Netherlands

Erasmus University Rotterdam

Chris Koppe

 

Limited role for EU-wide front runner and varied opinions on the future of Europe

In the Netherlands, the European elections were held on Thursday, 22nd of May 2014. Compared to the previous elections in 2009, where ten political parties were involved, the number of political parties providing a list with potential candidates almost doubled to nineteen, nine of which had not previously been represented in the European Parliament. This increase seems to coincide with a general trend in Dutch politics, the proliferation of single-issue parties such as the Party for the Animals and 50Plus (de Ouderen partij).

Key Topic Nr. 1: The Future Process of European Integration

During the electoral campaign several topics were debated. However, one issue in particular stood out, that of the future role of the European Union. The electoral debate centred round this subject and all nineteen election programmes held different views on how the EU should move forward. Vehemently advocating that the Netherlands should leave the EU were Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) and Artikel50. These parties believe that it is not in the interest of the Netherlands to remain in the European Union. Opposed to this idea of exiting the EU, the Democrats 66 (D66), who are traditionally known for their pro-Europe stance, advocated a pro-Europe view with further and deeper European integration. Between these two polar opposite positions, other election programmes expressed more nuanced views on the progress of European integration. For example, the Socialist Party (SP) campaigned with the slogan ‘Federal State NO, Collaboration YES’, while GreenLeft advocated that the EU should be more sustainable, invest in green technology and that the EU should focus on more solidarity. The Christian Democrats (CDA) maintained that the EU should be strong when needed and that the EU’s economy should be fair, which could only be achieved by putting the individual at the heart of the economy. The Liberals (VVD) campaigned with the slogan ‘Europe where needed’. The Liberals hold the belief that the future of the European economy should be given top priority.

Other Key Topics

Other key topics discussed were the economy (the need for budget control and the need to create jobs), the need for more democracy and transparency in the EU, upcoming threats and challenges such as our energy supply, the protection of fundamental rights and the treatment of refugees and immigrants in the EU. In addition, specific subjects were raised by single-interest parties. For example, the three predominant issues of the political party 50PLUS were (1) to hold an Advisory Referendum in which citizens are consulted about the direction the EU should take (2) for there to be no EU interference with regard to pensions (3) rather than talking about older people, it is necessary that the European Union should talk with older people.

 

EU-wide frontrunners and the role they played

A new characteristic of these European elections was the introduction of the EU-wide frontrunners, or Spitzenkandidaten. The idea behind this was to raise awareness about the elections and to personalise European politics. Moreover, through the creation of the Spitzenkandidaten, a direct link is established between the European elections and the (forthcoming) position of President of the European Commission. Secondly, the creation of the Spitzenkandidaten aims to clarify the relationship between national politics and European politics for the EU citizens. However, the EU-wide frontrunners played little or no role at all during the electoral campaign in the Netherlands. There was one general debate on the 28 April 2014 at the University of Maastricht, broadcast by Euro-News, in which four frontrunners appeared. Moreover, on a national level, only national candidates were given exposure on the political parties’ websites and pamphlets. In addition, it was only the national candidates who were invited to the country’s debate organised by the Dutch broadcaster NOS on the eve of the elections. Given the lack of attention that the EU-wide frontrunners received in the Dutch media, one might even question whether Dutch citizens understood that they would not only vote for their candidate for the European Parliament, but also for the new President of the European Commission.

Links:

·         The election programmes can be consulted on the websites of the different political parties, available at: www.cda.nl ; www.pvda.nl; www.vvd.nl; www.d66.nl; www.groenlinks.nl; www.sp.nl; www.pvv.nl;  www.christenunie.nl ; www.sgp.nl; www.partijvoordedieren.nl; http://www.artikel50.nl/ ; (last accessed 5 August 2014).

·         Europolitics.info, ‘European elections: First practice run on Euronews’, by Sophie Mosca, 29 April 2014, online available via: http://europolitics.info/eu-governance/european-elections-first-practice... Last Accessed: 5 August 2014.

