On September 12 The Netherlands is voting and several opinion polls have pointed to a strong possibility of a government with left inclinations. On Sunday, Guardian correspondent in The Netherlands Julian Coman wrote “Dutch embrace radical left as European dream sours”. However, the realities of the current election do not exactly point towards a massive turn to the left but rather, towards a fragmented voter base with a preference for varying degrees of leftist agendas.
After the two latest televised debates opinion polls released this weekend say the Labor Party is on target to win 26 out of 150 seats in parliament. The improvement in their figures has been attributed to the growing charisma of Party leader Diederik Samsom, who has been widely acknowledged as the winner of the two debates so far. However, unlike the Guardian’s enticing prediction of a shift to the radical left represented by the Socialists, so far, the only party ahead in the polls is the right wing libertarian VVD.
These elections, however, do not yet have any clear winners. The electorate is disillusioned and skeptical about all major parties. Even the populist leader of the Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, seems to be falling out of grace with a large portion of his supporters. Wilders campaign rally in Rotterdam was not widely attended and, as BBC correspondent Anna Holligan noted, there were many empty chairs. Wilders has acknowledged that his campaign can no longer center around anti immigrant sentiments and Islamophobia as the public has lost interest in these issues, worried about the growing crisis in the Eurozone. To make matters more difficult for his usual xenophobic pandering, a notorious racist murder a mere eight weeks ago seems to have raised the alarm of the dangers of Wilders divisive rhetoric within the Dutch population. Wilders seems to be acutely aware of this shift and attempted to adjust his campaign accordingly stating:
“I believe Europe is the only subject that matters in these elections. We don’t want to be a slave of Brussels – we want to be an independent country and this is the choice we are offering the electorate.”
However, this shift in his rhetoric has not, so far, helped Wilders regain any of the lost popularity. The Socialist Party, currently vying for one of the top spots has been clear from the beginning of the campaign about their intention to give preference to the interests of The Netherlands over those of Europe.
This skepticism over Europe seems to be a constant across the board, though. Only half of Dutch business leaders believe in continuing with the euro in its present form. Of the 500 company bosses polled, almost 30% chose for the “neuro” option – they would like to continue with the euro but restrict the eurozone to northern countries only. The remaining 20% would like to leave the eurozone altogether, with or without Germany. Among the general population, this skepticism is no less acute, with a recent survey revealing that only 58% of Dutch people are still in favour of EU membership, compared with 76% in 2010 when the previous government took office.
This lack of clear leaders in any of the parties invariably leads to the very concrete possibility of a coalition government. Currently, two possible coalitions are contemplated by Dutch media: one led by the Labor Party together with the Socialists and a second one, led by right wing libertarian VVD together with Labor and center liberal Democrats D66. This second option is, at the time of this writing, leading the polls and seems to be favored by business leaders who seek stability and have expressed concerns for the international standing of The Netherlands were the Socialists come to power.
However, no matter the winning Parties, at the moment, The Netherlands seems to have more in common with Greek voters than with its Northern neighbors. There is a growing discontent and fear over the future with an increasing number of people worried about austerity measures imposed by Brussels across the Union. Budget cuts in healthcare, education, arts and culture subsidies and social programs, once the unit of measure of the country’s high quality of life are seen as caving in to external pressure rather than as a necessity for the country’s financial well being. Socialist leader Emile Roemer has stated that he will not follow the strict deficit regulations imposed by Brussels and, instead, he will seek to restore the programs that were axed during last year’s round of budget cuts. However, unlike France’s recently elected Socialist President Francois Hollande, the Dutch Socialist Party is more rooted in Maoist ideas than in the European Social Democrat tradition. While Hollande shares some of the Dutch candidate’s proposals, mainly those aimed at restoring the quality of life of the working class, Roemer is much more likely to openly defy Brussels and refuse to continue the austerity plans for the next fiscal year. Last week, when asked if the Netherlands would pay the European Commission fine for failing to hit its 3% budget deficit target, Mr Roemer responded “Over my dead body!”.
Dutch voters, faced with higher costs, stagnant salaries and alarming unemployment might get behind Roemer, if not to elect him as a clear leader, at least to place him in a position of power that would allow him to somewhat deaden the impact of the current Euro crisis. Much like the rest of Europe, The Netherlands seems to be struggling with feelings of impotence over the loss of national autonomy. After two consecutive governments that strongly leaned to the right, the country is not necessarily shifting to the “radical left” as some gloomy predictions might suggest. Instead, there seems to be a desire to restore some balance by electing an administration that is less focused on giving prevalence to corporate interests and the Eurozone and more attuned to the needs of working class Dutch. Chances are voters might express this desire for change by choosing a coalition government with leftist sensibilities.
Front page photo: a poster of the Labour Party of the Netherlands featuring Diederik Samsom produced for the general election on 12 September 2012. The caption reads: “Netherlands stronger and more social”. Photo by Partij van de Arbeid,licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.