Opinions - 21.09.2012 - 00:00 

Dutch election and Euro-scepticism

The Dutch political spectrum has been realigned towards the centre on 12September. Nevertheless, euro-scepticism is still looming. A comment by Wesley van Drongelen, international relations analyst at the HSG.


19. September 2012. With 104 out of 150 seats now in the pro-European middle – PvdA and VVD, as well as the once-dominant Christian democrats (CDA) and the progressive liberals (D66) – one could hear sighs of relief in Brussels. As one Eurocrat put it: “Finally the Netherlands will behave normally again”. Or, as right-wing populist Geert Wilders noted: “I bet they’re throwing a party tonight in Brussels” (and they were). Yet, the election results do not mean that Euro-scepticism in the Netherlands is in decline, far from it.

A cricital view of Europe
There are good indications that many voters used their vote strategically in the September 12 elections: as the televised debates showed an increasing focus on the battle between the leaders of PvdA and VVD, more and more voters that were inclined to vote for the more radical parties on the left and right flanks moved inwards to increase the hopes of either a left-wing of a right-wing cabinet. In doing so, the hard-line socialist and right-wing voters have put in power a cabinet that goes right down the middle: any coalition other than one involving both PvdA and VDD is either extremely unlikely, extremely complex or downright impossible. While this is the opposite of what these voters intended, their sentiments against the EU or the Euro haven’t changed a bit. To these voters can be added the votes for the two most outspoken Euro-critical parties: Geert Wilders’ PVV and Emile Roemer’s Socialist Party, with about ten per cent of the vote each. So, one can say that about a third of the electorate is explicitly Euro-sceptic. That is a force to be reckoned with.

A spanner in the works of Brussels politics
That raises the question, what kind of mandate do the two leaders Diederik Samsom (PvdA) and Mark Rutte (VVD) have actually received from the voters. It certainly is not a carte blanche for further extension of “the tentacles of Brussels”, but neither can they (or are they even willing to) keep playing the role of “Mister No” in the European arena. The coalition negotiations between PvdA and VVD may take a while, but where Europe is concerned, Samsom and Rutte are expected to swiftly agree on almost everything. However, they will have an ever harder time explaining unpopular measures to a population that may have voted for them, but doesn’t approve of a too pro-European standpoint. More transfers of sovereignty, stronger political union, and more money to Greece, Portugal or Spain, such actions will need a lot of explaining and may indeed prove impossible to sell to the electorate. As a result, the little member state on the North Sea may continue to be a difficult schoolboy every now and then.

Government facing an acid test
Certainly, a PvdA-VVD government (with or without additional coalition partners) will make life in Brussels easier. The government may even play a cementing role between the viewpoints of Germany and France, since both viewpoints would be more or less represented in such a government. But there will always be that big chunk of the electorate looming in the background, scrutinising every step the PvdA and VVD ministers take. And since a considerable part of their respective shares of the vote comes from these people, the parties will have to balance between their own party programmes, the coalition agreement, the Euro-sceptic part of the population, and the demands, requests and expectations from Brussels. It is going to be a tough job for the coming years, cabinet minister in the government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands… So Brussels don’t hold your breath.

Picture: Photocase / Sandy+1974

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