Member of Parliament Dion Graus (PVV) is under fire. His ex-wife and party member allegedly accused him of inciting prostitution, a preliminary judicial investigation is underway; another party employee would have accused him of sexual misconduct before the President of the House and a confidential adviser. Two former PVV employees would have resigned because they feel sexually intimidated.
It’s messages from NRC of the past few weeks, and they are of great concern to us. Messages too, which also receive too little follow-up at the Binnenhof.
It would have been logical if PVV leader Wilders, responsible for the group, had launched an investigation, but he refused. This week, Graus finally announced an independent investigation himself. It is right that there is an investigation. If there is no investigation and accusations are ignored, people feel unsafe. And a person is not guilty until proven guilty.
The announcement of that investigation has been delayed too long. And in the meantime it became painfully clear how complicated it is legally when MPs are accused of misconduct. As a good employer, the faction can initiate an investigation, but can never force the MP to give up his seat. And the President of the House is also bound hand and foot. What needs to change?
Tightened code of conduct
Since April, the House of Representatives has adopted a new procedure, a stricter code of conduct and a Integrity Investigation Board. The members of this committee can advise that a Member of Parliament be suspended for a maximum of one month – provided that the majority of the House agrees. These new procedures are a good step forward. However: incidents that occurred before the entry into force of this regulation are not covered. Moreover, the recent course of events gives sufficient reason to examine whether these new procedures are sufficient.
It is worth looking across the border. After all, there are plenty of examples of how it can be done. In 2014, for example, an employee of the European Parliament kept a blog about cross-border behavior by MEPs. Soon dozens of other employees also posted their experiences anonymously.
Also read: MPs are not free boys, adjust the code of conduct
This MeToo movement in the European Parliament has brought some serious improvements. The European Parliament now has an independent advisory committee that handles complaints about harassment or abuse, can conduct internal investigations and advise the president on possible sanctions against the MP concerned.
Parliamentarians and staff of the European Parliament have also been receiving awareness training about intimidation for several years, as in the United States and Canada. Such training courses, information about undesirable behavior and structural attention to the paths you can take as a victim, could also contribute to awareness and openness in the Netherlands. And therefore a safer working environment.
In the United Kingdom, transgressive behaviour, including sexual harassment, is explicitly mentioned in a new code of conduct. This makes it easier to point out the norm to parliamentarians and enforce possible repercussions. It would be good to investigate whether rules for undesirable behavior should also be more explicit in the Dutch code of conduct.
Another shortcoming in the Dutch situation is the lack of consequences when a member of parliament has been convicted by a judge. In such cases, MPs in Curaçao and the United Kingdom, among others, lose their so-called passive suffrage, the right to be elected as a member of parliament. Dutch parliamentarians, on the other hand, keep their seats. That has to be different.
Harassment and abuse come in all walks of life and political colors and unfortunately are of all times. But what is not of this time is looking away, raising barriers that hinder a report or even do not respond to a report. As a parliament we must show that sexual abuse and intimidation are unacceptable. That starts with recognizing that there is a problem – and acting on it. We have that duty to everyone at the Binnenhof, but above all to all those people this happens to.
Leave the current coverage a wake up call It is for the Dutch parliament to take this seriously.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 19 June 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 19, 2021