The Dutch Reformed Political Union (Gereformeerd Politiek Verbond; GPV) was a small, orthodox Protestant political party. The GPV was founded in 1948; it entered the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament in 1963 and it merged with the Reformational Political Federation (Reformatorische Politieke Federatie; RPF) into the Dutch Christian Union (ChristenUnie) in 2000.
The GPV stood in the anti-revolutionary political tradition of G. Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876) and Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), but it had mainly derived its identity from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated). The religious conflict between the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, which in 1944 led to a schism within the church and the formation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated), found its continuation in the political domain. As a result of this church split, the GPV had separated itself from the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) and became the party of the Reformed-liberated church members. The GPV was small and stood no chance of being elected to the Lower House at first. It did not succeed until 1963.
The GPV was held back by internal conflicts during the first fifteen years of its existence. These conflicts were the result of a fundamental, militant and anti-hierarchical attitude, which the Reformed-liberated members had adopted since 1944. As a consequence of the so-called T. Holwerda conflict, the GPV’s executive structure was reformed and the executive leadership crisis of 1958-1959 led to a strengthening of the party’s admissions policy. Although the local electoral associations remained autonomous and continued to determine their own admissions policy – it should be noted that in practice, most associations only allowed Reformed-liberated members as the party had decided in 1962 that members of the national political executive had to be members of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated).
In its early years, the GPV was dominated by stringent religious views on politics. The party’s objective was to be a representative of the one true church, namely the Reformed Churches (Liberated). A.J. Verbrugh opposed this belief, and was a loner within the GPV. Before his conversion to the Reformed faith he had come from a broader Protestant background. Verbrugh aimed for a Christian state government with a Christian based constitution. In order to reach this goal, the GPV had to form ‘unions’ with other political groups. In the Fifties, Verbrugh had failed to succeed in winning over other GPV members to his political ideals, but after the executive leadership crisis of 1958-1959, when the most radical members of the GPV had left, he was given a chance to put his mark upon the party. The party then became more political in nature.
In 1952, 1956 and 1959, the GPV had failed to enter the Lower House. In 1963, however, it was successful. Until 1971, the GPV had one single seat in Dutch Parliament, which was occupied by P. Jongeling. Jongeling, who, on account of his main editorship of the Reformed newspaper/The Netherlands Daily (Gereformeerd Gezinsblad/Nederlands Dagblad), had a lot of influence in the mainstream of Reformed-liberated life, became a well-known Dutchman over the course of the Sixties. He was a symbol of Christian and conservative values, from which many Dutch people broke radically in the Sixties. Because Jongeling appeared to be a friendly, modest and jocular person in the media, many people liked him as a person. Outsiders, however, wanted nothing to do with his Christian and conservative values.
Hitching a ride on Jongeling’s success the GPV’s party ideologist Verbrugh endeavoured to transform the GPV into a broad, right-wing Christian national movement. The National Evangelical Union (Nationaal Evangelisch Verband; NEV), a supporting organisation for GPV voters who were not members of the Reformed Churches (Liberated), was founded in 1966. Whilst attending the so-called National Roll Calls (Nationale Appèls), the GPV and the NEV presented themselves as the pivot of a right-wing Christian countermovement opposing the cultural revolution of the Sixties. They would sing old patriotic battle songs that dated back to the Dutch War of Independence against Spain, and the leaders were making pleas for enforcement of authority and solidarity with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1963, the GPV got its own symbol: the Mighty Fortress from Psalms 46 and 59, put to song by Luther. The Mighty Fortress was God, a Haven of Refuge and a Helper to His Followers. According to the American-Dutch historian James Kennedy, the Mighty Fortress symbolised the orthodox Protestant resistance in the Sixties. The grand Christian pillars had tumbled down, but the safe stronghold of the GPV remained erect as an impregnable fortress.
