The fall of Jan Peter Balkenende’s first government in October 2002 was followed by a readjustment of the political order. The results of the parliamentary election on 22 January 2003 restored a more familiar political balance. In early spring, avian influenza was found on several Dutch farms, and drastic measures were taken to prevent it from spreading. In March, the Dutch government gave its political support to the invasion of Iraq by the USA and the UK. Later, the government sent troops to help restore security and stability in Iraq. On 30 September 2003, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Air France merged to form a new company. At the end of the year, the country rejoiced in the birth of the first child of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Máxima.
A new government
The rift within the LPF became obvious when several prominent members seceded and decided to take part in the election on 22 January 2003 as a new party. Even before that, it was clear from the opinion polls that familiar political structures would return, although after Pim Fortuyn’s murder things would never be quite the same. Many of the existing parties, as well as some new ones, adopted Fortuyn’s views to varying degrees, in the hope of attracting voters.
Once the votes were counted it was clear that the Labour Party (PvdA) had recovered from its defeat the previous year (increasing from 23 seats to 42) and that the LPF had lost heavily (falling from 26 seats to 8). Having won one additional seat (44) the CDA was again the largest party and began lengthy talks with the Labour Party on forming a government. However, these efforts came to nothing because of the parties’ differing views on the economic measures to be taken and - as Jan Peter Balkenende himself put it - their lack of chemistry. So when the second Balkenende government took office on 27 May 2003 it was a coalition of the CDA, the VVD and Democrats ’66, a small left-liberal party.
Avian flu outbreak
On 28 February 2003, the National Inspection Service for Livestock and Meat reported cases of avian influenza on six farms in the Gelderse Vallei, a region in the central Netherlands that is home to many poultry farms. Mortality among the affected chickens was high. On 1 March the virus was identified as the H7N7 strain, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality announced the measures to be taken. To prevent the spread of the disease, culling began on 5 March, but the virus spread nonetheless to other parts of the country. In total 30.7 million birds were killed during the outbreak.
Political support for the war in Iraq
On 20 March 2003, American and British forces launched military operations against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, because of suspicions that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and because Saddam Hussein refused to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors. The Dutch government resolved to lend only political support to the war. At that time there was virtually no support in parliament or among the public for military action.
Dutch troops to Iraq
On 31 June 2003, the Dutch government sent 1,100 troops to Iraq, as part of the international stabilisation force (SFIR). The troops were originally intended to stay for six months to help restore security and stability in the southern province of Al-Muthanna, but in the end they remained for 20 months. During that time the Dutch contingent trained some 2,800 security officers. Two Dutch soldiers were killed.
KLM and Air France merger
On 30 September 2003, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Air France merged to form Air France-KLM, thus ending KLM’s long history as an independent airline. Air France precipitated the merger by purchasing €874 million worth of KLM shares. The State of the Netherlands retained 14.1% of the shares, which it will only relinquish when France reduces its own interest in the airline. One of the three supervisory directors of the newly-formed holding company is Dutch.
The airline still uses the names of Air France and KLM. As a result of the merger, KLM joined SkyTeam, an alliance of airlines of which Air France was already a member.
Princess Amalia born
On 7 December 2003, 101 shots were fired in salute in Den Helder, The Hague, Willemstad (Netherlands Antilles) and Oranjestad (Aruba) to greet the birth of Crown Princess Catharina-Amalia Beatrix Carmen Victoria, the daughter of Princess Máxima and Prince Willem-Alexander. Princess Amalia, as she is known, is second in line to the throne after her father and is the Queen’s second grandchild.