Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Rutte and Wilders clash on EU ahead of Dutch vote

  • Rutte (r) to Wilders (l): "You want to take the Netherlands out of Europe. Don't do that. I hope you will not be able to form a government." (Photo: Reuters)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, of the centre-right Liberals, and anti-Islam anti-EU MP Geert Wilders clashed on Monday (13 March) over the EU in one of the few election debates featuring the pair of them, two days before polling day.

While Wilders said a Netherlands exit from the European Union would be “the best thing that could happen to us”, Rutte said a "Nexit" would cost 1.5 million jobs and create “chaos”.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Twenty-eight parties are contending for Wednesday's elections. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

PM Rutte repeated his message that there is still a “realistic chance” that Wilders' Party for Freedom will end up as the largest party on Wednesday.

“You want a Nexit, you want to take the Netherlands out of Europe,” Rutte told his opponent. “Don't do that. I hope you will not be able to form a government.”

Wilders said that after a Nexit, the Dutch would become the “master of our own country again”.

He called Rutte's comments “scaremongering” and referred to a 2014 report that his party ordered, which said leaving the EU would lead to “a long-term benefit to the Dutch economy”.

“Your research assumes that the Netherlands will remain part of a complete free trade zone with Europe, which is not going to happen,” replied Rutte. “It assumes that the rest of the EU will remain intact, while if the Netherlands leaves there is a large chance that is not happening.”

The two politicians clashed heavily, for example on Wilders' promise to ban the Quran.

“Closing the borders is a fake solution [to immigration]. And I still haven't heard how you are going to achieve the Quran police,” said Rutte.

“There will not be a Quran police, I've explained that a hundred times,” said Wilders.

“Oh, so it is a fake promise,” responded Rutte. “If anything, there will be a Liberals police, if you go on like this,” Wilders joked.

Wilders called the EU-Turkey deal on migration “life threatening” because it had allowed Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take PM Rutte “hostage”.

This comment was a reference to the Dutch-Turkish diplomatic spat over the weekend, which saw Rutte's government preventing one Turkish minister from entering the country, and escorting another out of the country, when the two sides were unable to agree on the terms of a Turkish rally to campaign for a Yes vote in an upcoming Turkish referendum.

“I warned the Liberals about Turkey,” said Wilders. “They threw me out of the party because I thought Turkey was not part of Europe.”

MP Wilders left Rutte's Liberals in 2004 because he disagreed with the official line that Turkey could some day become a member of the EU.

Monday's debate was the first one during an election campaign to feature Wilders, who has carried out a low-budget campaign, focussing mostly on maintaining a presence online.

Wilders cancelled several appearances, and rarely gives interviews. The party's electoral manifesto is still called a “draft” and fits on a single page.

In an interview published on Monday with the largest daily newspaper, De Telegraaf, Wilders said he did not need to explain the details of his plans, because Dutch voters “know exactly what we want”.

“The voter either loves us or hates us,” said Wilders.

No cooperation

The debate on Monday evening fits with what seems to be the strategy of both Rutte and Wilders: to portray the election as a choice between the two of them.

In fact, 26 other political parties are contending. Although Rutte's Liberals have a clear lead in the polls, with 23-27 of 150 seats, the margins between the six largest parties are so small that statistical errors may also account for the differences.

This means that there are realistically around five or six parties that still have hopes of becoming the largest.

However, they would still need to form a majority coalition to rule.

Rutte repeated he would not cooperate with Wilders' party. “No. Never. No,” he said. But Wilders said he didn't believe him.

Feature

Nexit could pop up in Dutch election campaign

On 15 March, the Netherlands will have parliamentary elections. In the southern province Limburg, some expressed very different views on EU membership.

Dutch anti-Trump protesters turn on Wilders

Some 2,000 people protested in The Hague against the US travel ban for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, but also threw in some anti-Wilders slogans.

Dutch election: EU's most unpredictable vote

Polls suggest that four or five parties will be needed to form a majority after the 15 March vote. The shrunk size of the establishment parties means that smaller parties may play a role of kingmaker.

Dutch group combats Wilders' rhetoric online

Volunteers have gone online for the past two weeks, in an attempt to persuade potential voters for the anti-EU and anti-Islam leader to vote someone else.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us