During the first session of the 2014 policy debate in the Netherlands, a most shocking confrontation developed between Alexander Pechtold (D66, liberals, central-left) and Geert Wilders (PVV, aka Freedom Party, far-right).
Pechtold asked Wilders two questions,
- Why, during the PVV demonstrations against the government, did Wilders welcome everybody’s support for his party? Apparently, there was a group of neo-Nazi’s taking part in the demonstrations, as part of the PVV.
- Why, in the wake of European Parliamentary elections next year, is Wilders negotiating with other nationalist parties, part of which embrace an anti-semetic rhetoric? One of these parties would want to ban the public display of the kippah.
For the necessary context, Geert Wilders is a close ally of the State of Israel, and cooperation with such political parties would damage his credibility.
In Parliament in the Netherlands, the representatives are obliged to speak, not directly to the other politician, but through the Chair of the Chamber. Even though this is a challenge – as Anoushka van Wilgenburg herself mentioned in a question round I participated in last month – for most politicians, it is a respected rule.
Coming back to Wilders’ reply. Firstly, he directed his statements directly to Pechtold. And told Pechtold: he is a ‘zielig, miezerig, hypocriet mannetje’ – literally translated: a ‘pathetic, puny, hypocritical little man’.
I would argue that the formulation of these questions by Pechtold served the purpose of discrediting Wilders’ plans and policies. Pechtold must have known that his questions would trigger an anger reaction, but nonetheless decided to pose them. However, a clear yet disciplined response – like Wilders distancing himself from such ridiculous statements. rather than the name-calling – would have been more appropriate.
There are no official rules which members of Parliament must respect when it comes to swearing, name-calling and the like. Shouldn’t there be such rules? As the people’s representatives, I believe they should play an exemplary role – they are the intelligent and public figures which need to fulfil this role of showing that, while political parties and individuals might differ in their viewpoints, they can still speak to one another in a ‘civilised’ way.
Most of the Dutch politicians do embrace mutual respect, and the culture of debate as developed in the Netherlands may well serve as an example.