Should the forthcoming elections in the Netherlands have the effect of reducing both the fragmentation of political parties and the electorate’s inclination towards the left and right-wing extremities, then the current crisis may ultimately prove a blessing in disguise.
However, one would have to be a born optimist to consider this a genuine possibility. Unfortunately, the latest indications do not bode well. There is currently nothing to suggest that there will be prospects for the formation of a politically sound coalition with a logical composition following the elections. Quite the contrary, fragmentation and further instability would appear to be on the cards.
Since 2002, just a decade ago, the Netherlands has had a string of five governments. And the political middle ground has all but been abandoned during this period. In fact, the previously dominant three major parties, PvdA (Labour), CDA (Christian Democrat) and VVD (Liberal) may perhaps even fail to jointly secure a majority in the Lower House.
Europe as the root of all evil
In the meantime, however, the odd ray of hope has also been spotted. For instance, in a statement issued on Saturday with a view to explaining his rather curious behaviour during the recent Catshuis negotiations, Mr Geert Wilders claimed that the EU is the root of all evil. He appears to be suggesting that Brussels had put pressure on the minority government to withdraw to the Catshuis in order to negotiate further extensive cost-cutting measures.
While Mr Wilders’ statement was the most obvious nonsense, this by no means suggests that it is insignificant. His PVV (Party for Freedom) has declared the EU the ‘ogre’, against which it eagerly looks forward to campaigning during the next few months.
Based on the philosophy of PVV, this would appear an entirely logical strategy to pursue. The party’s highly peculiar blend of principles – extremely right-wing in its approach to social issues, yet leftist in its defence of the crumbling vestiges of the Dutch welfare state – would appear to have singled out the main threat: Brussels.
It is Brussels, for instance, which insists that we abide by agreements on the freedom of movement of employees. And PVV views these employees as a threat to the purely Dutch nature of society in the Netherlands, and therefore also a threat to the welfare state.
Mr Wilders appears to have come to the conclusion that his electorate might be more readily mobilised to combat the EU, rather than the envisaged Islamisation of the Netherlands.
For some (strange) reason, the future of the Netherlands in Europe has not been the central theme of an election n campaign since the referendum. Mr Wilders now appears determined to force the issue, however, and hopefully he will succeed.
How to proceed with Europe?
After all, the division of political strengths on issues relating to Europe is different to that on classic themes, such as the (national) economy. The classic contrast of left and right-wing views has more or less faded into oblivion.
Other controversies arise when the key issue is what we want from “Europe”. And it is high time that political emphasis were placed on this issue. Furthermore, the topic offers opportunities for an entirely different balance of political power.
Mr Wilders naturally envisages opportunities for himself. There is no reason why the other parties should not take up the gauntlet, however, to show that the only way forward for the Netherlands lies in the area of further increased European cooperation. This would also appear to be an excellent opportunity for those at the centre of the political spectrum to regain their relevance, thus promoting the governability of the nation.
“An unreliable agent of government”
“It is a relief that Geert Wilders has gone”, writesthe editor in chief of De Volkskrant, Philippe Remarque. For this Dutch journalist, the leader of the populist Party for Freedom (PVV) is not only “a poisonous politician, but also a very unreliable agent of government”, because he let down his country at a key moment in the financial crisis, when Brussels was waiting on another austerity package to bring the Dutch budget deficit back down to 3% of GDP.
At the same time, Remarque points out that “politicians should be warned not to neglect his [Wilders’] message”, notably with regard to European integration.
Not only has populism put these subjects on the agenda for populist movements, but it has also raised their status for traditional parties.
The political split over the role of Europe is also reflected by Dutch public opinion,” adds Remarque –
On the one hand, there are those in the Netherlands who believe that Europe will be a source of opportunities in a globalised world where welfare states will be less present; on the other, there are those who simply see Europe as a threat.