Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party may lose support in today’s European Parliament elections in the Netherlands, polls indicate, bucking a trend that’s seeing support for anti-European Union groups rise elsewhere.
Amid the debt crisis that’s roiled Europe, parties that share Wilders’s anti-EU message are challenging for first place in countries such as the U.K. and France. In the Netherlands, while support has plunged for Mark Rutte’s Liberal-led coalition with the Labor Party, the biggest beneficiary has been the D66 party, which is campaigning for a “strong Netherlands in a strong Europe.”
Polls this week showed the Freedom Party with enough backing for four of the 26 Dutch seats at stake, compared with the five they won in the last elections five years ago. D66 is on course for first place, taking five seats, the polls suggest.
Wilders sought this week to galvanize backing for his party by cutting a star representing the Netherlands out of an EU flag in Brussels. “I’m taking this star back with me to the Netherlands and they’re never getting it back from us in Brussels,” he said in front of photographers and television crews outside the European Parliament.
The Freedom Party leader told reporters in The Hague last week that his aim was to form an alliance with similar-minded parties, including the U.K. Independence Party and France’s Front National, to repatriate powers to national capitals.
Voting takes place today in the Netherlands as well as Britain three days ahead of most of the 28-nation bloc. While no results can be published before voting ends on May 25, NOS television will be giving an indication of how the Dutch have cast their ballots when polls close at 9 p.m. local time.
A weighted average of polls conducted by TNS Nipo and published by PollWatch 2014 shows the Liberals and Labor are set to take seven of the 26 Dutch seats between them. That’s about half the level of support they got in the September 2012 general election, when they won a majority in parliament between them.
Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem announced 6 billion euros ($8.3 billion) of austerity measures last year on top of a previously outlined 16 billion-euro package. Rutte’s coalition has been continuing to lose popularity after announcing cuts in health-care spending and changes to the pension system and the housing market.
“The European elections could lead to more tensions within the coalition,” Sarah de Lange, associate professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam, said in a phone interview.