Rise of left in Netherlands could cost Merkel another key ally

Tue, May 29, 2012, 01:00

A NEW poll in the Netherlands shows that Geert Wilders’ right-wing Freedom Party (PVV) has outstripped caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals for the first time – and would become the second-largest party in the country if an election were held tomorrow.

At the same time, the poll by analysts Maurice de Hond shows that the five parties that came together last month to salvage a €13 billion package of austerity measures aimed at bringing the Dutch budget deficit below 3 per cent of GDP would now fail to win a majority in parliament.

In a dramatic response to the new climate of cuts, the biggest political winners are the Socialists, who would become the dominant party, doubling the 15 seats they won in the 2010 general election to 30 – and placing them in a strong position to form a left-wing coalition with Labour.

The poll shows for the first time the extent of the change that has convulsed the Dutch political landscape since the minority Liberal–Christian Democrat coalition collapsed last month after failing to agree a budget with the PVV, who had been supporting them from the opposition benches.

Most notably, it mirrors the radical shift in political allegiances which has already taken place in other euro zone countries in response to widespread budget cuts, job losses and pay freezes – particularly in France and Greece.

In October 2010, the Liberals became the largest party with 31 seats, followed by Labour with 30, the PVV with 24, the Christian Democrats (the minority coalition partners) with 21, the Socialists with 15, and GreenLeft and centre-left D66 with 10 each.

Now, in the run-up to a general election scheduled for September 12th, the Socialists would have 30 seats, followed by the PVV on 25, the Liberals on 24, Labour on 21, D66 – a social-liberal party formed by former journalist, Hans van Mierlo – on 16, and the Christian Democrats relegated to a historic low with just 14 seats.

If a left-wing coalition were to come to power in September, it would leave Germany without one of its most committed allies in pushing for no-excuses fiscal discipline across the Eurozone.

However, in order to achieve a majority in the 150-seat parliament, the Socialists and Labour would need the support of at least one more party – and it is virtually inconceivable that that party, despite its current strong popular showing, would be the PVV.

The most likely political allies would be GreenLeft, one of the five parties that supported the austerity package but whose supporters have since punished it with a reduction of two seats, and D66, which also supported the package and has fallen back one seat but which is ideologically committed to greater “democratisation” of the Dutch political system.

Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom has already said he would consider a coalition with the Socialists, arguing that austerity, rather than helping the economy, will prolong the recession.

The soundings from D66 leader Alexander Pechtold have also been positive. “We have to move away from extremes of left and right,” he said, when asked about the Socialists and the PVV at the top of the poll. “What we need urgently is a bridge to the middle ground.”