EU slams Dutch website for instigating intolerance

Viviane Reding Picnik_0.jpg

Viviane Reding, European Commission vice president responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has vigorously condemned a website launched by a xenophobic Dutch party that collects complaints against Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian nationals who cause "nuisance" to society.

On her official web page, Reding stated that the website, launched last week by the Dutch Freedom party (PVV), "runs totally counter" to EU principles according to which citizens can move, work and study wherever they like.

The PVV of Geert Wilders has invited Dutch citizens to report 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.

"The citizens of the 27 EU member states should feel at home no matter where they decide to move," Reding states, adding that the PVV website "is openly calling for people to be intolerant".

"Europe is facing difficult times. We will only solve our problems by increasing solidarity, not by denouncing fellow citizens. 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," Reding states.

PVV 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".  The PVV has an alliance with the minority government, which it supports on economic policy in return for tougher immigration rules. The two parties in the cabinet are Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), which ranked fourth in the 2011 elections.

Wilders: 'Europe can get stuffed'

The forthright criticism by Reding prompted an equally blunt response from Wilders.

“Europe can get stuffed. We’ve had more than 32,000 complaints. This website has really hit the mark. We’re looking for facts – so talk about discrimination is fantasy and nonsense,” Wilders stated, according to the Irish Times.

Rutte has so far refused to comment on the website, according to Dutch media. Asked to react to the initiative during a Thursday evening debate on the European Union, Rutte said it is not up to him to comment on positions taken by individual political parties.

In addition, Rutte said he does not feel it concerns him because the minority cabinet does not have an alliance with the PVV in terms of European affairs.

Ambassadors put pressure on The Hague

In the meantime, ambassadors from the 10 central and eastern European countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) sent a letter to parliamentary leaders in the Netherlands asking them to distance themselves from this ‘regrettable initiative’.

"Dutch Christian Democrats deplore the website and have publicly spoken out against it", Dutch MEP Wim van de Camp wrote as a reaction to a EURACTIV article about the website published on Friday. Van de Camp is from the Christian Democratic Appeal, a centre-right party affiliated with the European People's Party.

Wilders was also quoted on the ambassadors' letter, saying that it was "a pity about the paper" it was written upon.

Guy Verhofstadt, President of the ALDE Group, the leaders of the VVD and D66 delegations issued a joint statement that condemns the Dutch website and demands its "immediate closure".

"The website, as stated by commissioner Reding,  goes against all European values of dignity and liberty. Furthermore it risks destroying the very basis of the Union, which is non-discrimination and free movement ".

"Wilders' response with the comment that 'Europe can get stuffed' is astonishing considering that the Netherlands is an integral part of the EU and one of the founding member states".

In reaction to the establishment of this website and the questions, Hannes Swoboda, S&D Group Leader, said:

"Such a website and launch of hotline is not acceptable in the European Union that we live in and stand for. The questions put on the website are a discrimination and stigmatisation of people from Central and Eastern Europe. This is opposed to the values we promote within our Community".

The European Parliament's Anti Racism and Diversity Intergroup Chair, MEP Emine Bozkurt (S&D), added:

"We strongly condemn this initiative because it excludes people from our society. The hotline is not a solution for any problem that might exist. The Freedom Party is a key ally of the Dutch Government. By not condemning this action, the Dutch Government is indirectly supporting this initiative which is turning people into second-class citizens. This is in contradiction with all democratic values.

Sylvie Guillaume, S&D Group Vice-President in charge of citizenship, concluded:

"This type of initiative shows how much the European model is in danger. As long as people are encouraged to denounce, discriminate and stigmatise others, some should reconsider their stand over the supposedly superiority of our civilisation. It is urgent to reverse this process which undermines equality and solidarity with hatred".

Workers from Bulgaria and Romania currently enjoy full rights to free movement pursuant to EU law in Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic.

Restrictions remain in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, the UK and Malta. They typically require Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have a work permit.

As of January 2014 – seven years after their EU accession – there will be complete freedom of movement for  workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

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