EP-verkiezingen in Nederland - Achtergronden (en)
Auteur: Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / EP Elections 2004 - In the campaign for the elections for the European Parliament in the Netherlands, which will take place on 10 June, EU-critical voices are likely to be heard more than ever before.
The last European elections in the Netherlands in 1999 were characterised by a general pro-European consensus. However, Dutch attitudes towards the EU have become more reserved in the last few years for several reasons. These include inflation caused by the euro, the breaking of the rules underpinning the euro by big member states, as well as a general disillisionment with the prospect of EU enlargement.
The three biggest Dutch parties, the Labour Party (PvdA), the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Liberals (VVD), are signalling that they will meet voters' growing uneasiness with the European Union in their campaigns.
Although these parties are keen to stress their constructive, pro-European nature, the frequency of their criticism and the strong language used are still remarkable for the Netherlands.
The Labour Party frontrunner and current MEP Max van den Berg recently accused the European Union, in unusually strong words, of having become "crazy" after Dutch railways had to cancel a deal with a security company because of EU procurement rules.
The liberal number 1, Jules Maaten MEP, is using his own name in a campaign slogan "Europa met (with) Maaten", which sounds exactly the same in Dutch as "Europe with moderation". More cautiously, the Christian Democrats of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende stress Dutch national identity with the catch-phrase "own Dutch place in Europe".
In addition, two parties will run for the first time which take different critical approaches towards the EU. A new activist one-issue party by the famous whistleblower Paul van Buitenen, "Europa transparant" - though not anti-EU - wants to make an end to behind-the-doors decision-making within the EU institutions.
The eurosceptical Lijst Pim Fortuyn will also take part for the first time after its founder, the right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn, was murdered in March 2002.
Another smaller party which has been traditionally eurosceptical is the Socialist Party which opposes the so-called "neo-liberal European superstate".
As a reaction to these various EU-critical voices, the left-liberal party has stated that it constitutes "the only choice if you are pro-Europe". However, GroenLinks (the Greens) present themselves as an enthusiastic supporter of the EU as well.
Getting the Dutch to vote
In the last EP elections in 1999, turnout was only 29.9%, which was the second lowest percentage in the EU after the UK (23.3%). Maurice de Hond, a senior Dutch election researcher, told the EUobserver that he believes that this year's turnout could be as low or even lower - between 25% and 30%.
Meanwhile, the Dutch government has launched unorthodox campaigns to stimulate voter participation. In an attempt to reach youngsters, debates on Europe will be held during the big yearly pop festival "Pinkpop". These debates will then be aired several times on MTV.
But in the increasingly weary climate towards European integration, the government is at the same time keen to avoid euro-propaganda. This is reflected in its remarkably low-key slogan "Europe. Quite important" ("Europa. Best belangrijk"), launched recently to bring the EU to the attention of the Dutch.
In a climate of voters' apathy, one key strategy for all parties is to mobilise the voters that usually vote for them in national elections.
The Dutch Christian Democrats, which currently form the biggest Dutch delegation in the European Parliament (holding 9 seats) have traditionally been the most successful in this, having won all Dutch European elections except one since 1979.
However, the current electoral momentum lies with the Labour Party, which now accounts for 6 seats in the European Parliament. Under its popular leader Wouter Bos, Labour has been scoring continuously high in recent national polls. If Labour succeeds in convincing its supporters to go and vote in the European elections, it may end up first this time.
One of the new contenders, the whistleblower Mr Van Buitenen, told the EUobserver earlier that he hopes to gain up to six of the Dutch seats at the expense of the traditional parties. These parties have, however, reacted sceptically to Van Buitenen's expectations.
Several new and some surprisingly young candidates will run this year. The Christian Democrats will be led by the 30-year-old Camiel Eurlings, currently a member of the Dutch parliament and spokesman on foreign affairs.
Also, 34-year old MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg was elected number 1 on the Greens list.
The Labour party will not have a youngster as number 1 - instead it picked the party veteran MEP Max van den Berg as a frontrunner. But the 29 year old Edith Mastenbroek, who has been active for the Democrats in the United States, will probably also enter the European Parliament, having been elected number 3 on the list.
However, this year's elections also mark the departure of another well-known young Dutch socialist, Michiel van Hulten. Mr Van Hulten will not run this year, afraid of becoming a "full-time professional politician" and disappointed by the lack of support for his fight for transparency and quicker procedures in the Parliament.
Of the two Dutch liberal parties forming part of the ELDR group in the European Parliament, the right-liberal VVD will be topped by its current leader, the MEP Jules Maaten.
The left-liberal D66 however wishes to introduce another new Dutch face to the European Parliament: Sophie in't Veld who is currently working for the EU Committee of the Regions.
Due to enlargement the Netherlands will elect 27 MEPs in June, four less than currently.
Number of MEPs to be elected: 27
Election day: 10 June 2004
Turnout in EP-elections 1999: 29.9%
Turnout in latest national election 22 January 2003: 79.9 %
Distribution of current MEPs in the European Parliament:
9 PPE-ED Christen Democratisch Appèl (CDA)
6 PSE Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA)
8 ELDR Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) (6) - Democraten 66 (D66) (2)
1 GUE/NGL Socialistische Partij (SP)
4 Verts/ALE GroenLinks
3 EDD ChristenUnie - Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP)
31 total (to be reduced to 27 MEPs due to enlargement of the European Union)
Other Dutch lists/parties:
Lijst Pim Fortuyn (List Pim Fortuyn, conservative anti-immigration)
Europa Transparant (Paul van Buitenen)