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Dutch Elections Favor Pro-Europe Parties

Jacob Marshall

Results for the Dutch parliamentary election on Wednesday are in, and they’re a major victory for European integration. Voters gave incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) another victory with 41 seats, and the center-left Labour Party a close second. Both parties are pro-European, pledging to work closely with Germany and other eurozone nations for a solution to the current debt crisis.

But the biggest upset has cetainly gone to the far-right Freedom Party, lead by the outspoken and controvesial Geert Wilders. Known for his extreme anti-Islam and anti-immigration views (so extreme, in fact, that in 2010 he was put on trial for inciting racial hatred, though he was acquitted), Wilders campaigned on an anti-EU and anti-austerity platform. Despite concerns that anti-austerity sentiment would lead to a boost for the Freedom Party, it ended up losing nine of its 24 seats in Wednesday’s election.

The Freedom Party wasn’t the only anti-austerity party which did worse than expected; as reported in Uprising, in August polls were showing a large amount of support for the Socialist Party, also campaigning on an anti-austerity platform. But in the end the Socialists saw no change in their number of seats, remaining at 15 (tieing them for third with the Freedom Party). Although the Labour party favors increased spending to encourage growth instead of austerity, the VVD is closely aligned with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s austerity program, indicating voters’ faith in the Euro. This stands in contrast with elections in France, Italy and Greece, where dissillusionment with austerity programs has lead to the removal of incumbent governments.

As one of the strongest economies in the eurozone and a founding member of the EU, the Netherlands will play a crucial role in any attempt to resolve the continent’s debt crisis. The VVD and Labour are expected to forge a coalition anchored in their pro-European platforms, but their differing views on austerity may make for a tense partnership, a fact which some analysists believe reflects the historically pro-EU Dutch people’s growing ambivalance towards Europe’s ruling elites.

Coalition negotiations, which cannot begin until September 20, generally last several weeks or even longer, so the new Dutch government’s exact relationship to EU leadership will not emerge for some time. Regardless of how the VVD and Labour reconcile their differences, it is clear that the Dutch have chosen to remain on a middle-of-the-road, pro-European course, eschewing radical ideologies on both the far-right and left. At a time when frustration with EU leadership is on the rise, the election results exhibit a remarkable amount of trust on the part of the Dutch people – though how long they will be able to keep that trust in the face of the crisis, and the EU’s austerity-heavy response, remains to be seen.

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