Elections in a country far from Europe

Analysis of the Dutch Elections

, by Miloš Labović

Elections in a country far from Europe

Elections were held last week in the Netherlands. Although the Christian Democrats remained the biggest party, the Socialist made the biggest leap forward; they went from 9 to a blistering 26 seats in the Parliament. However, when it comes to surprises, the biggest surprise was the silence around the theme “Europe”.

While some controversial issues were hotly debated, it seems that “Europe” was so controversial that the parties collectively agreed not to go “there”. This exemplifies the state of Europe in the Netherlands. The Netherlands, a founding member of the European Union, is slowly becoming Europe’s next Kaliningrad - a country within the European Union but not a part of it.

The aftermath of the Constitution

When the Dutch voted against the Constitution in the Netherlands, they did this out of sheer disappointment with their government. Baring in mind that this was also the time when unemployed was reigning, health cost went from 58 Euros a month a person to a staggering 118 euros a month per person. Moreover, the government was promoting the Constitution in the worst possible way. Instead of having a broad public debate on the Constitution, involving civil society and the general public, the government turned to the worst kind of rhetoric: Vote YES or else we might return to WWII! Vote YES or we will see a Balkanization of Europe! Vote YES, only dumb people vote NO! The general public showed the government a lesson in humbleness, and rejected the Constitution with a great majority. It is needless to say that with friends like these, Europe does not need enemies.

From vision to populism

After the NO vote, the people in government in fear for the loss of votes turned to banal populism. The Minister of Finance proudly announced that he would do everything to make sure that the Netherlands would pay less to the EU in the future. And in order to show the general public that the government did take their thoughts into consideration, a poll was done on the internet. Hundred thousand people filled in the poll on the internet. As a consequence the Dutch EU strategy is reduced to national sentiment. What is even worse, the theme Europe disappeared from the political programs. In the party program of two of the ruling government parties (the Liberals and the Christian Democrats) the Constitution is not mentioned at all! Moreover the all parties seem united that Enlargement should be put on some kind of hold. It seems that Enlargement is the most delicate of all European issues, as there is no political party that talks about the positive sides of Enlargement.

From populism back to vision

An internet poll is not what the Netherlands need. What the government needs to do is to start an active debate that involves civil society. That same civil society should be used to inform the general public about the substance of the Constitution. There is absolutely no argument against a well argumented NO Vote. However, the Constitution should not be used to air discontent about the current government, neither should the EU be used as a scapegoat for national problems.

There is a particular danger in EU-bashing-for-votes; a weak EU effects each and every EU citizens, the Dutch included. The Dutch have a representative democracy, the politicians of the Netherlands have an obligation to represent and lead with vision. Unfortunately, the state of the European project is reflected in the loss of seats of D66, a party which is commited to a Federal Europe. They have now 3 seats in parliament, 1 more then the Party for the Rights of Animals.


Dutch Elections Mosaiek, source: Flickr.

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