 

Euroscepticism fosters a push for EU reform

Being one of the founding countries of the European Union, the Netherlands has long been a strong, if somewhat critical, supporter of the European Union. However, in the last few years the Dutch view on the European Union has altered as a result of the economic crisis, unwanted EU regulation, the fear of losing sovereignty to a European super-state and the negative side effects of the free movement of persons on the Dutch labour market. Consequently, the Netherlands has become more eurosceptic in the last few years. With regard to the European elections, euroscepticism did play a role during the electoral campaign and manifested itself in various ways.

A clear example of euroscepticism was the involvement of Geert Wilder’s Party for Freedom (PVV) and the political party named Article 50. Both parties strongly advocated that the Netherlands should leave the European Union. Geert Wilders pushed the eurosceptic agenda even further by seeking a European alliance with other eurosceptic parties, eventually to form a eurosceptic block in the European Parliament. Besides these two political parties, one could argue in general that the debate on the future of the European Union itself is a clear example of euroscepticism. Currently, there is only one political party that is clearly pro-Europe, namely Democrats 66 (D66), while the other parties seek some sort of reform of the European Union. Finally, the fact that media coverage during the campaign focused primarily on europscepticism highlights its relevance.

Links:

·         EurActiv.com, ‘Eurosceptic tug-of-war expected in next EU Parliament’, 6 December 2013. Online available via: http://www.euractiv.com/eu-elections-2014/eurosceptics-compete-efd-group... Accessed on: 29 July 2014.

 

Low voter turnout suggests ambivalence towards EU

The total turnout of the European election in the Netherlands was 37%, comparatively less than the EU average of 43.09%, a variation of 6%. On the other hand, when comparing the turnout of 2014 to the turnout of 36.8% in 2009, one must acknowledge that this aspect remains unchanged. This could be considered surprising, since there was a deep concern that the ballot was going to be a fiasco. 

Explaining the turnout

Nevertheless, a percentage of 37 means that 63% of the Dutch population stayed at home. According to two Dutch surveys that have been carried out, this can be contributed to the notion that Dutch citizens do not have an interest in the EU whatsoever. 25% of the people asked even expressed a strong resentment against the European Union. So why did 37% of the Dutch population cast their vote on Thursday 22 May 2014? Two explanations can be found. First of all, a fair number of Dutch citizens still believe that the Netherlands is better off by staying in the European Union rather than withdrawing from the European Union. Secondly, some political parties, such as the Christian Democrats, have a loyal constituency who backed up their party’s candidates, therefore allowing them to profit most from the low turnout.

Outcome

Twenty-six seats in the European Parliament were to be divided in the Netherlands. The division of these twenty-six seats is as follows:

Christian Democrats (CDA): 5

Democrats 66 (D66):         4

Party for Freedom (PVV): 4

Labour Party (PvdA): 3

People's Party for Freedom and democracy (VVD): 3

The Socialist Party (SP): 2

GreenLeft (GroenLinks): 2

Coalition ChristianUnion (CU)/ Reformed Political Party (SGP): 2

Party for the Animals (PvdD): 1

 Explanation

The outcome of the electoral campaign is interesting for three main reasons. First, the Christian Democrats obtained five seats despite the fact that they have lost a number of voters at the national and municipal levels. Secondly, when compared to the elections in 2009, the loss of one seat for Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom is particularly interesting when a political landslide was predicted in the European Union in an attempt to create a European alliance of euroscepticism in the European Parliament. Finally, the number of voters that choose Democrats 66, a pro-Europe party, is significant since the expectations were that the Dutch voters were going to vote in great number for eurosceptic parties, as was the case in France. Based on the final outcome of the European elections, one can assume that the Netherlands is perhaps not as eurosceptic as the eurosceptic parties wish us to believe.

Links:

·         Results-elections2014.eu, ‘Turnout’, online available via: http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/turnout.html Last access: 5 August 2014.

·         Results-elections2014.eu, ‘Results’, online available via: http://www.results-elections2014.eu/en/country-results-nl-2014.html#table02 Last accessed 5 August 2014.