Dutch Parliamentary Elections
Win or lose, Geert Wilders will have set the direction of Dutch politics
by Luca Merotta
How mainstream parties have shaped their programmes on migration out of fear of losing voters to euroscepticism.
With next Wednesday’s Dutch Parliamentary elections drawing closer, the political debate is heating up in the country. Among other key issues, immigration and the EU are central topics around which all parties have expressed their standpoint.
The party under the spotlight is with no doubt the right-wing populist and Eurosceptic Party of Freedom (PVV) lead by Geert Wilders. The PVV has topped the polls for most of 2016, and despite losing ground only one week ahead of the election day, it has inarguably succeeded in shaping the national political debate.
With unexpected concision the party issued a one-page electoral programme that some now refer to as “the A4 programme” and features strong stances against the Islamisation of the country and EU membership. The objectives on migration and integration include the closing of national boarders and the halting of asylum procedures and of migrants from Muslim countries, the preventive detention of radical Muslims, the denaturalisation of criminals with dual nationality, the closing of mosques and Islamic schools, and a ban on the Koran. As for the EU, Wilders’ stance is clear: the Netherlands shall be free again and shall therefore leave the EU.
While many feel comforted by Wilders’ low chance of forming a coalition government in case he gets the highest number of seats, the PVV has inarguably had an impact on the way mainstream parties have framed their programmes on this election. The two parties that form the outgoing coalition government, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD, EPP) and the Labour Party (PvdA, S&D) have different takes on a number of policy issues that stem from their different ideological background. However, they share a certain criticism on migration and the EU as a result of the migration crisis, terrorism and, of course, Wilders’ electoral advantage.
Both parties have strongly oriented their approach to migration to internal issues such as social cohesion and sought to project the migration issue outside their remit. The VVD champions the outsourcing of EU migration policy to third countries and development aid under the motto “every refugee has the right to a safe haven, but that does not need to be within Europe”. In this perspective, what the VVD is proposing is in line with what the European Commission has been doing with the EU-Turkey deal, the on-going discussions with Libya and the cooperation agreement with the African countries. For those who are exceptionally allowed into the country, the programme mentions more efficient application procedures, tougher anti-discrimination measures, the respect of the best interest of the child in case of family reunification and unaccompanied minors, and a fair burden-sharing of relocation and integration among local authorities. The PvdA acknowledges the sense of abandon many citizens feel vis-à-vis Europe, migration and globalisation which might lead them to “quit” conventional politics (a point that was echoed by Commission First-Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who served in the Rutte Cabinet as PvdA minister until 2014). On the other hand, it puts forward a comprehensive programme on social justice and equity to never “let each other go” and prevent populism. The party also advocates for tougher anti-discrimination rules and a more functional relocation of asylum seekers that is tailored to the size and the conditions of local communities.
The tough criticism by both parties on migration and integration was also present in the media. A few months before the election, Dutch PM Mark Rutte (VVD) was criticised for an advert that urged those who did not embrace the country’s values to leave – an attempt, some argued, to sympathise with the potential unhappy PVV electorate. Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher (PvdA) even put into question free movement of persons within the EU, saying it had led to cheap, imported labour undercutting workers’ wages and that needed to be reformed accordingly. Brexit, in his view, is a golden opportunity to do so.
Since the Dutch political scene is historically fragmented, the opinion of other mid-size parties matters, as they could end up forming a coalition to secure a majority in Parliament. The Christian Union (CDA, EPP) and the Democrats 66 (D66, ALDE) were indicated preferred partners by the VVD. On migration, the CDA echoes Mark Rutte’s strategy on creating temporary safe zones in third countries, adding that a number of refugees could be sent back to their country of origin at the end of conflicts to take full part in the reconstruction process. At the same time, the relocation of refugees on the Dutch territory should not be a top-down process but should support ownership among local authorities. Interestingly enough, the CDA welcomes the quota-based relocation system proposed by the European Commission in 2015, which would put it at odds with the VVD and its strict outsourcing of migration in case of a coalition. The D66 adopts a softer approach on asylum seekers while arguing that unregulated migration flows might undermine social cohesion at local level and that legal paths of migration should be promoted through selective blue card systems. The Green party (GroenLinks, Greens-EFA), that is likely to govern with the PvdA, suggests promoting labour migration by lowering the salary threshold required to obtain a visa, developing the Common European Asylum System further and providing asylum seekers with language and integration courses as soon as their application is registered.