Rutte's VVD backtracks, now supports law to force towns to take in asylum seekers
The faction of VVD parliamentarians has decided to support a law mandating the placement of asylum seekers across the Netherlands after a "tough consultation" with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, said the party's leader in the Tweede Kamer, Sophie Hermans. The law ensures that municipalities can be forced by the national government to take in asylum seekers, if necessary.
The issue is a sensitive one to the party, which Rutte leads nationally along with party chair Eric Wetzels. The law is also supported by the state secretary for asylum policy, Eric van der Burg, who is also a VVD member. The issue has been a divisive one for the party internally, with MPs discussing it for several hours on Tuesday.
Rutte joined the talks for about three hours, and mainly spoke to the VVD faction about the influx of asylum seekers, he said after his departure from the meeting in the early afternoon. Rutte said it was "a good and penetrating meeting and I mainly listened." He agreed with his party members that the number of asylum seekers entering the Netherlands is "too high," saying, "We will work on that step by step. The atmosphere was excellent."
Rutte did not want to say afterwards how exactly the Cabinet could limit the influx. The MPs continued to discuss the issue among themselves. They wanted to take a more broad look at the set of asylum issues, the prime minister stated.
Hermans also did not comment on the influx issue after the meeting. Rutte's promise to the group that he will make a case for limiting the influx has given the faction enough confidence to agree to the law, Hermans said. A hard deadline was not given to Rutte to come up with a plan to reduce the number of asylum seekers entering the country, but "my patience is not endless," she said. Her own position is not up for discussion, according to Hermans. "I feel fully supported by the faction."
The VVD faction leader also tried to emphasize that the Tweede Kamer members from the VVD have been in favor placement law from the outset, in principle. "Because at its core, the distribution law is about the fair distribution of asylum seekers across the Netherlands." The law is "only part" of the migration and asylum policy, which was approved in both the coalition agreement and the asylum deal at the end of August, she said."It is a whole package of measures that we have discussed and that all together gives the confidence."
It is not clear what that final text of the distribution law looks like and what the faction has agreed to support. Hermans would not comment on that either, nor whether the party members were unanimous in their ultimate support for the law. Hermans will talk to the VVD members at the VVD conference on 19 November.
Van der Burg's spokesperson could not yet discuss the content of the bill and the planning for debating it in parliament. The state secretary wants the law to come into effect on January 1. It is not clear whether this can be achieved.
With the agreement from the VVD, a crisis of confidence within the coalition in charge of the Cabinet has been averted. Party leader Gert-Jan Segers of the ChristenUnie said on Tuesday that the coalition would "really have a problem" if the VVD faction continued to resist signing on to the law.
A VVD prominent, Hans Wiegel, said earlier in the day that if Rutte could not get the MPs on board, that the VVD should resign from the coalition and new elections should be held. The former VVD leader said that the party's strictness towards asylum seekers threatens to drive out "quite a few" voters who no longer identify with the party.
Reporting by ANP