New Dutch government to take a pro-EU turn
Dutch politics is likely to take a pro-European Union turn after the swearing in on Monday of a new centre-left government in The Hague, following almost two months of coalition talks. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte's liberal VVD came out the largest party once again in the September 12 elections, he sought allies on the left this time in the shape of the Labour Party, led by Diederik Samsom, rather than the Christian Democrats and the anti-Islam, anti-EU populist Geert Wilders.
Copyright Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2012
The appointment of Labour's Frans Timmermans, 51, as foreign minister is a sign of the times. Timmermans is strongly pro-EU, was involved previously in negotiations on an EU constitution and speaks fluent French, Italian and German, alongside the English that is a matter of course for top Dutch politicians.
The new coalition partners made clear in their 81-page accord that, "Europe has brought us peace, security and prosperity ... When things go well in Europe, they go well in the Netherlands." For two years Rutte had been at the mercy of Wilders' support. While Wilders - who backs taking the Netherlands out of the eurozone and even out of the EU altogether, with the aim of halting immigration - was not a formal member of the coalition, the minority government was dependent on him for support - or "toleration."
Rutte carefully avoided expressing overt criticism of Wilders, even when the outspoken leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) caused offence within the Netherlands and abroad with his remarks about Greece's handling of its financial crisis or the many Poles who work in the Netherlands. Wilders had also become known increasingly for blocking moves in Brussels, whether it was about funds for Greece, accession of Eastern European countries to the EU or expanding the Schengen visa free-movement area.
But this is now likely to be a thing of the past. Wilders is politically isolated after the electorate showed fatigue with his confrontational style. They also turned away from the anti-EU Socialists towards more conventional pro-EU parties, even though polls show increasing scepticism of Brussels.
"Wilders used to be the symbol of a Netherlands turning in on itself, and this will not be over at a single stroke," says Rob de Wijk, director of The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, expressing the view that the Netherlands would show a more co-operative face to Europe than over the past two years. Nevertheless, a radical change of course is not on the cards. Greece will hope in vain that Germany has lost a key ally in its battle to impose austerity on EU budgets.
Even with the Labour Party in the government, the Dutch are taking a strong line in putting their national budget in order, although Samsom has backed giving Greece more time to right its economy. The new government is committed to increased taxes and reduced expenditure in a strenuous attempt to get the budget deficit down to below the EU guideline of 3 per cent of gross domestic product.
The Hague is also likely to oppose moves towards increased political union in the EU. Rutte is known for his antipathy to "long-term political vistas" of this kind. He rather backs stronger national parliaments. The Labour Party may be more open to political union but only at a measured pace. They are as opposed to large transfers from the rich north to the poorer south, as they are to an increase in EU funding as proposed by the European Commission and Parliament.