Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Dutch euroscepticism moves mainstream

  • Billboards outside the European Parliament - Dutch voters can choose from an array of parties critical of the EU (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

In the Netherlands, voters who are critical of the speed or intensity of European integration have plenty of alternatives to the populist right. The country has eurosceptic progressive and conservative parties too.

Take, for example, the left-wing Socialist Party (SP). When voters granted the party two seats in the national parliament for the first time in 1994, the party's programme already opposed "a devaluation of our country towards a powerless province in a undemocratic European superstate".

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

Now, with 15 of the 150 seats in the national parliament, and one member in the European Parliament, the socialists are still critical of European integration. "We are saying no to this EU," says Harry van Bommel, member of the Dutch parliament for the SP. "We are not warning of something in the future, this Europe already has too many features of a superstate."

Since Van Bommel became an MP in 1998, public debate on European integration has "changed dramatically", he says. The watershed moment was on 1 June 2005, when the Dutch electorate rejected the European Constitution in a referendum. While the government and more than 80 percent of members of parliament had spoken out in favour of the new treaty, 61.6 percent of voters said "Nee".

Mainstream parties realised they were running faster towards an 'ever closer union' than their constituencies wanted.

"The parties that have always been responsible for furthering integration have also become eurocritical," says Marianne Thieme, member of parliament for the green Party for the Animals since 2006. (It has two seats in national parliament, none in the European Parliament). "All of a sudden, every party is eurocritical."

At the same time, Thieme says that mainstream parties still "stigmatise" eurosceptic parties. "If you are eurocritical in the manner that our party is, then you are 'hiding behind the dykes', you 'don't love Europe', you're 'a nationalist'. That conditioned response is still there."

A third party traditionally critical of European integration is the orthodox Calvinist party SGP (three seats in the national parliament, one in the European). Established in 1918, this conservative party is the oldest party in the Dutch parliament. In the European Parliament it often cooperates with another christian party, the ChristenUnie.

The party's thinktank published a book in April entitled Europa op een kruispunt [Europe at a crossroads]. The author noted in the introduction that most parties are now "making statements that are suspiciously similar to positions that SGP and ChristenUnie have held for years".

Van Bommel has had a comparable experience. Looking back to his pre-2005 days, he says: "Back then we were the party that had a deviant opinion on Europe. We were on the margins." Now, although their views on Europe haven't fundamentally changed, the socialists' criticism has become more politically mainstream. "We are no longer being shelved as anti-European."

Now, the 'deviant opinion' is held by the populist Freedom Party (PVV) which advocates a Dutch exit from the European Union.

While Van Bommel is not a proponent of a radical exit, he does advocate a "more modest Europe", which only provides "European solutions to problems we can't solve nationally".

The 'subsidiarity' test

However, it would be difficult to find a Dutch politician who does not agree with that opinion. Most politicians frequently make use of the word subsidiarity, the principle that the EU should only act when it can do so more effectively than lower levels of government.

But each politician uses the term to bolster their own argument. After all who decides which level of government is most effective? There is no objective test for subsidiarity. "You're right, you can't measure that," acknowledges Van Bommel. "Ideology will always come into play there."

So the Socialist Party, which is critical of the free market having a large role, will also be critical of neoliberal policies at a European level. And the Party for Animals, which believes "large-scale factory farming industry is disastrous for people, animals and the environment", wants to reform the EU's agricultural policy.

The current practice, according to Jan Schippers of the SGP thinktank, is that the subsidiarity 'test' is being decided in Brussels. "The European Commission and the European Parliament always find a reason to justify new European policy," Schippers writes.

Additionally, the European Parliament is unable to effectively audit the European Commission, says Schippers. "The European Parliament is not quite the watchdog that defends the interests of the residents of the member states. On the contrary, the EP is in favour of raising the EU budget, even in a time of crisis," he writes.

While both national parliaments and the European Parliament have received more powers since the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, Thieme points out that this does not solve the democratic deficit. "You can see a trend in Europe towards less democracy," she says.

Thieme is worried about "the lack of a democratic foundation" for a proposed free trade agreement with the US. "Europe is heading towards elitist backdoor politics in the form of free trade agreements whose contents are decided by big multinationals."

The European Parliament promotes its elections with the phrase "this time is different". Van Bommel agrees, but for different reasons. He used to think that the steps towards a closer union were irreversible.

"I changed my mind when I heard Nout Wellink, the previous president of De Nederlandsche Bank [central bank] say it's not certain that the euro is a success," says Van Bommel.

Thieme agrees that keeping the eurozone together should not be a goal in itself. "There are more scenarios than to continue towards a banking union and a political union," she says, referring to those who argue for keeping the euro for the sake of the euro as "narrow-minded and fanatical".

The 'alternative' eurocritical parties are doing well in most opinion polls, and so is the PVV. Van Bommel points out that the larger challenge is to convince people to show up at the ballot box at all – at the previous European elections voter turnout was 36.7 percent.

Van Bommel: "Our biggest adversary on the street will not be the PVV voter. It will be the apathy of the non-voter."

Wilders' party suffers blow, according to exit poll

Geert Wilders Freedom Party lost almost five percent of its votes compared to 2009 while the pro-EU D66 emerged at the top, according to exit polls for the EU vote in the Netherlands.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: I will fight to the 'last hour' for orderly Brexit
  2. EU affairs ministers demand Brexit clarity from London
  3. Nordic MEP candidates in first ever joint EU election debate
  4. UK announces EEA trade deal ahead of EU summit
  5. Four European cities among world's most expensive
  6. Violent 'yellow vest' protesters ban in Paris
  7. Russia celebrates fifth anniversary of Crimea annexation
  8. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out

Magazine

The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019

The four most powerful EU institutions - Commission, Parliament, Council and Central Bank will all have new leaders in the coming ten months. Here is an overview.

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Latest News

  1. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'
  2. Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides
  3. My plan for defending rule of law in EU
  4. Anti-corruption lawyer wins first round of Slovak elections
  5. The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019
  6. It is high time to exclude Fidesz from the EPP
  7. Brexit delay and Orban decision This WEEK
  8. EU must get real on Russia

Stakeholders' Highlights

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

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  7. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  8. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  10. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  11. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us