A perilous undertaking, that extra conference that they want to hold in the CDA about the developments surrounding Pieter Omtzigt. I immediately had to think back to the infamous CDA congress that was held on 2 October 2010 in the Rijnhal in Arnhem. It attracted 5,000 visitors, was broadcast directly by the NOS and reached a peak of 1.4 million viewers. The congress had to vote on the coalition agreement that the CDA had concluded with the VVD and that included support from the PVV.
“Something irreparably broke in that Rijnhal”, wrote columnist Sheila Sitalsing on Saturday in de Volkskrant. So it was. Emotions ran high. The party leadership, embodied by Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen and Chairman Henk Bleker, faced renowned angry opponents, such as Dries van Agt, Ab Klink and Ernst Hirsch Ballin.
The climax was provided by prominent CDA member Camiel Eurlings. “I stand here as a proud CDA member”, he shouted, “I am CDA and I will remain CDA! […] Maxime, you will never deny our ideals!” Maxime listened, swallowing hard. “I love our party and I believe in our party,” he had said earlier with a sob in his voice. Eurlings also saluted with the salute gesture copied from Pim Fortuyn: At your service!
After a chaotic mood, the choice fell on support for the PVV: 68 percent in favor, 32 percent against. At the suggestion of Bleker, the congress was concluded with the standing singing of the Wilhelmus. The party was at a standstill, but the national anthem lived on.
I saw on the internet a nice documentary from 2014 by the AvroTros about this congress. In it, Van Agt calls Eurlings’ speech “hysterical” and says with restrained mockery about the moved Verhagen: “He had moved himself to tears.” A year and a half later, when the cooperation with the PVV had ended in a fiasco, the supporters also had to admit that the congress had only deepened the rift in the party.
I can recommend another video on YouTube: a discussion, a few days after the conference, in The world moves on between Henk Bleker and regular guest Jan Mulder. They look at an excerpt from Eurlings’ speech and Jan Mulder exclaims from the bottom of his disgusting heart: „Gadverdarrie… puking halfway through… that far-reaching slime balling of such a person… that unbearably wrong appearance, that Pim attitude. .. not to look at.” “You can’t say that, you go by his appearance,” Bleker says angrily. “I rely on his behaviour,” Mulder fulminates.
After that congress, the CDA did not enjoy its protagonists much anymore. Verhagen exchanged politics for business in 2012; he was still in the news when the province of Limburg dismissed him as ‘ambassador’ last year because of an integrity issue. Eurlings left politics in 2011 and was mainly discredited because a former girlfriend accused him of assault. Bleker voted Forum for Democracy in the last parliamentary elections.
Perhaps they should take a good look at these facts in the CDA before siding with Wopke Hoekstra at an extra conference. My impression is that as a politician he belongs more in the line of Verhagen-Eurlings-Bleker than Omtzigt.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of June 16, 2021