Will the Netherlands’ pro-European course come to an end?

Quite difficult to translate: social security. Even Pieter Omtzigt, who has the issue at the top of his political agenda as party leader of the New Social Contract (NSC), recently faltered when a German journalist asked him for a translation (answer: ‘Existenzsicherung’).

Omtzigt is in international attention, now that his party appears to be gaining ground in the polls. Including the Financial Times and The Guardian have already paid extensive attention to the ex-CDA MP who, according to the FT“could become the new Dutch Prime Minister”.

The fact that the Dutch elections are followed internationally is not new. The Netherlands matters within the EU, especially since the departure of the United Kingdom. Moreover, the elections now also herald the departure of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, one of the longest-serving and most influential European government leaders. His successor will not immediately take over that influence, but will still have an important place at the European meeting table.

In addition, the elections for the EU come at an important time. Because Ukraine is still involved in a devastating war with aggressor Russia and because the conflict in the Middle East is causing tensions throughout Europe. But also because a new European Commission will take office next year with a new program and the EU will face major questions in the coming months and years. For example, about the accession of new member states, possible reforms of the EU and how European security and competitiveness should be strengthened.

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Difficult to explain

There was not much attention to this in the current campaign. That is not surprising: domestic themes traditionally dominate the national election debate, not only in the Netherlands but everywhere in Europe. But that does not mean that parties have no ideas about Europe. There is certainly a choice in EU policy, and for Europe it matters which coalition will govern after these elections.

It is not easy for international analysts to interpret volatile Dutch politics. For example, there is still a lot of attention for the rise of the BoerBurgerBeweging, which has already dropped considerably in the polls. Diplomats in Brussels are still surprised by the large number of Dutch parties, which makes it difficult to put a clear stamp on political shifts.

In addition, any changes in course in a coalition country like the Netherlands are always modest, thinks political scientist Thierry Chopin, who is affiliated with the French think tank Institut Jacques Delors. It explains why, according to him, the Dutch elections in France “do not receive the attention they should receive.” Unlike recent elections in Poland and Spain, a radical break with existing political relations is unlikely. “It is assumed that there is mainly continuity in European policy.”

In recent years, the Rutte IV cabinet has taken a decidedly pro-European course, with the Netherlands emerging as a constructive and pragmatic player in Brussels. Will that indeed remain the case? Traditional parties such as VVD, CDA, PvdA-GroenLinks and D66 broadly argue for a strong Europe, in which, for example, certain vetoes are also abolished. There is also little discussion about military and financial support to Ukraine – of the major parties, only the PVV is against. Almost all parties also have a remarkably constructive attitude towards the possible accession to the EU of Ukraine, among others, provided that the candidates meet all the requirements. NSC does want that any decision on Ukraine’s EU accession can be the subject of a corrective referendum – which, given the previous Dutch experiences with this, will be followed with suspicion in the rest of the EU.

Critical about EU

At the same time, it is striking that various parties that are high in the polls clearly view European cooperation more critically. Not just the PVV, which still calls for a referendum on a ‘Nexit’ or otherwise for the withdrawal of powers and “our billions” from Brussels. The BBB also wants to take a critical look at European powers and “back to the basis of European cooperation”. New Social Contract warns in its program against “creeping transfers of tasks, powers and budgets that erode national sovereignty.” The party also advocates a so-called ‘opt-out’ – not participating in certain rules if the Netherlands does not agree with new proposals.

Made opposite RTL Nieuws On Sunday he made a comparison with Poland and Hungary, when he stated that the Netherlands must take a tougher position in the EU. Although he emphatically rejects the political course of those countries, according to him, “they partly got their way, because they clearly formulated what they want. And sometimes the Netherlands just has to do that.” The politician is also extremely critical of more flexible European budget rules and the expansion of European spending – two discussions that are being held in full swing in Brussels.

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From a European perspective, the question is also interesting whether the Netherlands is moving to the right. Last year, coalitions that had a distinctly right-wing signature took office in Sweden, Finland and Italy, among others. If the Netherlands joins this, it could influence the European discussion about, for example, migration and climate policy. The BBB also advocates reopening negotiations on European nature legislation.

With the cooperation of Floor Bouma