Stranded in the CDA, he now enters the cabinet as BBB deputy prime minister

YoIn the spring of 2019, Mona Keijzer had had enough. The media has been talking for months about an imminent battle for the leadership of the CDA between Hugo de Jonge and Wopke Hoekstra, “the crown princes” of the Christian Democrats. In it ADVERTISEMENT Keijzer, then Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, expresses her anger: ‘Wow, damn it! Now I am 50 years old and I am one of the most educated people with extensive political experience (…) Crown princes? We also have crown princesses in our group!’

For the sake of completeness: He specifically mentions MP Madeleine van Toorenburg and Minister Ank Bijleveld as the main competitors for the men. But there must be a difference. In fact, it was not Bijleveld or Van Toorenburg who applied for the leadership of the CDA a year later, but Mona Keijzer herself. She doesn’t do it just for herself, she emphasizes, in her own way: ‘Hugo is, of course, an incredibly handsome man. But dear women of the CDA, it is time for our daughters, granddaughters, daughters-in-law and friends to see that a woman can also be in charge of the CDA.’

She loses without a chance, with only 11.6 percent of the vote, but Mona Keijzer has never worried about something like that for a long time. She had already lost before, in 2012, to Sybrand Buma, only to make a stormy entry into national politics: as second on the CDA candidate list, she received more than 127,000 preferential votes that year. From that moment on, no one in the CDA will be able to ignore it.

A local success

What preceded him has often been told. Mona Keijzer (1968) grows up in a Roman Catholic family in Volendam (‘the most beautiful place in the world’) as the eldest daughter in a family with a sister and a brother. Her father is a bricklayer and her mother is a housewife. From that family, where studies are far from a given, she goes to Amsterdam to study legal administration, followed by studies in Dutch law.

She marries her childhood love, becomes a mother of five children, begins a career as, among other things, an administrative law lawyer and mediator, and takes her first steps in local politics. First as a CDA councilor and councilor in the municipality of Waterland, then as a councilor in Purmerend. There she too came into the spotlight of the party’s national leadership, with a sensational electoral result in 2010: the CDA lost almost everywhere in the municipal elections, but made gains in Purmerend. Half the town is covered with signs: “Be wiser, choose Keijzer.”

Mona Keijzer in the House of Representatives in 2020.Image Freek van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

The CDA is in a deep existential crisis after its move to the Binnenhof. Eighteen months of collaboration with Geert Wilders’ PVV have deeply divided the party and brought it to the brink of collapse. Voters flee and within the party harsh accusations are thrown back and forth.

Keijzer does not waste too many words and emphasizes that she is mainly pragmatic in the debate. At the decisive party congress in 2010 he voted in favor of cooperation with Wilders and is now following the same line that VVD leader Mark Rutte has also used for many years: ‘Look, with Wilders everything has been going well for a year and medium: a man, a man, a word a word. Until the Catshuis story (where the first Rutte cabinet fell due to new cuts, ed.). “When things get exciting and when Holland needs him, Wilders is not there.”

under the radar

As a deputy and then as Secretary of State, she does not put herself in the spotlight, but she does not make big mistakes either. However, she is always heard within the party that she believes she does not receive enough recognition. There are signs that the party leadership sees less potential in her than voters and prefers to keep her off the radar. She was second on the candidate list in both 2012 and 2017, but when the CDA rejoins the government (in Rutte III), she does not result in a ministry. Party leader Buma prefers unelected directors such as Hugo de Jonge, Ank Bijleveld and Ferdinand Grapperhaus. Keijzer has to settle for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. She publicly doesn’t give it much importance. The outside world often sees her as a potentially rebellious MP, but in practice she always proves to be a loyal soldier of the party.

But then corona comes: for Keijzer the beginning of a series of events that finally separate her from the CDA. In the first months after the virus outbreak, she, like the rest of the country, followed, shocked and without many contradictions, the marching orders of the corona political team led by Prime Minister Rutte and the leader of her own party, Minister De Jonge. But when they are forced to tighten social restrictions again in the fall of 2020, after a relatively calm summer, rumors leak that Keijzer is opposed internally. She wants more attention to be paid to the damage to restaurants, cinemas, museums, theaters and society in general.

