Immigration Hawk’s Wings Clipped Over Her Defiance

David Charter, Times (London), Dec. 14, 2006

Rita Verdonk, the Netherlands’ controversial Immigration Minister, is set to be shunted aside this morning after triggering a constitutional crisis with her insistence that thousands of failed asylum-seekers should be deported.

If the move goes through as expected today, it could mark the end of the hardline policies on immigrants championed by “Iron Rita”.

Mrs Verdonk had been censured for refusing to suspend the expulsion of failed asylum-seekers in line with a vote by the newly elected Dutch Parliament.

Her actions threw the caretaker government of Jan Peter Balkenende into lengthy crisis talks after her Liberal Party (VVD) threatened to withdraw its support for the ruling coalition if she were dismissed.

The two parties reached a compromise, which will be offered to Parliament today, that proposes swapping Mrs Verdonk with the Justice Minister, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, while at the same time accepting a freeze on the deportations on humanitarian grounds.

Mrs Verdonk has become synonymous with a much tougher Dutch attitude towards immigration after the murders of the far-right politician Pym Fortuyn and the film-maker Theo Van Gogh, a staunch critic of Islam.

She recently pushed for a ban on veils and introduced mandatory citizenship tests for immigrants and detention of asylum-seekers while their applications are processed. But her days steering immigration policy were numbered when the VVD polled badly in last month’s general election.

She remained in government because Mr Balkenende is locked in talks on forming a new coalition, probably with Labour (PvdA) and another left-wing party.

Despite a tradition of avoiding tough or controversial issues during coalition-building efforts, the slim left-wing majority in the Lower House voted for the suspension of expulsions of the 26,000 failed asylum-seekers who have lived in Holland since 2001.

Mrs Verdonk rejected the demand, insisting that, as a member of the post-election caretaker government, she could not be ordered to change policy by a new Parliament, nor could she be forced to resign.

She was backed by Mark Rutte, the VVD leader, who threatened to withdraw his ministers from the Cabinet if Mrs Verdonk was forced out.

This left the new Parliament and the old Cabinet in an unprecedented stand-off that may have required the intervention of Queen Beatrix.

A compromise was reached only after more than 12 hours of talks, the Dutch news agency ANP reported early this morning. Kees Lunshof, political commentator of De Telegraaf newspaper, said: “It is a ridiculous situation. We had an election with a horrible result and now we have a new Parliament and an old Cabinet who are still fighting each other — while in the other corner they are trying to form a new Government.”Hetty Van Rooij, of the Netherlands Press Association, said earlier: “The problem is, how do you send a minister away that has already gone? The Dutch system takes so long to form a new Cabinet that you have a Parliament with a lame Government.”

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