Amid diplomatic row with Turkey, parliamentary elections today in The Netherlands are test case for rest of Europe

The first polling stations opened at midnight on Tuesday night in the Netherlands, where citizens are called to vote to elect members of the lower house of parliament. Most polling stations will not be open until 7:30 am on Wednesday morning (15 March). They will then close at 9 pm, with the exception of those situated in the Dutch overseas territories. Almost 13 million citizens have the right to vote. Many voters were still undecided until Election Day. 28 parties participate in the election, of which 13 are currently not represented in the lower house.

The Dutch elections are important for The Netherlands but might also set the tone for next elections planned this year in France, Germany and possibly Italy. In a timely publication, the European Policy Centre (EPC) asks the question if Eurosceptic, populist and anti-immigration parties will dominate politics across Europe.

“Without foresight and a persuasive narrative on why European integration continues to be a ‘win-win’ exercise for the member states and their citizens, mainstream politicians are also recklessly flirting with potential disaster looming in the future,” writes EPC.

Commenting on the Dutch elections, Adriaan Schout, coordinator of EU affairs at the Netherlands Institute of International Affairs, writes that a striking element of the Dutch elections is the extent to which the Netherlands is represented in the international media as an EU-critical country.

However, The Netherlands is traditionally one of the member states with the highest levels of support for the EU. “Yet, the generally strong support for the EU in the Netherlands should not be confused with enthusiasm for European integration: support does not mean affection.” Dutch voters score the lowest when it comes to "feeling affiliation" with other Europeans (5% compared to 29% in Germany).

According to Schout, EU has not been a major theme in the election campaign. The issues that seem to preoccupy Dutch voters in these elections include: healthcare (18%), social security (15%), economy (12%), norms and values (10%), safety and terrorism (9%), the integration of Muslims (7%), education (6%), EU (5%), environment (4%), and the international situation (3%). Some polls mention migration as one of the core themes.

However, his article was written before the eruption of the current diplomatic row between The Netherlands and Turkey on the participation of Turkish ministers in referendum rallies. By escalating the dispute, both Dutch and Turkish politicians seem to have something to gain.

“The general mood is that this row was created on purpose by the Turkish president to sell his referendum on turning Turkey into a presidential ‘democracy’ with excessive powers for himself. He knew that the Dutch government would refuse entry to his ministers,” says a European Commission source to The Brussels Times.

“But the moderate right in The Netherlands will probably also gain from this ‘line in the sand’. Prime Minister Rutte was able to demonstrate his leadership and this goes at the expense of the protest support for Geert Wilders and his anti-immigration party. Allowing the visit would have had a direct impact on the Dutch elections and would have played in the hands of Wilders xenophobia.”

Double nationality has become an issue in the Dutch elections. There are about 2.5 million people with double nationality in The Netherlands. In what might be a tight referendum in Turkey, President Erdogan was vying the votes of the Dutch citizens of Turkish origin. “He has a point; he simply wants to talk to his own citizens living in The Netherlands. The fact that they are also Dutch doesn’t interest him because to him they are first Turkish.”

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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