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[Nettime-nl] Leon de Winter: There's No Business Like Dutch Politics (Wa
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 18 Sep 2012 07:26:23 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-nl] Leon de Winter: There's No Business Like Dutch Politics (Wall Street Journal)

Na de rubriek 'hoe de buitenlandse media wijs proberen te worden uit de
Nederlandse verkiezingen' is het wellicht leuk om te zien hoe den
Hollandschen mediaman eea aan de internationale readership probeert uit te
leggen. Dat deze perilleuse exercitie niet zonder onvermijdelijke
uitglijders en versimpelingen gepaard gaat neme men maar daarbij voor



[OPINION EUROPE,  September 13, 2012]

There's No Business Like Dutch Politics
Don't be fooled by Wednesday's vote. The real vaudeville acts are
preparing backstage for the next show.

On Wednesday the Netherlands, one of the oldest democratic nations in the
world, went to vote for a new parliament. And the international media
completely misunderstood the results.

Dutch politics looks like the acts in a vaudeville show. There are classic
acts, daring acts, boring acts, stupid acts. There are many, many acts.

After Wednesday's vote, the Dutch Parliament houses 11 parties. Many more
tried to gain access but failed. There are two parties with only two seats
in a 150-seat parliament. The biggest group, the Party for Freedom and
Democracy or VVD?more or less comparable to British Conservatives?has 41

A single party can never form a government in the Netherlands. Coalitions
are the Dutch way. The Netherlands is a nation of minorities. Since its
glorious war of liberation against the tyranny of the Spanish king in the
16th century?a war that was essentially a war for religious freedom?the
Netherlands has been a federation of provinces. Every province had its own
characteristics, defined by ethnicity and religion. Dutch tolerance was a
direct result of this. The farmers and fishermen had to cooperate, despite
all their differences, in their fight against the sea. Their land was the
inhabitable delta of the Rhine River and the Maas River. They had to build
dikes together in order not to drown.

For centuries, various religious-political organizations formed the basic
fabric of Dutch society, but since the 1960s a process of widespread
secularization took hold. This caused the power base of the traditional
religious parties to slowly diminish.

In Wednesday's vote, the once enormously influential Christian Democratic
Appeal, a coalition of Christian parties that used to be an essential
member of any coalition, shrank to only 13 seats. That's two less than the
Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, the provocateur and populist, a man with a
strong distaste for Islam in Europe. Mr. Wilders is an excellent debater
and one of the more colorful acts in the vaudeville theatre of Dutch

The Dutch went to the polls again after only two years because last April,
Mr. Wilders withdrew his support from the VVD coalition, which Mr.
Wilders's party had supported without having a cabinet member. Mr. Wilders
said the new budget would hurt pensioners. He gambled that the European
economic crisis would strengthen his appeal, but he lost big time: His
Freedom Party lost nine of its 24 seats on Wednesday.

Surprisingly, two traditional parties gained. The VVD scored 41 seats and
the PvdA, the Dutch Labor Party, took 38 seats. According to the
international media, these two parties are pro-Europe parties, and the
results are supposed to show the strong appeal of the EU to the Dutch.

This is not true. The Dutch, in general, are highly critical of the way
the European Union developed into a currency community. In 2005, the Dutch
had a referendum for the first time in 200 years. At stake was a proposal
by the main political parties to accept a European constitution. A
majority?61.5%?voted against it, causing the European political
establishment to rename the constitution a "treaty." The Dutch Parliament
ratified this in 2008 without putting it to a referendum.

The two most outspoken critics of the way that European political elites
are handling the financial and economic crises are Mr. Wilders's Freedom
Party and the Socialist Party. The Dutch Socialist Party is quite a
phenomenon. Founded by Maoists in the 1970s, it is still populated by
admirers of revolutionaries such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, and
supporters of Hamas (oh, vaudeville!).

Before this week's elections, the pollsters predicted a huge win for the
Socialists and a steady hold?or even some gains?for the Freedom Party.
They are both populist parties, each one functioning at opposing ends of
the political spectrum.

In the end they both lost support, but early analyses show that at least a
quarter of the electorate voted strategically. Mr. Wilders's supporters
voted for the VVD because they feared the gathering strength of the
Socialists and Labor. The same thing happened on the left: In order to
prevent another coalition controlled by the VVD, Socialist supporters and
supporters of another leftist party, the Green-Left, voted for the main
leftist party, which still is Labor.

So in reality there has been no change in attitude about the EU. There has
been no strengthening of the political center. There is only the illusion
that there was, and international observers have been blinded by it.

The Netherlands is prosperous. Unemployment is relatively low, and the
Dutch economy is among the strongest in the world. The welfare state still
functions, although it is expensive and every year the state has to borrow
billons to maintain its social programs. In general, the population of the
Netherlands is well-educated, works hard, and is disciplined and

Still, at the moment, many feel insecure and threatened by Brussels and
the Greek situation. The fans of Mr. Wilders and the former Maoists did
not give up their preferences. Instead, they realized that for the moment
it is better to hold their fire.

In Holland, there is no real vaudeville theater anymore. Instead, we have
our parliament in the Hague. It now has two main traditional acts: the VVD
and Labor. But don't be fooled. The really funny, biting, crazy acts are
preparing backstage for the next show.


Mr. de Winter is a novelist and political commentator for the Dutch
newspaper De Telegraaf and the German newspaper Die Welt.

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