So, I dont know whether anyone noticed ... but our PM, Jan-Peter Balkenende, was on an official visit to see your President, the other day. He had breakfast with Bush and Rice, and unexpectedly Cheney and Powell even showed up, an' all. "Bush and I have a lot in common", he bravely submitted to the press afterwards.
Balkenende and our minister of Foreign Affairs, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who hopes to be appointed as the new NATO-chief soon, got to be the first to hear about the US decision to go back to the UN about Iraq. But alas, when Powell later that day spoke to the press, he forget to mention our PM, instead emphasizing how, that day, he had "called" his colleagues in Britain, France and Germany.
Here's a picture of our PM and Bush ...
Remarkably, whereas normally being seen together with the big 'uns of the world does wonders for a politician's standing, after his visit to Bush Balkenende's Christian Democratic party lost a further 2-4 seats in the opinion polls, which puts them at the lowest point yet since the January elections. Balkenende's own rating remained at 4.5 (out of 10), the second lowest-scoring of the seven main party leaders (performing worst is List Fortuyn-leader Mat Herben).
If there were elections now, the Christian-Democrats would keep only 32 or 33 of their 44 seats. The right-wing government as a whole, founded on a 78-seat majority in the 150-seat parliament, in the current polls only has 67 or 68 seats, depending on the poll.
Polls suggest that many Dutch agreed with the otherwise always so moderate former PM (and Labour leader) Wim Kok, who warned Balkenende not to be a "lap dog" of the American president. The populist (but definitely not leftist) commercial TV station SBS 6 did no less than two of its endearingly unreserved polls. Never too shy to ask a leading question, the SBS 6 pollsters, for example, asked (before Balkenende went):
Do you think president Bush will take the Dutch delegation led by Balkenende seriously?
Yes 35%, No 55% Don't know 10%
During his visit today to the White House PM Balkenende also wants to talk of other things then transatlantic relations, the American world order and the Dutch soldiers in Iraq. He wants to speak of "norms and values", too. Do you think Bush is interested in the discussion about "norms and values"?
Yes 28%, No 68%, Don't know 5%
President Bush probably wants to know whether the Netherlands will remain the small, loyal ally that it's behaved as lately. Do you think that, aside from pats on the shoulder and promises, there will also be some real business during the visit?
Yes 24%, No 69%, Don't know 7%
Do you think that Balkenende will breach subjects like the American refusal to sign the climate treaty and the negative attitude to the new international criminal court in The Hague with Bush?
Yes 24%, No 63%, Don't know 13%
Do you consider Jaap de Hoop Scheffer qualified as NATO General Secretary?
Yes 29%, No 45%, Don't know 26%
the visit, the phrasing of a second SBS6 poll says as much as its results:
What was your reaction to the appearance of PM Balkenende in ‘the Oval Office’ of the White House?
Proud - the PM did a great service to our country - 17%,
Embarassment - our PM fully lacked charisma - 50%,
Other - 25%
Its well time for our PM to do something about his "sullige" (dopey, stuffy) image.
Fully agree 44%, Agree 31%
Disagree 16%, Fully disagree 6%
Former PM Kok last Wednesday said that the Netherlands have been following the US a little all too tamely this last period. To what extent do you agree with Kok?
Fully agree 41%, Agree 27%
Disagree 16%, Fully disagree 14%
Do you think the Dutch delegation has behaved like a "lap dog" during its visit to Bush?
Yes 62%, No 29%, Don't know 9%
(Then again - these are the pollsters who ask questions like, "A smoking ban in cafes and discos, isnt that a little exaggerated?" That's a 71%, "Yeh, absolutely", and 27% "No, why?", if you're wondering <grins>).