The traditional big parties lost, the ultra-right FVV got chopped, and a brand new party won spectacularly big. The BBB, the Movement of Farmers and Townspeople became so successful, that they are now the biggest party in all of the provinces in The Netherlands. This means that they will also become the biggest party in the Dutch “Eerste Kamer”, the Senate. This is because while the “Tweede Kamer” is chosen directly by the voters, the Senate is chosen by the members of the provincial “States” or provincial parliaments. The ruling coalition will then no longer have a majority in the Senate and will have to adapt its nitrogen policies.
The important thing, however, was how the country and the powers that be reacted to this political tsunami. There were no complaints about voting fraud, broken machines, or the sheer impossibility of the outcome. Except for the FVV, which kept mum, the coalition parties reacted quietly and chastened. They realise there is much discontent and expressed that they had to change and get closer to the public. ‘Of course, the BBB must now lead in the formation of the provincial coalitions’, was the general reaction.
This dignified dealing with the new situation, the lack of ad hominem attacks, and the acceptance of having to deal with the new situation are in stark contrast with the extreme partisan policies in many other countries.
It may have escaped a lot of ex-pats that there were simultaneous elections for “Waterschappen”.
These are public bodies that deal with everything to do with water. They protect the land against floods, regulate the groundwater level, manage the locks, and maintain thousands of kilometers of dykes. But why is there a need for special bodies to do this and why is it a political entity rather than an administrative organization?
First of all, there is tradition. The oldest Waterschap was founded 777 years ago by Count Willem II of Holland. Secondly, because of the lay of the land, they do not conform exactly to the borders of the provinces, and they have mainly functioned very well indeed, so why fix something that isn’t broken?
Then, why are there elections for these bodies? Well, different parties have very different priorities for water management. Farmers may like to have the groundwater level lower than nature lovers, river traffic has different views about the water level and currents in the rivers and canals than people living along them. Whenever major forces are pulling in different directions, a consensus has to be found and by having the Waterschappen be an elective body, everyone’s voice can be heard.
We are not perfect. The problems with the earthquakes in Groningen and the subsidy scandal are clear proof of that, but the way we dealt with the election result and the archaic but efficient institution of the Waterschappen, makes your correspondent proud to be Dutch.