EU Opponents, Proponents Win Dutch Election

The Euroskeptic Freedom Party and the pro-European liberal Democrats are projected to win most seats.

Dutch D66 party leader Alexander Pechtold delivers a speech in The Hague, March 19
Dutch D66 party leader Alexander Pechtold delivers a speech in The Hague, March 19 (Sebastiaan ter Burg)

The Euroskeptic Freedom Party and the federalist liberal Democrats (D66) looked likely to win most Dutch seats in the European Parliament after Thursday’s election, reflecting a deep split between voters who are willing to leave the European Union altogether and those who believe the body should integrate further instead.

While official results are not due to be announced until Sunday, when most other European countries vote, the sensationalist blog GeenStijl released a preliminary tally based on results from the country’s municipalities where the votes were read out on election night in accordance with Dutch law.

The tally lined up with exit polls which had the centrist Christian Democrats vying for second place, ahead of the ruling Labor and liberal parties.

The ruling parties earlier suffered defeat in local elections in March when they got just 10 percent of the votes combined. The two got over 50 percent support in the last parliamentary election.

Discontent with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s economic and fiscal policies is widespread. Despite a feeble recovery in exports, the Dutch economy last year was still 3.5 percent smaller than before the crisis. Household consumption has been depressed by public-sector wage freezes and higher taxes that have also undermined business confidence. Yet public-sector spending has continued to rise in real terms, despite deep cuts in defense and savings in health care.

Support for Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party, which has been highly critical of the government’s attempts at fiscal consolidation, was likely informed by this dissatisfaction as well as rising Dutch Euroskepticism. Wilders is expected to group with France’s Front national and Euroskeptic parties from Belgium and Italy, among others, in the European assembly.

The liberal Democrats, by contrast, back many of the coalition’s signature reform programs because the ruling parties lack a majority of their own in the upper chamber of parliament. The Democrats also group together with Rutte’s liberals in the European Parliament but are outspokenly in favor of deeper European integration whereas the prime minister resists the further transfer of powers to Brussels.

Their second bad showing on Thursday could destabilize the coalition although polls show early elections would benefit neither party.

Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom’s position looks especially precarious. His party is down to ten seats in the polls from 38 in the last election and his personal popularity has suffered as well. Many leftwingers are clamoring for social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher to take over as party leader.

This article was last updated Saturday, May 24.

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