Even for a country that has long been a bellwether for European public opinion, this week’s general election in the Netherlands is more than usually fraught with implication.
The voters that led the way on, for example, the rejection of the EU constitution go to the polls on Wednesday in what is largely a referendum on Europe’s response to the euro crisis.
As the economy dips back into recession and the public appetite for domestic austerity and bail-outs elsewhere is put to the test, Holland’s fragmented politics have become more divided than ever. The far-right Freedom Party may have been losing ground, after leader Geert Wilders brought down the Liberal-led coalition in April by refusing to support its belt-tightening budget. But the far-left Socialists, led by ever-smiling Emile Roemer, have been powering ahead instead. Indeed, the former Maoists were until recently running an unprecedented second in the polls thanks to Eurosceptic policies uncannily similar to those of Mr Wilders.
A Socialist dominated government in the Hague is a concerning prospect. As one of only four AAA-rated eurozone governments (along with Germany, Finland and tiny Luxembourg), a Eurosceptic Netherlands would not only add to the tension between the bloc’s rich north and straitened south, it would likely derail the already shaky consensus altogether – with catastrophic consequences.
After barn-storming television debates from the centre-left Labour leader, Diederick Samsom, the Socialists have now slid back into third place, leaving Labour and the Liberals broadly neck and neck. But the problem of restless creditor countries will not go away, even if Dutch voters stick to the centre ground on Wednesday.
German public opinion is also increasingly fractious, not helped by either signs of an economic slowdown or last week’s plans for bond-buying by the European Central Bank. And Finnish politicians are already warning that they will not support moves to ease the bail-out conditions imposed on Greece, a hot topic in the coming weeks. The Dutch may lead the way, but there are further tests to come.
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