14th Nov 2018

Dutch PM refuses to denounce anti-immigrant website

  • Rutte: the Dutch government and the European Commission are both trying to keep a lid on the website discussions (Photo: Jos van Zetten)

Pressure is mounting on Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to publicly distance himself from a website, calling on citizens to file complaints about people from central and eastern Europe residing in the Netherlands.

Ambassadors from the ten central and eastern EU member states published a letter on Tuesday (14 February) strongly criticising the website, launched last week by the minority government's key ally in parliament, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV).

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"We invite Dutch society and its political leaders to distance themselves from this condemnable initiative," the letter said, qualifying the website as "undeniably discriminatory and degrading."

Rutte's fellow liberals in the European Parliament have also denounced the initiative and called on the prime minister to pronounce himself on the matter, something he has until now refused to do.

"Now that [the issue] has become public and ambassadors are sending a letter, I think that you cannot remain silent," Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberals, told Dutch radio on Tuesday.

The Belgian MEP said he "could only agree with Hans van Baalen," delegation leader of Rutte's VVD party in the European Parliament, who on Monday called the website "vulgar" and "nauseating".

Sophie in 't Veld, delegation leader of the liberal D66 party, called it a "repulsive initiative." European Parliament president Martin Schultz raised the issue before opening this week's plenary session in Strasbourg and promised to ask for clarifications from the Dutch prime minister.

For its part, the European Commission has remained reluctant to go beyond a statement on Friday by EU justice commissioner Vivian Reding saying the website "runs totally counter to (European) principles."

On Tuesday it said that it is not up to the commission but to national governments to enforce the EU's anti-discrimination laws.

Individually, however, other commissioners have also voiced concerns.

"European Commission concerned about new website by PVV in the Netherlands directed against EU citizens," Cecilia Malmstroem, responsible for home affairs, tweeted on Sunday.

"A ridiculous idea," wrote Dutch digital affairs commissioner Neelie Kroes and a long-time member of Rutte's VVD party. "What next? Is your wife annoying you? Forget Valentine’s Day – log on and denounce her! Have you always disliked blonde hair? Denounce blondes!"

Nothing to do with us

Rutte's minority government survives by the grace of a political deal made with the PVV, which agreed to give parliamentary support on much of the government's policy in turn for a hard stance on immigration.

The deal does not cover European affairs, however, for which the government needs support from opposition parties.

This is widely seen as behind Rutte's refusal to denounce or even comment on the anti-immigrant website.

"I have made this very clear time and time again," he told parliament in The Hague on Tuesday. "This is not a government initiative. It is an initiative of a political party and I refuse to comment on the behaviour of individual political parties."

Opposition parties accused him of being weak and of looking away while he should be keeping the peace in the country. Rutte was previously more active when the PVV made controversial comments about the Muslim veil and about Turkey's prime minister Recep Rayyip Erdogan.

But this time, Rutte countered that the website issue had grown out of proportion and people were exaggerating.

"Let's not make it bigger than it is," he said to jeers from the chamber. "I think it is unwise to jump all together on every piece of red meat that is thrown in the arena. That is what you are all doing right now."

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