The Dutch elections: fragmentation and a normalised EU debate

15 Mar 2017 - 17:14
Bron: Patrick Rasenberg/flickr

The first striking element of the upcoming Dutch elections on 15 March is the extent to which the Netherlands is represented in the international media as an EU-critical country: many international media outlets focus on the allegedly strong position of the populist radical-right leader, Ceert Wilders, and his Freedom Party (PVV)l, and even speculate about a possible Nexit. In this article it is argued, that the underlying expectation seems to be that after Donald Trump's victory, the path is now cleared for politicians such as Wilders and Marine Le Pen in France to take centre stage. Yet the picture of the Netherlands as a highly EU-critical country needs some qualification.

Firstly, the Netherlands is traditionally one of the member states with the highest levels of support for the European Union (generally above 70%). Also, the country's conservative governments have consistently opted in the EÜ s core policies.

Secondly, Ceert Wilders draws attention to his anti-EU messages because he appears to be more outspoken than his opponents, as well as clearer (his party's electoral programme consists of one page with 11 statements that are short on politically-correct language). According to Wierd Duk, a journalist from Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad, this image of 'telling it as it is' tends to appeal to a part of the electorate. However, it does not mean that his potential voters also support his views. 

Thirdly, as in the elections of 2012, his party dropped in the polls as the election date draws closer. There seems to be a difference between flirting with the Freedom Party and actually voting for it. 

Yet, the generally strong support for the EU in the Netherlands should not be confused with enthusiasm for European integration: support does not mean affection. 

Finally, some polls show more EU-critical inclinations but polls are difficult to compare. It is suggested that there is general support for the EU in the Netherlands, but this is sensitive to (negative) news about the EU. Future plans for deeper European integration may not easily find huge public support, although the Dutch could be more favourably disposed to flexible forms of European cooperation.

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