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22nd Jan 2022

Netherlands embraces far right in EU elections

The Dutch far-right Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders made the greatest leap forward in the country's EU elections on Thursday (4 June), with 16.9 percent in exit polls. But the ruling conservatives came top overall.

The result is a major victory for the openly anti-Islamic party, giving it four seats in the European legislature and a possibility that this could rise to five once the final count is completed.

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  • Neo-nazi youth look on as Geert Wilders campaigns in Leeuwarden, Netherlands (Photo: Jacco De Boer)

The Freedom Party came second only to the ruling Christian Democrats (CDA) of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, which exit polls suggest will win 20 percent of the vote or five of the 25 seats up for grabs.

This is a fall of four percent from the last European elections in 2004, resulting in the loss of two MEPs for the party.

As the xenophobic party's celebrations got under way, Mr Wilders said his success was a vote against the current administration and an overly costly EU.

"People have had enough of Europe as it is now - a big Europe with Turkey possibly joining - that we spend billions on each year," he said according to newswires.

"I think some people have also had enough of the Balkenende and Bos Cabinet," he added, referring to the prime minister and his Labour Party finance minister.

The results tally with pre-election predictions of greater support for far right and fringe parties as a result of the economic crisis and fears over immigration in the country.

The Labour Party - the junior coalition partner in the government - appeared the main loser in Thursday's vote, taking only 12.2 percent of the vote resulting in a drop from seven to three seats in the European parliament.

The third party in the government coalition, the small Christen Unie, a religious party that on some economic issues hews somewhat to the left, was at 6.9 percent of the vote, up from 5.9 percent in 2004, and projected to take two seats.

The other big winner is the left-liberal D66, which looks poised to take three seats with 11.3 percent of the vote, up from just one at the last European election. It is a major turn-around for the party, which in recent years was feared to be in danger of disappearing.

"There has been a clear No vote and a clear Yes vote," party leader Alexander Pechtold said, pointing out that the anti-Europe parties had won just eight of the 25 Dutch seats.

"Europe is the big winner tonight," he said.

The country's green party, Groenlinks, or 'Green Left' looks set to take 8.9 percent of the vote or three seats, an increase of one on 2004.

The far-left SP remained largely steady with 7.1 percent of the vote.

Exit polls showed voter turnout of 36.5 percent, down from 39.1 percent in the last European elections in 2004.

Muslim concerns

The rise of Mr Wilders - who has described the Koran as fascist and who currently receives 24-hour protection following death threats – clearly came at the expense of governing coalition partners.

Fears amongst Protestant and Catholic voters over the country's roughly 800,000 Muslim inhabitants helped drive the strong support for the Freedom Party, which was contesting its first European elections.

Mr Wilders, who directed a short film that criticizes the Koran as a "fascist book", urged voters to reject EU involvement in immigration policy and said Turkey should not join the 27-nation union.

"Turkey as [an] Islamic country should never be in the EU, not in 10 years, not in a million years," Wilders said after voting.

Ireland and Czech Republic go to the polls

Both Ireland and the Czech Republic go to the polls on Friday, with the Irish turnout likely to be the highest in the EU.

A recent EU-wide survey suggests that around two-thirds of the country's eligible voters will turn out, compared to an expected EU average of 43 percent.

The ruling Fianna Fail party is expected to do poorly in both the local and European elections taking place, as well as two bi-elections for the national parliament on the same day.

The opposition Fine Gael party predicts FF will be toppled from its position as the largest party for the first time since 1932.

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