Dutch Voters Punish Euroskeptics, Give Labor Victory

EU commissioner Frans Timmermans gives his center-left party a boost.

Netherlands flag
Flag of the Netherlands (Pixabay/Ben Kerckx)

Dutch voters punished Euroskeptic parties of the left and right on Thursday, according to unofficial election results and an exit poll.

The far-right Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, and the far-left Socialists would struggle to retain their seats in the European Parliament. The former currently has four, the latter two.

An exit poll conducted by Ipsos gives the two parties one seat each. But voting results from 732 of 9340 polling places suggest neither might qualify at all. The exit poll has a one-seat margin of error.

The official result is not announced until Sunday night, when all the EU’s 28 member states will have voted. But Dutch law requires individual polling places to read out their results on election night. Volunteers for the populist blog GeenStijl tallied the results, which were then analyzed by Ipsos’ competitor,

Shifts on the far right

Many of the Freedom Party’s voters appear to have defected to a new Euroskeptic party, the alt-right Forum for Democracy, led by Thierry Baudet.

Forum for Democracy placed first in provincial and Senate elections in March, narrowly defeating Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party.

Baudet and Rutte debated one-on-one on election eve, which raised the newcomer’s profile but also exposed some of his fringe beliefs.

Baudet, who calls for a Dutch exit from the EU, alleged that Brexit has been sabotaged by the British “deep state”; called into question Russia’s culpability in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, in which 193 Dutch nationals were killed; and praised Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán as well as Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini for keeping refugees out of Europe.

Both Ipsos and GeenStijl predict that Forum for Democracy will win three of the Netherlands’ 26 seats in Strasbourg. It would share fourth place with the Greens. Hardly the result it was hoping for.

And that’s not the end of Baudet’s European problems. Despite his stated admiration for Salvini, the Italian far-right leader allies with Wilders. Forum for Democracy could attempt to join the European Conservatives and Reformists, led by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. But its existing Dutch members, two small Christian parties, have said they would veto Forum’s application.

Shifts on the left

On the left, Labor unexpectedly prevailed, going up from three to five or six seats. It gobbled up both the Socialists, who misfired with an anti-EU and anti-Labor campaign, and the pro-European liberal Democrats, who are projected to lose half their seats.

It also stalled the rise of the Greens, who surpassed Labor for the first time in the general election of 2017. Support for Labor fell from 25 to 6 percent that year. The party was reduced from the second- to the seventh largest in parliament.

Analysts credit European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans, the former Dutch foreign minister who leads the European center-left. Nearly one in two of Labor’s voters told Ipsos it was Timmermans’ candidacy that convinced them to return to the party.

The European center-left and center-right are now neck in neck in Europe-wide surveys. If Orbán’s Fidesz were to leave the center-right European People’s Party after the election, it could push Timmermans’ Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats into first place, in which case he would claim the European Commission presidency. That would threaten the ambitions of Rutte, who is believed to cover the presidency of the European Council (although he denies this).