Dutch vote, a barometer for EU elections?

By Wang Xiaoguang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/19 21:48:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

After Brexit and Donald Trump's surprising win in the US presidential elections, the election in the country of tulips has not turned out to be a shocking surprise.

Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy lost fewer seats than expected and has a substantial lead over the right-wing populist power, the Party of Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders, while the PVV only had a slight gain.

Therefore, it seems that the basic political structure in the Netherlands is still intact, albeit, a government reshuffle would be inevitable. Overall, the election result could be a victory for the pro-EU camp and the central political powers.

The election in the Netherlands is important, not only because it is the first one in a super election year in Europe, but the result might have a huge impact on the subsequent elections.

The rise and the expansion of PVV's influence have created doubts over the EU's future. The Netherlands is traditionally regarded as one of the most liberal and inclusive societies worldwide. Unlike its southern European counterparts that are deeply entrenched in economic stagnation and financial crisis, the sixth largest economy in the EU is a dynamic and healthy member state in finance, employment and economic growth, and has been a long-standing cooperative participant in EU politics.

The election result in the Netherlands is an obvious fillip to mainstream parties in other European countries and perhaps suggests that better socioeconomic condition could put out the fire of populism.

Nevertheless, it is explosive enough for most observers of European politics that the PVV has become a powerful political fraction in one of the founding countries of the EU. Subsequently, people's nerves are on edge in anticipation of other European elections, especially when the EU is facing increasingly unstable relations with Turkey and Russia, and an unpredictable US.

In the following elections in Europe, the performance of the Front National in France and the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany is expected to be closely watched, because of the influence of these two countries. The election results in the Netherlands must be encouraging to mainstream European politics, while the populists could be stimulated too.

Despite failing to win the election, it is not convincing to say that the PVV lost the election. The success of the PVV and Wilders is not limited to winning more seats in the Dutch parliament than the last election, but measured by the extent of its political discourses, which are extreme to mainstream politics. Mainstream politicians now have to consider the issues raised by the PVV and respond carefully, rather than to dismiss them.

Furthermore, the expanding influence of PVV has incrementally reshaped mainstream politicians' behaviors. In the recent political dispute with Turkey, the hardline stance of Rutte, the incumbent prime minister, could have been influenced by the PVV, due to the election.

Moreover, the PVV, more or less, highlights the incapability of mainstream parties. In this election, these parties experienced salient loss and small parties will have more say in the Dutch parliament in the future.

The election in the Netherlands is merely the start of the super election year in Europe. For China, it is necessary to re-evaluate its own Europe policy as the year unfolds. Based on the development so far, the nationalist and populist powers would certainly occupy a significant position in major countries on the continent.

The political mutation in Europe requires China to observe the internal development in European nation-states, and then maintain effective communication with national governments, even though China is optimistic and supportive of European integration and developments in the EU.

The author is an assistant professor at the China University of Petroleum (Beijing). opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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