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22nd Jul 2017

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”.

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  • 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.

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