Far-rightists could test Dutch loyalty to European project

Hague Letter: Right-wing Forum for Democracy may crush Wilders’ Freedom Party

Portrait of Dutch far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) party’s Thierry Baudet beside alcohol bottles at a provincial elections party electoral gathering in Zeist. Photograph:  Bart Maat/ANP/AFP

Portrait of Dutch far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) party’s Thierry Baudet beside alcohol bottles at a provincial elections party electoral gathering in Zeist. Photograph: Bart Maat/ANP/AFP

 

Spin is always fascinating to observe, but to read about the Netherlands in the European Parliament’s Spring Eurobarometer survey, which provides a snapshot of the EU just weeks from the May elections, is like reading about another political planet.

Not that it’s a bad planet necessarily. It’s certainly one where all is well when looked at down the high-speed rail link from Brussels. The Netherlands, it seems, is one of those countries where belief in the EU is unshakable. And as for following the Brits and voting for Nexit, it’s utterly inconceivable.

The survey’s figures certainly bear that out. In only six countries did more than three-quarters of respondents signal unstinting support for the union: Luxembourg, 86 per cent; the Netherlands, 84 per cent; Ireland, 83 per cent; Sweden, 79 per cent; and Denmark and Germany on 76 per cent each.

If a referendum was held tomorrow, 86 per cent of Dutch would vote to stay in the EU, while 8per cent would vote to leave. That’s certainly impressive, especially considering that the average across the 28 is just 68 per cent to stay and 14 per cent to go, with 18 per cent undecided.

Even the things that keep the Dutch awake at night are the concerns of the prosperous: climate change (73 per cent), the future of the EU, and the protection of democracy and human rights – as against economic growth, youth unemployment and migration, across the Union as a whole.

Wishful thinking

Yet, based on past experience, there is one apparently innocuous answer that reveals this survey as perhaps more wishful thinking than is healthy.

Asked if they would vote in the May 23rd elections, 72 per cent of respondents said they would vote or were likely to – despite the fact that turnout in Dutch EU elections is typically between 30 and 40 per cent. In 2014, it was 37.32 per cent; in 2009, 36.75 and in 2004, 39.26 per cent.

The Netherlands currently has 26 MEPs. The Christian Democrats is the largest group, with five seats. Centrist D66 has four, as does Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. Prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals and the Labour Party have three each, and the rest follow.

I am ideologically opposed to the EU, the internal market, open borders, the whole thing

The difference this time will be the introduction into that mix of Thierry Baudet’s highly unpredictable Forum for Democracy, which in April won more seats in provincial elections to the Senate than Mark Rutte’s Liberals, previously the largest party.

They came from zero to win 13 seats in the 75-seat upper house – a hammer blow to Rutte, who dropped from 13 seats to 12 and lost his majority in the Senate.

Polling by Politico predicts there’s more of the same to come.

It says Baudet will win six seats in the EU elections with 17.62 per cent of the vote, two more than Rutte’s Liberals on four with 14.88 per cent of the vote. The Greens will also take four, the Christian Democrats three, and Labour and D66 two each.

Obliterating Wilders

And what of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, which took four seats and 13.32 per cent of the vote in 2014? If the polling is correct – a big caveat these days – the new hard-right party will virtually obliterate the old, leaving it with just one seat and 5.59 per cent of the vote.

There could then be two far-right Dutch nationalist anti-immigrant parties with as many as seven seats between them in the European Parliament. That’s not quite the “nothing to see here” scenario painted by Eurobarometer, especially since both those parties are ideologically committed to Nexit.

“I am ideologically opposed to the EU, the internal market, open borders, the whole thing,” says Baudet. “That’s our election manifesto.” It could be Wilders speaking.

Now, rightly or wrongly – with speculation rife about the timing of Rutte’s departure from domestic politics – there’s a belief that Baudet has caught the zeitgeist and could cause a major upset in the absence of a strong Liberal leader come the general election in early 2021.

In that context, commentator Alex de Jong puts his finger on the key difference between Wilders and Baudet: while the former has become predictable as a one-trick, anti-Islam populist, the latter is unashamedly white elitist, promising, as de Jong puts it, “class war from above”.

“The forum’s candidate list is made up of lawyers, surgeons, corporate managers, businessmen, retired military officers . . . Baudet and the people around him are working on a project for an authoritarian, nationalist, transformation of Dutch society”.

Nexit may not be around the corner – but if Baudet continues to win big, it will certainly be on the national agenda.

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