If the cabinet imposes the curfew a few months later, she will not be in favor either. She is not completely alone: ​​Ministers such as Wopke Hoekstra (Finance) and Eric Wiebes (Economic Affairs) also draw attention to the economic and social consequences of the anti-coronavirus measures, but she considers that Keijzer is always on the losing side. Rutte and De Jonge set the tone. Little by little her frustration increases.

Rest

The bomb will explode in September 2021. The day the corona ticket (the ‘corona pass’) became mandatory for visitors to the restaurant, Keijzer reflects in an interview The Telegraph against government policy: “I think we should make different decisions about this.” He wants to give voice to the increasingly loud debate in the country about whether the disadvantages of social restrictions are slowly beginning to outweigh the advantages. ‘And not on the flanks, by people who completely deny the coronavirus, but also by reasonable people. Like me.’

Keijzer has enough experience to know that a Secretary of State cannot escape the unity of cabinet policy in this way: a cabinet is expected to “speak with one voice”, and that is even more important when decisions have to be defended. that must be defended. in society. He is already scheduled to resign that same week, but he will not have that opportunity: Rutte and De Jonge are furious. That same day, she was sacked with immediate effect for undermining the cabinet’s credibility. She is the first since World War II not given the opportunity to keep the honor to herself.

Even then he remains loyal to the CDA. She remains a member (“that partly determines who I am”), says she doesn’t want to be a divisive issue in any way and even contributes to the CDA program for the 2024 European elections. She won’t leave until August 2023 suddenly, according to his own statements, due to dissatisfaction with rumors that the mayor of Nijmegen, Hubert Bruls (prominent co-architect of corona policy), is a candidate for party leader.

Shortly afterwards it turns out that there are more things at stake: the BoerBurgerBeweging presents Keijzer as a candidate for prime minister. Party leader Caroline van der Plas hopes to reverse the downward trend in the polls and adopt the image of a ruling party. “We are showing that we are serious.”

On the PVV line

It does not have the effect that Van der Plas intends. Keijzer does not play a prominent role in the campaign with the BBB. The PVV, NSC, VVD and GroenLinks-PvdA are competing with each other for the initiative in forming the cabinet. But the result finally speaks in favor of the BBB: the right-wing coalition that Geert Wilders dreams of is not possible without the seven BBB seats.

Back in the Chamber, without a CDA membership card, Keijzer is more vocal after the elections than before, even with tough positions in the immigration debate. She is leading the parliamentary majority’s desire for Ukrainian refugees to pay more for their own accommodation. To the astonishment of part of the House, she goes a step further with the proposal to allow Ukrainians to return to the “safe zones” of their country at war. “We can’t accommodate everyone here.”

Mona Keijzer and Caroline van der Plas.Image David van Dam / de Volkskrant

Van der Plas and Keijzer prove to be Wilders’ enthusiastic pillars at the training table. They believe that it is necessary to form the cabinet and that the VVD and the NSC must overcome their doubts. They also have no objection to Wilders serving as Prime Minister.

Keijzer now regularly appears on the PVV line in public debates. Following Wilders, he explicitly links the growing anti-Semitism in the Netherlands with immigration from Islamic countries. After the presentation of the general agreement of the parties in formation, he defends on television, in conversation with the writer Arnon Grunberg, the intention to toughen the integration requirements and explicitly establish requirements regarding knowledge about the Holocaust: “Many immigrants come from countries with an Islamic Faith. We know that hatred of Jews is part of the culture there.”

This is an outrageous racist insinuation, political opponents such as Denk’s leader Stephan van Baarle conclude, but Wilders would have listened to it approvingly.

Raising the barricades in Brussels

As deputy prime minister, Keijzer now faces the task of representing the BBB’s interests in the cabinet. It will be an uncertain adventure, because many have already warned: the main four-party agreement requires quite a few exemptions from European agricultural rules that previous cabinets have often asked for, in vain. Experts and diplomats in Brussels do not estimate the chances of success very high.

Keijzer doesn’t want to get discouraged just yet. “I have seen all kinds of people pass by all day long shouting that it is not possible, that it is not allowed,” he responded shortly after the presentation of the agreement. She herself finds herself in a different position in the competition. ‘All those laws and regulations were not written in stone when Moses came down from the mountain. We made them ourselves.’

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