Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes

Geert Wilders Thierry Baudet Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions from far-right politicians Geert Wilders and Thierry Baudet in parliament in The Hague, November 27, 2019 (ANP)

Sorry for the lack of new posts in recent weeks. I’ve moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona and finding and furnishing an apartment has taken up most of my time.

Good news was awaiting me here, though. Forum for Democracy, a Putin-friendly, far-right upstart that only a year ago looked like a credible challenger to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right liberal party, is on the verge of collapse. Thierry Baudet, the party’s co-founder and leader, has stepped down.

Baudet — one of the few Donald Trump admirers in Dutch politics — broke with other party leaders to defend Forum’s youth wing, which for the second time this year was revealed to be a hotbed of far-right extremism. Het Parool of Amsterdam reported this weekend that multiple members had shared neo-Nazi content in the movement’s WhatsApp group.

In May, the party ejected three members for sharing similar content.

Baudet has winked at the alt-right with his calls to defend “boreal” (northern) civilization from cosmopolitan liberal elites, who would “dilute” Dutch society by allowing immigration.

He claimed on Monday that the youth wing had been the victim of a “trial by media”. Read more “Dutch Far-Right Forum for Democracy Implodes”

Rutte’s Liberal Party Shifts to Center in Netherlands

Mark Rutte
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte joins a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, January 20, 2016 (European Parliament)

The Netherlands’ ruling liberal party has further moved to the center in its manifesto for the upcoming election, arguing that the coronavirus, climate change, American disengagement and instability in the European periphery call for a stronger state and a stronger EU.

It’s not sudden shift. The traditionally anti-statist and mildly Euroskeptic liberals have become more middle-of-the-road during the ten-year prime ministership of Mark Rutte, who will be seeking a fourth term in March.

They have overtaken their traditional rivals on the right, the Christian Democrats, who are polling at a mere 8-10 percent compared to 25-28 percent for the liberals — faraway in first place, but short of an absolute majority.

The manifesto therefore won’t be implemented in full, but it is telling the party is already signaling a willingness to move to the left in a future coalition.

The draft has yet to be approved by members. There are liberals who complain Rutte has been too willing to compromise with left-wing parties and left a space on the right for Forum for Democracy and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, which are polling at a combined 15-19 percent. But liberal rebellions against the party leadership are rare.

Here are the manifesto’s highlights. Read more “Rutte’s Liberal Party Shifts to Center in Netherlands”

Caribbean, European Netherlands Close In on Bailout Deal

Eugene Rhuggenaath Raymond Knops
Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao and Dutch state secretary Raymond Knops answer questions from reporters in The Hague, June 14, 2019 (ANP/Lex van Lieshout)

Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are closing in on a deal with the European Netherlands for hundreds of millions of euros in support to cope with the impact of COVID-19.

The sticking point in negotiations has been the Netherlands’ insistence that Dutch officials would carry out and monitor economic reforms on which the bailout is conditioned; a demand Caribbean leaders argue is incompatible with their autonomy.

Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath of Curaçao, the largest of the three self-governing islands, told lawmakers this week that a compromise is at hand.

The Dutch supervisors would remain, but any decisions they take that affect spending and taxes would need to be ratified by the island legislatures.

The government of Curaçao would also be consulted on the appointment of one of the three supervisors.

Antilliaans Dagblad reports that a majority of lawmakers on Curaçao could agree to those terms.

But Raymond Knops, the Dutch state secretary for the interior, sounded less optimistic on Tuesday, when he told parliamentarians in The Hague that the three islands are currently unable to “bear” their autonomy. Read more “Caribbean, European Netherlands Close In on Bailout Deal”

Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19

Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands reads out his annual speech from the throne in the Grote Kerk in The Hague, September 15 (Rijksoverheid)

The Netherlands’ ruling center-right coalition unveiled an expansionary budget on Tuesday, when King Willem-Alexander read out his annual speech from the throne to set out the government’s priorities for the next fiscal year.

Whereas the Dutch government, then also led by Mark Rutte, raised taxes and cut public spending during the last economic crisis to keep its budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling, it now argues against austerity and is borrowing the equivalent of 7.2 percent of GDP (down from an earlier estimate of 8.7 percent).

Rutte argues the savings made in previous years allow the government to avoid cuts this time.