The cooperation with the NEV failed to succeed. A large group of GPV members had religious objections to the cooperation with this non-liberated supporting organisation. For this reason, the ‘union’ between the GPV and the NEV was abolished in 1972. The NEV, however, decided to continue seeking cooperation with other political groups. This led to the establishment of the RPF in 1975. In the period from 1966 to 1973, the GPV expelled many members of the party who had become buitenverbanders (literally, "those outside the denomination") a result of a new schism within the church. At the beginning of the Seventies, the termination of cooperation with the NEV and the expulsion of those members who were ‘outside the federation’ resulted in the party’s partial return to its old days of isolation.
The GPV’s space to spread word of its Christian and conservative views narrowed in the progressive Seventies. Unlike his colleague Jongeling, Member of Parliament Verbrugh, who had been elected to the Lower House in 1971, had failed to make a favourable impression on people, and his right-wing political plans provoked much resistance among other parliamentarians. Because of his endorsement of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Ed van Thijn of the Dutch Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid; PvdA) called Verbrugh a racist. In 1977, the GPV lost its second seat in the Lower House and was left with just one single seat. As a one-man parliamentary party, Verbrugh gave passive support to the unstable first cabinet Van Agt. The cabinet didn’t fall in 1980, partly thanks to this support. Verbrugh did not, however, support the cabinet’s abortion policy. The private member’s bill introduced by the GPV and the Political Reformed Party (Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij; SGP) concerning abortion arte provocatus, which would give effect to the absolute prohibition of abortion except where the mother’s life was in danger, was nevertheless certain to fail.
In the Seventies, the GPV lost its lead to the Dutch Evangelical Broadcasting Foundation (Evangelische Omroep; EO) and the RPF. The EO and the RPF were treated with much distrust by traditional GPV members – for they were inter-church organisations open to all orthodox Protestants. The new generation of GPV members, who had not consciously witnessed the Liberation, was less negative in this respect. The GPV’s objective should no longer entail religious reform of the Netherlands, but rather focus on creating a barrier to the process of secularisation. This group of GPV members defended the idea of electoral cooperation with other orthodox Protestant parties – the RPF and the SGP. They wanted the GPV to enter into an electoral pact with the RPF and SGP for Municipal Council and Provincial Council elections, as well as for elections to the European Parliament. However, the church-oriented groups within the GPV objected to this electoral pact, because it would threaten the party’s exclusive, liberated identity. On 26 September 1981, the advocates for cooperation prevailed and the electoral pact was allowed, albeit under strict conditions.
The GPV became more professional over the course of the Seventies. The party established a research institute, among other things. This professionalisation process continued in the Eighties. Being the party’s Member of Parliament and party chairman from 1981 to 2001 and a one-man parliamentary party from 1981 to 1989, G.J. Schutte was the GPV’s icon during this period. Schutte was respected by friend and enemy alike and was given the nickname ‘the constitutional conscience of the Lower House’. Schutte advocated dualism between Cabinet and Parliament: the Cabinet governs, the Parliament checks. He played a major part in technical discussions, such as the roles of the informateurs (who investigate the potential party combinations in a coalition government) and formateurs (who lead the parties’ final negotiations in government formation). He also played a part in discussions about the principles and practice of ministerial responsibility. In 1983, Schutte ranked third behind Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers and opposition leader Joop den Uyl in the Dutch Politician of the Year Awards.
