Verhofstadt rides on Dutch PVV debate to attack Sarkozy


Guy Vehofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group, said yesterday (13 March) that the recent verbal attacks by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on immigrants and the Schengen agreement were worse than the silence of the Dutch government over the discriminatory website of the Dutch Freedom party (PVV).

Speaking in the European Parliament during a debate on the PVV website (see background), Verhofstadt called on all parties in the Dutch government to distance themselves from the site's content and to condemn the attempt to incite intolerance and hatred against fellow Europeans.

Much of the debate focused on Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has so far refused to take a stand against the PVV website after European Parliament President Martin Schulz asked him to do so during the 1-2 March EU summit.

Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, also took aim at the recent statements by Sarkozy, who has turned to anti-immigration rhetoric in his electoral campaign against Socialist challenger FrançoisHollande.

"To say that half of the immigrants should leave France, to attack halal food, and at the same time, attack his partners with regard to Schengen … This campaign, with a president using a similar language, this is something never seen before," Verhofstadt said, drawing applause in Parliament. "Who is actually the candidate of the far right? Marine Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy."

Marine Le Len, leader of the National Front, is assured a place on the ballot on the 22 April first-round election in France. Yesterday, Le Pen announced she had collected the 500 signatures from elected officials required under the constitution to appear on the ballot.

Largely because of the lack of signatures, Le Pen's campaign had not really started.

Joseph Daul, the French leader of the centre-right EPP group who sat next to Verhofstadt during his speech, appeared visibly uneasy. As leader of the major group in the European Parliament, Daul had started the debate over the PVV website with strong statements against the passivity of the Dutch authorities to allow such a site to instigate hatred and make immigrants vulnerable.

"May I remind you that Nicolas Sarkozy has not included the National Front in his government," Daul said.

The Socialist and the Green groups strongly attacked Rutte and condemned the xenophobic website, but refrained from attacks against the French president.

Many of the speakers during the debate were from the Netherlands. Among them was Green MEP MarijeCornelissen, who accused the Dutch government of "stoking up bad blood and bad feeling", such as blocking the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the free-movement Schengen zone.

Rutte is the only EU leader opposing Bulgaria and Romania's accession to Schengen, on the grounds that these countries cannot be trusted to keep the EU common borders because of corruption. But a more important reason appears to be that Rutte has committed to PVV to uphold the veto.

Denmark's EU Minister Nicolai Wammen, representing the rotating EU presidency, commented that "freedom of speech doesn't mean the freedom to say anything about anyone".

A resolution, to be voted today, makes an "urgent appeal to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to distance himself from the deplorable website".

MEPs contend that the PVV website contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights and breaches personal data protection rules.

MEP Auke Zijlstra from the PVV party accused the "Brussels elite" of "importing criminality from Eastern Europe", through the EU's principle of the free movement of people.


Joseph Daul, chairman of the EPP Group, said:

"This afternoon it is a question of racism and discrimination. These are important issues, but evidently not important enough in the eyes of the Dutch prime minister to come and debate them with us, even though it is because of a partner in his parliamentary majority that we are having this debate today. I especially regret that the prime minister is not condemning a website which is racist and untruthful.

"Over 20 years, it is undeniable that Dutch companies have benefited from the economy, as they have also benefited from the markets of Central and Eastern Europe. Since 1993, these companies have invested more than €23 billion in Poland, and are the largest investors in Romania. But beyond the economy, I especially ask the question: what message does the Dutch prime minister hope to relay by not condemning the PVV website? That the single market is only about goods and services but not about workers? The EPP Group reiterates its moral appeal to the Dutch prime minister to condemn this offensive website clearly and quickly."

MEP Wim van de Camp, head of the Dutch Delegation of the EPP Group, said: "We must not shut our eyes to real problems, those can be tackled in the Netherlands with existing judicial tools. An insulting and discriminatory website is not the right solution and should be condemned."

S&D Group Leader Hannes Swoboda ?pleaded for a joint action from all the groups in the Parliament and the Dutch Prime Minister-whom he criticised for his absence of  reaction- to shut down the website that only promotes discrimination among European citizens.

"There is only one Europe, East, West, North, South, they are all European citizens. This [website] is a slam on the face of the European values and it should be shut down. We should be clear on this.

"What is also unacceptable is the non-reaction from the Dutch Prime Minister. Mr. Rutte, we are still waiting for you to take a clear stance on this issue. We are waiting for Mr. Rutte to speak out very clearly against this way of speaking to citizens that promotes discrimination."

GUE/NGL MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat criticised the Commission's failure to defend fundamental European values today in the European Parliament.

"The Danish presidency and the Commission have condemned this move, but continue to refer to the member states and their courts. I thought the Commission was the guardian of the treaties, that freedom of movement and non-discrimination was one of the values ??of the European Union. I see that some values ??are more important than others.

"On economic matters, when it comes to free movement ... goods or capital, barriers to competition, the Commission is quick to condemn. Why do you think people doubt the true values ??of the EU?" she asked representatives of the Council and Commission.

Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission and commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, slammed the Dutch website for going against the fundamental freedoms that the EU stands for. "In Europe, we stand for freedom. We stand for an open continent where citizens can move, work and study wherever they like. The PVV’s website runs totally counter to these principles. It is openly calling for people to be intolerant.

"We call on all citizens of the Netherlands not to follow this intolerance. Citizens should instead clearly state on the PVV’s website that Europe is a place of freedom. Intolerance has no place on our continent."



The right-wing Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) launched a special website on 10 February, inviting Dutch citizens to denounce nuisance caused by Europeans citizens coming from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria [more]. Types of nuisance that can be reported include pollution, problems related to housing or simply competition on the job market.

Reportedly, more than 10,000 of citizens responded in just a few days. The PVV website has caused a stir in the countries concerned.

Viviane Reding, European Commission vice president responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, vigorously condemned the website for "openly calling for people to be intolerant".

PVV, led by Geert Wilders, is the third largest party in the Netherlands. Although it is not in the government coalition, PVV has been an active supporter of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative cabinet, a cooperation which was laid down in a "support agreement".

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