Dutch voters certainly boosted the moral of Angela Merkel on Wednesday, and not Marine Le Pen. The outspoken anti-EU politician Geert Wilders has been kept out of power in The Netherlands.
The Dutch voted for pro-European parties, allowing Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte to continue governing. The Christian-Democrat CDA and left-wing Liberals D66 will most likely return to the ruling coalition.
New Europe obtained an interview with Dutch MEP Annie Schreijer-Pierik, who before joining the European Parliament, she was a prominent Member of the Dutch Parliament for 12 years.
New Europe: Europe was closely watching the vote in The Netherlands. Some expected the right-wing populist Geert Wilders to win. But he ended up second. What happened?
Answer: I think what we saw was the Trump effect. A few months ago, the polls indeed indicated a large victory for Geert Wilders. Then voters noted the arrogant and dominant way Donald Trump started his presidency in the US. A lot of Dutch voters feared that Wilders would govern in a similar way. They don’t want that, because The Netherlands is a country of traders and exporters.
In addition, Wilders did not campaign much. He even avoided TV debates, while Prime Minister Rutte showed strong leadership: Rutte had the police prevent Turkish Ministers from campaigning in The Netherlands a few days before the election. Also, Christian-Democrat leader Sybrand Buma strongly pleaded for the better integration of immigrants.
So, I think a portion of the Wilders votes went to other parties. Wilders won a few seats but certainly not the number that he had hoped for. I guess this is not the international boost that Marine Le Pen needed for her French election.
Can we say the pro-European parties in The Netherlands won?
Well, we can say that the anti-European parties did not get a stronghold. For example, there was no seat at all for the new anti-EU party of Jan Roos, despite all the publicity.
On the other hand, Europe was not a big theme during the Dutch election campaign. And pro-EU parties are not so outspoken. Prime Minister Rutte is not a big defender of Europe in his own country. He may act like a pro-European during EU Summits, but back home in the Dutch Parliament he is more critical.
The votes in Great Britain and the US showed strong divisions in society. Is this also the case in The Netherlands?
Certainly there are some similarities with the Brexit referendum and the Trump election. Everywhere we see a contrast between cities and the countryside. Farmers and fishermen voted for the Christian-Democrat CDA Party, cities voted Liberal or Green.
But in general, Dutch politics is far more fragmented. The Netherlands have far more political parties: the parliament now even has 13 groups. This ranges from the anti-Islamic Geert Wilders’ PVV Party to the pro-migrant Turkish Party DENK. I did not see this division in the UK or the US.
The traditional left-right division is very diffuse now. The Social-Democrats of Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem have almost disappeared from the Dutch Parliament.
What could Angela Merkel learn from the Dutch elections?
I would say that she should stay close to her profile. Merkel is strong and stable. She is an anchor for peace, security, employment and food supply in Germany and EU.
The CDU/CSU has a good eye for the countryside, for the farmers that are crucial for a lively society in the countryside and our food supply.
She can learn from the Dutch elections that one can be proud of the economic situation. We are doing rather well, some people go on holiday three times a year.
We have innovative entrepreneurs, good education. That was also Prime Minister Rutte’s message: he stressed that The Netherlands is a “cool country” (“een gaaf land”). The voters rewarded him with votes, and as you know, the voter is always right.
What will be the effect on the Dutch position in Brussels?
It is obvious we need a better Europe, not more Europe. This should be the input for the debates on Jean-Claude Juncker’s paper on the options for the future direction of the EU.
We should have the courage to tackle the EU policies and decisions that are not going well.
My advice would be to start changing the Bird and Habitat Directive: every Member State implements this differently. Brussels should not allow The Netherlands to over-protect some plants and animals. One cannot make a living from these flowers and bees. Also in the Brexit vote we saw that farmers and fishermen objected to the strict EU rules on this.
So, I would say the Dutch will remain the constructive critical founding father it has always been.