The projected results of the Dutch European elections, in which the far-right anti-EU and anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) have recorded huge successes, are “disappointing” and “shameful”, leading candidates from the Netherlands’ main centre-left and centre-right parties told EURACTIV in an interview.
Emine Bozkurt is a Socialist MEP of Turkish ancestry who sits on the European Parliament’s EU-Turkey joint parliamentary committee. Wim van de Camp is head of the list for the centre-right Christian Democrats.
As party representatives of the traditional mainstream, what is your assessment of the Dutch European election results, in particular the success of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party?
Wim van de Camp: It’s not that big a surprise because the polls showed for the last month that the Freedom Party (PVV) was going to get a good result. I think it is a combination of objections to the present cabinet in the Netherlands and the present economic problems.
But also he made a campaign that was very anti-Europe, and he has a very nationalistic approach. Unfortunately, almost 16 percent of Dutch voters have supported his political opinion, and that’s quite shameful.
Emine Bozkurt: The results are quite interesting. The Eurosceptic party has won, and won very well. It’s disappointing for ourselves, we had a good nuanced programme about a strong social Europe, but our message didn’t get through. The polls predicted that we (the Social Democrats) would win four seats in the Netherlands, and as it looks now, we’ll only win three. That’s a disappointing result.
Now we have to take responsibility for this and work on these challenges in the coming years.
Why did the Freedom Party do so well? What changes in Dutch society does this result reflect?
Wim van de Camp: People have become more nationalistic. They are afraid of a combination of the economic downturn, and also the fact that many people think there are too many foreigners living in the Netherlands. Many Dutch people are still afraid that a lot of people from Bulgaria and Romania will move to the Netherlands. There is a great fear that Turkey will become a member of the EU in the next ten years. So it is a combination of fear over economic uncertainty, and a feeling that there are too many foreigners in this small country.
Emine Bozkurt: It’s very difficult to give an analysis. You can see that the parties who had a very strong ‘no’ message or a very strong ‘yes’ message have won.
Wilders, it appears, will win four seats, but another party, Democraten 66, which is quite pro-Turkey and pro-migration, has tripled its seats, going from one to three. So you see that in the Netherlands there is sympathy for both those messages. You see have to see it in perspective.
I think it’s important now to see what happens next in the Netherlands and how people look towards these issues.
Wilders’ representatives will now have to sit in the Parliament, and in the coming four or five years they have to show what they’re going to do, what concrete results they’re going to bring. It’s not going to take place within a group, they have said they want to remain as independents. Based on my experience during this mandate, independents are not very influential.
How do you think this will affect the Netherlands’ standing in the European Parliament and the EU in general? Do you think this will have a negative effect on the Netherlands’ image abroad?
Wim van de Camp: Yes I think so, but I don’t think it will be that big, or as big as Mr. Wilders is predicting, because he is sending four people with no political experience to Europe. It remains quite unclear how they are meant to organise their work in the European Parliament, because they said they want to be an independent parliamentary group. I think that is quite impossible in a parliament of more than seven hundred members.
It depends on whether they want to be constructive in the European Parliament. I wish them good luck. If they come to Brussels just to obstruct, then I think they’re taking the wrong path.
Overall, I am quite anxious regarding what is going to be the image of the Netherlands in the European Union. We are one of the founders of the European Union, but now our own people seem quite sceptical about what the Netherlands is doing in the EU.
Emine Bozkurt: I don’t know. I’ll be in Brussels on Sunday evening to see all the results from across Europe come in, so we’ll see what people say to us!
The whole of Europe and also candidate countries like Turkey are following this very closely. There are a lot of reactions already from Turkey, news agents and politicians calling us to ask ‘What happened in your country’?
Turkey is not going to look favourably on these results, but it’s not just the Netherlands, it’s the whole of Europe. The picture after Sunday will be very interesting, and they are asking not only whether populist and extreme-right parties will win a lot in the whole of the EU, but whether the mainstream, progressive parties – the socialists, liberals, etc. – and will keep their majority. That is also important for countries like Turkey.
The current situation is that the majority is still in favour of Turkey in the future becoming a member.
Turkey will be watching the big picture – it’s the European Parliament, not the Dutch European Parliament.
The Netherlands is a democratic country, and the fact that Wilders is doing well now simply means that the other parties have to do more to convince the voters for the next elections that we have a better message, that we are doing concrete things, that we can do something other than express opinions.
We are living in a difficult time. It’s very difficult to bring the European message to the people, and there are no easy answers or campaigns, we all have to work very hard to change this in the next five years.
Do you think the predictions made in the media before the elections are coming true now? Do you think there will be a wave of far-right MEPs elected to this Parliament?
Wim van de Camp: No. I saw some predictions for the whole European Parliament this morning, and the number of far-right parties will grow, but it is very difficult for them to coordinate in the European Parliament, because all of them have a very national agenda. For example if you compare them with the social-democrat or conservatives – these older parties have much more competence and experience working in the European Parliament.
So the number of far-right parties may increase, but I am not so afraid of their political power. But it makes a lot of noise and creates a lot of rumours. It is not a good thing for the democratic process in Europe.
Emine Bozkurt: I don’t know. I think it’s very sad that extreme-right and populist parties are on the rise in Europe right now. If you look at what they’re doing in the European Parliament, and I’ve been watching them for five years already, they have hardly any influence.
You have to remember that we are in the middle of a financial crisis, and people are afraid in these times, indeed their fears are growing. If you have a campaign based only on the fears of people, it makes it very easy to say ‘no’ to Europe, when actually, the solution for these problems will only be found through co-operation on the European level: doing something to fix the economic crisis, a coordinated policy on migration, and so on.
But these are issues with more nuances, more of a story, and that makes it more difficult to bring to the people.