Dutch Liberals, Labour level as eurocrisis looms large

10th September 2012, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch Liberal and Labour parties drew level Monday ahead of crunch elections, seen as a bellwether of the northern country's stiffening attitude towards Europe's seemingly endless debt crisis.

Latest opinion polls give both current Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD and the Labour Party (PvdA), led by former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom, 35 seats in the 150-seat lower house after Wednesday's parliamentary polls.

With political horse-trading already starting behind the scenes, analysts predict the Netherlands is likely to see a centrist coalition government emerge, remaining pro-European Union -- in the short term at least.

"Indications are that for now it will be a stable, 'middle-of-the-road' government, but we have already seen signs that the position (towards Europe) is hardening," political analyst Alfred Pijpers told AFP.

Ahead of Wednesday's vote, the budget cuts already hitting Dutch pockets hard are weighing heavily on the minds of the 12.5 million eligible voters -- of which a poll on Monday said a whopping 5.5 million were still undecided.

Both the Liberals and Labour are pro-Europe but because of spending cuts to pay for spendthrift southern European countries they are faced with an electorate that is increasingly hostile towards Brussels.

"In many regards, the Netherlands is like Germany, where voters are increasingly unhappy about the European Union," Pijpers said.

Germany's Constitutional Court is to rule on the same day as the Dutch vote on the legality of two key eurozone's crisis tools -- a 500-billion-euro ($640-billion) rescue fund called the ESM, and the EU fiscal pact.

But opinion polls ahead of the ruling show that the majority of Germans believe the court should block the crisis-busting tools.

Should the German court order a legal review of parliament's recent approval of the measures, as wanted by German citizens, "the Netherlands may follow suit", said Pijpers.

Dutch voters however are not against leaving the European Union as a whole, as advocated by the far-right party of anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders.

Latest polls said the platinum-haired politician's Party for Freedom (PVV) would garner only 19 seats in Wednesday's vote, as opposed to the 24 it had after 2010 elections. Wilders however said Monday he believed many 'undecideds' would still make up their minds in favour of the PVV.

Rutte said last week that the Netherlands would not contribute any further aid to debt-ridden Greece, but might agree to give the country more time to get its finances on an even keel.

He told the NOS public broadcaster during a radio show Monday: "I would like to continue with the programme I introduced in the last two years.

"That is, getting the country's finances in order and strengthening our good coalition... with the Germans to tackle the eurocrisis step-by-step."

Where Rutte's VVD is closer to German Councillor Angela Merkel, Samsom's policies are close to those of French Socialist President Francois Hollande, who Samsom phoned last week to discuss his campaign, analyst Pijpers said.

"There is however not a lot of enthusiasm in The Hague about closer political co-operation within the European Union," he said.

"If the Germans harden their stance, the Netherlands will do the same."

© 2012 AFP

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