In the Eighties, there was increasingly less scope for small orthodox Protestant parties to spread word of their deviating views. The Netherlands were controlled by a progressive consensus. The orthodox Protestant parties’ Christian and conservative points of view were considered intolerant and associated with theocracy and fundamentalism. Especially the RPF was under fire. RPF leader Meindert Leerling saw as his primary task the propagation of his Orthodox Christian religion and the issue of warnings against everything that was in conflict with this belief, and he provoked much resistance in this respect. Schutte, on the other hand, was much more cautious and the media often contrasted him with the RPF leader. However, being an orthodox Protestant party, the GPV was nevertheless ‘wrong’ in the eyes of the progressives. Staphorst, a conservative country village in the Overijssel province, became the symbol of orthodox Protestant ‘backwardness’. The journalist Jan Joost Lindner referred to the possibility of a centre-right cabinet with passive support from the small orthodox Protestant parties in a derogatory manner, calling it the ‘Staphorst variant’. PvdA leader Den Uyl feared the possibility of such a coalition and labelled the SGP, the RPF and the GPV as ‘anti-democratic’. These accusations resulted in a fundamental debate in the Lower House. The GPV did respect the rules of parliamentary democracy, according to GPV leader Schutte, and Den Uyl’s accusations were therefore unjustified. The party started to reflect on the principles of democracy, partly because of this debate. The GPV rejected the majority rule, but did accept democracy as a working model and, being a small party, attached much importance to a system of proportional representation. The GPV’s frequent involvement in constitutional issues in the Lower House had a lot to do with the party’s own vision of democracy. Schutte wanted to be taken seriously as a politician and he therefore stood apart from the RPF and the SGP. In 1986 he advocated a coalition of CDA and VVD with the support of GPV, the so called Groningen variant, referring to the city and province of Groningen, where many Reformed-liberated members lived. The media interpreted Schutte’s plea as a centre-right Cabinet, which would only receive passive support from the reasonable GPV, but no support from the fundamentalist RPF and the theocratic SGP. However, those two parties did not appreciate Schutte’s solo action, upon which the GPV leader declared that he had no wish to operate separately from the RPF and the SGP. When push came to shove, Schutte sided with RPF and SGP after all.
Secularisation in the Netherlands continued further in the Eighties, but at the same time the Reformed-liberated world appeared to be more self-evident than ever before. The Reformed-liberated pillar covered almost all areas of life, and the liberated emigrants in Australia even had their own miniature GPV. Nonetheless, there were small cracks in the pillar. The group of GPV members who continued to oppose the electoral pact strongly decreased in number over the course of the Eighties, and voting for the GPV became increasingly less self-evident to young people. The youth organisation of the Dutch Christian Democrats (Christen Democraten; CDA) even got a liberated chairman in 1988. It caused somewhat of a stir among traditional liberated members, who felt that when a person was liberated he should vote for the GPV. In the Nineties, the liberated pillar would merge into the broader evangelical Reformatory pillar of the EO and the RPF.
In the Nineties, the GPV and other orthodox Protestant parties felt that they were increasingly pushed back to the margins. In 1989, the GPV had again acquired a second seat in the Lower House, occupied by Eimert van Middelkoop, but it was unable to stop the Equal Treatment Act (Algemene Wet Gelijke Behandeling). The Dutch political landscape became increasingly more secular in nature. The coalition government of the Dutch Labour Party and two liberal parties, known as Purple I (1994-1998), was the first cabinet since 1918 without Christian coalition partners. Purple II (1998-2002) was the cabinet that legalised same-sex marriages and euthanasia. Paradoxically, the SGP, RPF and GPV had modest influence under Purple Reign I. The three orthodox Protestant parties had made several compromises with different coalition partners and in doing so, they were successful in some of their endeavours. However, the RPF, SGP and GPV were sidelined during Purple Reign II. They were unable to take a hard line and had to stand by and watch, powerless, as the Netherlands became the very first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriages and euthanasia.
Discussions within the GPV regarding membership for non-liberated persons (1989-1993) and the process of merger with the RPF (1994-2000/2003) had become urgent due to increasing secularisation and the Purple cabinets, but they were first and foremost the result of internal developments. At the beginning of the Nineties, many liberated organisations had decided to open their doors to non-liberated persons. Moreover, the liberated world was under the influence of evangelical Christianity with its emphasis on individual faith and a praise-oriented worship style. As a consequence of these changes, differences in party culture between the GPV and the RPF diminished. The merger process lasted another ten years, only because the party executive were very concerned with the interests of a small group of traditional liberated members who fiercely resisted these new developments. On 22 January 2000, the Christian Union came into being. Although it was a new political party, the GPV and RPF would continue to exist as separate parties within the Christian Union for some time. On 31 December 2003, the GPV and RPF were dissolved and the merger took effect on 1 January 2004. Unlike the GPV and RPF, who had always been opposition parties, the Christian Union did succeed in penetrating government circles. On 22 February 2007, the fourth Balkenende cabinet was formed - by the CDA, the PvdA and the Christian Union.