AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - While Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s election success was hailed as a victory for pro-European forces over the far-right, the result may reflect more the fragmentation of protest votes than the half-hearted support of the EU by mainstream parties.
Rutte’s stance on the European Union during his campaign was hardly a full-throated endorsement, summarised by his party as “less nonsense from Brussels, and only things that are in the Dutch interest.”
Both Rutte’s pro-business VVD party and his likely coalition partner, the conservative Christian Democrat Party, remain committed to European Union membership - but sceptical towards any increase in Brussels’ powers.
Pollster Maurice de Hond said a pre-election poll showed a majority of Dutch voters favour the European Union being slimmed down into a free trade zone, without free movement of labour.
“Actually they’d like to pick and choose, but of course the reality is it’s a two for one deal,” he said.
On immigration, Wilders’ PVV did come in second fighting on a firmly anti-Islam platform, and the VVD and CDA have adopted much of Wilders’ immigration platform.
Among left-leaning parties, support for migrants is also limited. The Socialist Party, Green Left and Labour all support sheltering refugees, but ideally elsewhere, and are generally opposed to letting in economic migrants.
While mainstream parties may be relieved that Wilders made only modest gains in Wednesday’s vote, few of them have cause for celebration.
Wilders finished second, but he gained five seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament; Rutte lost eight seats to 33, while his pro-Europe junior coalition partner Labour suffered the worst defeat in its history, falling from 38 to 9 seats.
Experts said there were several reasons why more voters didn’t flock to Wilders, but chief among them is that unlike with the Brexit vote or the U.S. election, which were essentially binary choices, Dutch voters had a wide array of ways to voice discontent.
Boukje Cuelenaere, head of survey Research at Centerdata, said voters’ concerns were not confined to support or opposition to migrants or the EU. “In terms of topics, for the people we asked there were a lot of different issues involved,” she said.
While voters who oppose immigration could chose from among Wilders’ PVV, Rutte’s VVD or the CDA, a new right wing party also won two seats.
Voters angry over inaction on climate change voted for Green Left, while the pro-European D-66 gained as the primary critic of Wilders’ anti-Islam rhetoric.
The hard-left Socialist Party, the Party for the Animals, and Denk, a party for the country’s ethnic minorities were all also able to soak up protest votes.
”One votes for the environment, another over immigration, a third over animal rights or the elderly – we have parties for each. Soon there will be one party for each seat in parliament,” joked De Hond.
Reporting by Toby Sterling; additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop