EU leaders breathe sigh of relief following Dutch vote

Written by Martin Banks on 17 March 2017 in News
News

European leaders have welcomed the result of the Netherlands election, which saw Geert Wilders' anti-immigration party fail to become the largest in Parliament.

Mark Rutte

Mark Rutte | Photo credit: Press Association


Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centre-right VVD won by some margin. With all but two vote counts complete on Friday, his party has won 33 out of 150 seats, a loss of eight seats from the previous parliament.

Geert Wilders' Freedom party was in second place with 20 seats, a gain of five, with the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal D66 party close behind with 19 seats each.

The vote was closely watched ahead of elections in France next month and Germany in the autumn.

The Netherlands was seen by many as a bellwether for how populist parties will perform in those polls. 

Reacting to the outcome, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, "The people of the Netherlands voted for free and tolerant societies in a prosperous Europe."

Turnout in the 15 March poll was 82 per cent, higher than the 74.6 per cent in the last parliamentary vote five years ago. 

The big losers were Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem's Labour Party (PvdA), which lost an estimated three-quarters of its voters, the biggest electoral defeat in its history.

It was a campaign said to have been one of the nastiest in recent Dutch history, ranging from the diplomatic row with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and to what some saw as a media obsession with Wilders.

His anti-Islam party had been leading in opinion polls but support for the party appeared to slip in the run up to the election.

On Friday, MEPs reacted to the result, with Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld telling this website, "D66 has shown once again that a pro-European message is a vote winner. That message of hope and optimism appeals to young people, those who will shape Europe in the future. We see first signs of a European spring: pro-European, progressive liberal forces winning in Austria, now in the Netherlands and hopefully next month in France."

Another Dutch MEP, Lambert van Nistelrooij, said he was happy with the result.

The EPP group deputy said, "Dutch voters have vowed to stop populism. After Brexit and Trump, the Dutch voters have made clear that a populist government and Nexit is no option. That's a good message for Europe ahead of the French and German parliamentary elections later this year.

"But Dutch voters have also made it unmistakably clear that there are serious problems that need to be addressed urgently. 

"In order for example for citizens with a migration background to integrate successfully and truly feel being part of the Netherlands, our party leader addressed the issue of having a double nationality. The situation that young Dutch Turkish men have to serve in the Turkish army creates a double allegiance, we have to end this.

"The diplomatic row with Turkey places this sensitive question at the top of our national and European agenda. Let's get to work."

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt said that Rutte had shown that a "positive pro-European message wins."

Further comment came from EPP group leader Manfred Weber who noted that one of the founding members of the EU (the Netherlands) had "rejected a bid for power by far-right populists."

Weber added, "The serious approach of the parties of the centre-right and of the CDA has been rewarded. This is good news for all the political forces of the centre and for Europe. 

"This shows as well that clarity and a strict demarcation from the radicals is the right path. The electoral result in the Netherlands is a real blow for all Anti Europeans. The result is a real blow for all anti-Europeans."

The German deputy also said this is a "perfect start" for an election year in Europe, showing that voters want a "constructive approach in Europe and to work together."

Elsewhere, UK Tory MEP Charles Tannock told this website, "The victory of Rutte's VVD over Wilders' PVV is a huge relief to member states at a time a time of multiple existential threats to the project. Following on from the unexpected Austrian presidential result last year, this further demonstrates that mainstream politics will prevail over nationalist populists although of course this needs confirming at the forthcoming French and German elections.

"For pro-European Conservatives, such as myself, it makes me think that Brexit may be a one off event and that voters across Europe flirting with the far-right agenda realise that many of the problems they face, including dealing with migratory pressures, climate change (which in future will increase migratory pressures as populations are displaced), the unresolved euro-crisis, and the need for more economic growth, are best dealt with through cooperation and EU membership rather than a destructive and selfish act of unwinding the whole EU integration project."

The ECR group MEP added, "The collapse of the Dutch Labour party vote, which had advocated ending freedom of movement in the EU during the election, is further proof of this."

The GreenLeft also made some gains - it topped the vote in Amsterdam - and European Green Party co-Chairs, Reinhard Bütikofer and Monica Frassoni, said, "After Austria, this is already the second case in recent European elections when populist authoritarians have failed to take control as they hoped and many feared."

The pair added, "The populist winning streak just doesn't exist. Dutch voters have returned a very segmented Parliament, which will make it difficult to form the next government, but one thing is clear: the authoritarian populists of Wilders did not manage to attain the dominating position they were hoping for on the basis of many polls over the last year."

Dutch Greens MEP Bas Eickhout said, "The Greens are the biggest winner in the elections. A historic result, never we have won so many seats in parliament. It shows how strong our movement is and we will continue to build on this movement. It is clear the Dutch want change. They responded to our positive message of hope. 

"Hope for a future with fewer differences between the haves and the don't haves. Our radical green proposals have not scared voters off despite the attacks of other parties. The ruling government lost half of their support. Also we see that our pro-European approach is appreciated by the voters. Also D66 of the ALDE group has won seats with an outspoken pro-European attitude.

"This gives hope for the coming elections in France and Germany. After the pro-European outcome in Austria, the Netherlands also proved that populism is not the answer to insecurity people have about jobs, poverty or migration. There is an alternative for the choice between status quo and populism; and Greens provided that alternative."

Paul Nuttall UKIP leader, said, "This was a great leap forward for national democrats in the Netherlands who reject the job-killing Euro currency and political union. Congratulations to the Eurosceptic parties [PVV and Forum for Democracy] who won an additional seven seats and commiserations to the government bloc which lost 36 seats. 

"People all across Europe are seeing the benefit of making their own laws and having the economy run for their national benefit. The cultural and security issues were high in this election and that is why Eurosceptics did so well."

Elsewhere, former UK Europe minister Denis MacShane said Dutch voters had not "bought left nationalist populism", adding, "A final judgement on whether populism has peaked awaits the French election.

"The Dutch result and the probable new President of France signals an end to Brexit-Trump nationalist populism with its nasty anti-immigrant scapegoating."

MacShane also said that the result is a "warning" to the UK's "traumatised" Labour party, noting that the Dutch centre left party slumped from 33 to 9 seats.

Former UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff, now Visiting Fellow at the European Policy Centre, said, "It's a good result for Dutch progressive pro-Europeans, and should do something to shake off the trauma of the 2005 referendum vote against the constitutional treaty. 

"However, rapture should be modified. Both the VVD and CDA swung to the right in their efforts to blunt Wilders. Rutte is as eurosceptic as any British Tory, and in so far as he remains minister-president do not expect any big swing towards a federalist policy on Europe.

"The PvdA need a deep process of renewal. Dijsselbloem's departure as chair of the Eurogroup should be one feature of this. The defeat of the SP is delightful to behold - as is the rise of the immigrant party."

 

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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