The Dutch economy is projected to shrink 5 percent this year as a result of COVID-19 and grow 3.5 percent next year, when unemployment would reach 545,000, or almost 6 percent. Debt as a share of GDP is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent. Read more “Dutch King Announces Borrowing, Investments to Weather COVID-19”

Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism

Hugo de Jonge Mark Rutte
Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge chats with Prime Minister Mark Rutte during the state opening of parliament in The Hague, September 16, 2019 (Ministerie van Financiën/Valerie Kuypers)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has taken a hard line in Brussels on the conditions of coronavirus aid to Southern Europe, but at home his government has abandoned austerity without controversy.

During the last economic crisis, Rutte, who has led the liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy since 2006, raised taxes and cut public spending to keep the Netherlands’ budget deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling.

Now, when the economic contraction caused by COVID-19 is even more severe, he is borrowing €56 billion, or 7.2 percent of GDP. Debt as a share of economic output is projected to rise from 49 to 61 percent.

Statism is back in a country that is (or used to be) considered a champion of liberalization and free trade.

Rutte’s competitors spy an opportunity. Read more “Dutch Parties Take Risk Attacking Liberalism”

Dutch Caribbean Islands on the Brink

Willemstad Curaçao
View of Otrobanda from across the Saint Anna Bay in Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock/Flavio Vallenari)

Time is running out for the autonomous Dutch islands in the Caribbean to do a deal with their former colonizer.

Coronavirus has brought tourism, the mainstay of the island economies, close to a standstill. Tax revenue has dried up while unemployment has soared. Without support from the European Netherlands, the governments of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten will run out of money in weeks.

The Dutch are willing to help, but only if the islands accept temporary Dutch administrators to manage reforms. For most of the Caribbean politicians, this goes too far. Read more “Dutch Caribbean Islands on the Brink”

Dutch Extend COVID Aid for Businesses

The Hague Netherlands
Dutch government offices and parliament buildings in The Hague (iStock/Fotolupa)

The Dutch government has extended support for companies and self-employed workers struggling as a result of COVID-19 until July 2021, although some policies are becoming less generous.

The thinking, reports the national broadcaster NOS, is that firms shouldn’t be subsidized if they aren’t viable long term and workers in sectors with job losses should be coaxed into reskilling.

The measures will cost almost €39 billion this year. The Dutch economy is projected to shrink 6.4 percent. Read more “Dutch Extend COVID Aid for Businesses”

Politicians Break Deadlock on Curaçao

Willemstad Curaçao
Aerial view of Willemstad, Curaçao (iStock/Texpan)

Weeks of political deadlock on Curaçao have been broken with the swearing-in of Shaheen Elhage as lawmaker. He succeeds William Millerson, who died in June.

Millerson’s death had reduced the government to ten out of 21 seats in the island’s legislature. Opposition parties refused to attend Elhage’s inauguration, denying the ruling parties a quorum. They are unhappy with cuts and reforms the government is enacting to qualify for financial support from the Netherlands.

One opposition lawmaker, Marilyn Moses, did attend parliament on Monday.

The other nine, seven of whom want independence from the Netherlands, still didn’t show. Read more “Politicians Break Deadlock on Curaçao”

Contrast in the Dutch Caribbean

Oranjestad Aruba
Facade of the Royal Plaza Mall in Oranjestad, Aruba, February 10, 2015 (Thomas Hawk)

The government of the Aruba, a Dutch island in the Caribbean, has presented a five-point plan to restructure its tourism-dependent economy, which has been decimated by COVID-19.

Meanwhile on neighboring Curaçao, pro-independence parties are boycotting the inauguration of a pro-government lawmaker, bringing politics on the island to a standstill.

The two islands, and Sint Maarten, are autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and have yet to approve Dutch terms for financial support to cope with the effects of coronavirus. Read more “Contrast in the Dutch Caribbean”

What Rutte Wants

Angela Merkel Ursula von der Leyen Emmanuel Macron Mark Rutte
German chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and French president Emmanuel Macron watch Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte walk into a European Council meeting in Brussels, July 18 (European Council)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has become the bête noire of EU integrationists for refusing to sign off on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund that largely consists of debt-financed grants.

Rutte is not alone. The leaders of Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are also withholding support, which is why EU leaders are still holed up in Brussels after four days of talks.

But the Netherlands has the largest economy among this “frugal five” and Rutte doesn’t mind taking the heat.

Why? Read more “What Rutte Wants”