“It is with a heavy heart,” Pieter Omtzigt announced on Saturday that he had terminated his party membership. The longest-serving MP for the CDA believes that due to the leaking of his internal j’accuse about how the party leadership has dealt with him, it has become “even more difficult to continue functioning within the CDA”.
That functioning within the party has always been difficult for Omtzigt (47). He never really felt at home within the CDA. And, conversely, he was regarded by many party members as an outsider, a loner.
He was a Member of Parliament for exactly eighteen years. On June 3, 2003, as a 29-year-old econometrician, he was sworn in with some delay. Seats in the group had become vacant after a number of MPs had moved on to the Balkenende II cabinet. He didn’t have much fun with it. “Those first years in the Chamber were quite difficult,” he writes in his book published earlier this year A new social contract.
Things went rough for various reasons. First of all, as a newcomer, he had no idea how to fulfill his controlling task as a parliamentarian. Secondly, the coalition agreement with the VVD and D66 was so boarded up that “it was no longer just possible to adjust the policy”. And when he arrived in the group, he noticed that “all the nice wallets had already been divided”.
Also read this analysis: With Omtzigt’s departure, the hopes and fears of the CDA come true
Still, he was delighted to become spokesperson for pensions. An apparently dull and tough subject that he was eager to get his teeth into – after all, he had been promoted on it in Florence. To his surprise, colleagues turned their noses up at it. “Pension spokesman, have you gone mad?”, was the reaction of experienced party colleague Wim van de Camp (now 67). The young Member of Parliament did not understand this deain, he describes in his book. “It is about the largest pot of money, but apparently nobody thought it was politically relevant.”
The longer, the less appreciated
It marked the isolated position that the new Member of Parliament took towards arriving party members. “Pieter was very fond of the numbers, of the details from the start,” says Nicolien van Vroonhoven-Kok (50), who had just entered the House of Representatives a little earlier. He distinguished himself from the others in this. “He was seen more as a file-eater than as a political animal. He was not afraid to enter into a discussion within the group.”
That did not make Omtzigt popular with everyone, says former Member of Parliament Eddy van Hijum (49). He sees similarities between Omtzigt’s early years as a critical parliamentarian and the outbreak of his conflict with the party leadership now. At the time, Omtzigt was also involved in the introduction of the indexation system in 2005. That was under the responsibility of State Secretary Joop Wijn, a fellow party member. Behind the scenes, according to Van Hijum, attempts were regularly made to whistle back Omtzigt. In his recent clashes about the Allowances affair, this kind of effort was called ‘raising awareness’.
Omtzigt’s idiosyncratic stance within the group and against ‘own’ ministers became less and less appreciated. “It led to increasing frustration on both sides,” says Van Hijum.
During the time that he was on the House Finance Committee with Omtzigt, fellow Members of Parliament and Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem (PvdA) often joked about it. “Whether I spoke on behalf of the CDA, or on behalf of the Omtzigt faction.”
For the time being, the low point in the difficult relationship was Omtzigt’s resignation in 2012. He did not even end up on the list of candidates for the parliamentary elections of that year. CDA veteran Wim van de Camp said earlier in NRC that this was a result of Omtzigt’s rejection behind the scenes of the cabinet of tolerance with the PVV in 2010. “He was not so accommodating and that had consequences for his place on the list.”
He was not afraid to start a discussion within the group
Nicolien van Vroonhoven-Kok former Member of Parliament
While relations with the party leadership in those years were already bad – first with Maxime Verhagen, then with Sybrand Buma – they became even worse after Omtzigt’s successful campaign to fight back. With the support of his regional supporters in Twente, he nevertheless got a place on the list and became a member of the House of Representatives again with 36,750 preferential votes. It only strengthened his independent position.
And Omtzigt started to look differently at his conception of tasks. Since then, he has felt more like a member of parliament than a member of the House of Representatives as part of a political group. He found legitimacy in the constitution, he writes in his book. “It doesn’t contain any political parties at all, let alone fractions.” In other words, he started to care even less about his party. In his book he writes: „From the moment I started that preferential campaign, I have been […] went to get my mandate from the voters and I have never done anything else since.”
Also read this article: The main objections from Omtzigt .’s damning CDA memorandum
340,000 preference votes
That mandate has only grown, with more than 340,000 preferential votes in the parliamentary elections in March. And last year in the party leader election a narrow defeat with 49.3 percent of the vote among CDA members.
Eddy van Hijum, deputy in Omtzigt’s province of Overijssel since 2014, views what has happened with great sadness. He summarizes the now-exploded conflict between Omtzigt and the party leaders diplomatically: “Pieter has not always been given the position where maximum use is made of his talent.”
But Van Hijum also criticizes Omtzigt’s tone and working method. He read his written tirade about the way he feels treated by the CDA and says: “That piece is analytically strong in itself and I think a sincere attempt to have an internal discussion about the party. But it is written so sharply that it has destroyed a lot.” In addition, says Van Hijum, Omtzigt seems to be aiming for a “one-person revolution”. “Pieter has always had a tendency to steer his own course, regardless of what others think. I think then: you have to do it together. Find allies and occasionally accept it to take a step back.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 14, 2021