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19th Aug 2018

Interview

Green ex-MEP: Tell Dutch full sovereignty isn't coming back

  • The GreenLeft party is attracting crowds in their meet-ups in concert halls (Photo: mediateam GroenLinks Utrecht)

Coming Thursday (9 March), some 5,000 Dutch people will attend a political event organised by the GreenLeft party in a concert hall in Amsterdam.

The headliner of the sold-out event: party leader Jesse Klaver.

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  • GreenLeft candidate Kathalijne Buitenweg was an MEP for ten years, until 2009 (Photo: European Parliament)

Tickets were free, but it is still remarkable for a Dutch politician to attract 5,000 people, on a stage that four weeks later will host Sting, and six weeks later, Bob Dylan.

Similar events in other smaller cities attracted several thousands more.

The meet-ups have helped to boost the image of the GreenLeft's young party leader, Jesse Klaver.

In the latest weighted average of polls, GreenLeft is predicted to receive around 11 percent of the votes, making it the fifth-largest of fourteen possible contenders for seats in parliament. According to those polls, GreenLeft could grow from its four seats in the lower house now, to between 16 and 18 seats, of 150.

The Dutch political landscape is so fragmented that four or five parties may be needed to form a majority coalition.

GreenLeft's leader is so busy that the party suggested his running mate for an interview.

“Our current position is very nice, but it is too early to make any predictions,” said Kathalijne Buitenweg in an interview with EUobserver.

Buitenweg, a former MEP, has been away from politics for seven years, but enjoyed being back on the campaign trail.

“I love doing debates,” she said in a 50-minute conversation in the bar of a hotel in Amsterdam, last Wednesday (1 March).

“You see people thinking that perhaps the old politics did not bring us the society that we wanted. It is great to be talking to people about that.”

Buitenweg noted one thing she didn't like about the campaign trail.

“What I hate is when you are told to say within one minute why people should vote for you. Then I really feel like I am selling a jar of peanut butter.”

The Dutch election campaign has so far devoted too little attention to the country's relationship with the European Union, the GreenLeft candidate MP said.

She said she did not think the result in the lower house of parliament elections, 15 March, will provide a clear picture of whether the Netherlands has become more or less eurosceptic, because other themes are dominating the debate.

“I think we are much more inward-looking than other countries,” said Buitenweg.

The left-wing politician criticised politicians that want to be able to make national policy completely independently.

“I think that there is not enough emphasis on the fact that we are partly already a political union,” she said.

“You have not been sovereign for a long time,” she said to the many Dutch politicians who advocate for less Europe.

“You have no complete monetary sovereignty, you have no complete economic sovereignty, but that is not just because of the European Union. That wasn't the case before either,” said Buitenweg, bringing to mind that the Dutch currency before the euro, the guilder, was pegged to the German mark.

“Let's just admit that honestly. And say that it's okay,” she said.

Brexit

Buitenweg was a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009, where she was a part of the Greens group.

Her party is one of two Dutch parties that are proudly pro-EU, but with the proviso that the EU should be more focussed on social and environmental cooperation.

Europe should be “not just a market, but also a gathering in which you protect people”, said Buitenweg.

The former MEP said the Brexit vote highlighted fault lines, between young and old, between English and Scottish, between winners and losers of globalisation.

“The lesson [of Brexit] should be that we have to mend those fault lines.”

“It can fail, the European project,” she said.

Polarisation

The fault lines are also present in the Netherlands, Buitenweg said.

She referred not only to the tone of Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom is anti-EU and anti-Islam, but also to prime minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party, and the centre-right Christian-Democrats, who increasingly "go along" with Wilders' rhetoric.

“Many voters are really worried about polarisation,” she said. “Many people are a bit sick of the tough 'us against them'.”

Buitenweg said she noticed this feeling among part of the population during election rallies her party is holding.

These meet-ups do not only attract members of the party, but also moderate people who feel they need to show themselves, she said.

“I notice that a lot of people are getting very nervous about Trump,” she said. “People are saying: I just feel that things are not automatically going well, with Trump, Ukraine, and Brexit.”

Buitenweg said she was “frightened” by the move of the White House to ban certain media groups from a press briefing, noting that she had not expected it to reach this point “that quickly”.

Five scenarios

Buitenweg spoke to EUobserver just hours after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker presented five different scenarios for the future of the European Union.

The following morning, she wrote in a text message that if she had to choose, she would opt for the "doing much more together" scenario, as long as this included more of a focus on social and environmental norms.

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