May 23 (Bloomberg) -- Geert Wilders’s anti-European Union Freedom Party suffered a setback in yesterday’s European Parliament elections in the Netherlands, finishing in fourth place according to an exit poll for NOS television.
The pro-EU D66 party came first with 15.6 percent of the vote, ahead of the Christian Democratic Alliance at 15.2 percent, NOS said last night. Wilders’s party took 12.2 percent, according to the exit poll by Ipsos, for which 40,000 voters across the Netherlands were questioned. All three are in opposition to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition.
“The truth is that the exit polls are disappointing,” Wilders said in The Hague late yesterday. “The Netherlands did not become more Europe minded because two out of three Dutch stayed home.”
The outcome, if confirmed when official results are published in two days, means the Freedom Party will have three seats in the new European Parliament, two fewer than it won in the last elections five years ago. Wilders had targeted first place, seeking to capitalize on growing anti-EU sentiment in many of the 28 member states amid the debt crisis that’s roiled the bloc. Polls before the vote suggested his party would finish at least second.
“This result is mainly the effect of the low percentage of people who showed up” at polling stations, Sarah de Lange, associate professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam, said in a phone interview, noting a turnout of only about 37 percent. “You could not say this is a pro-European outcome of the elections as the Freedom Party and the Socialist Party have more difficulty in mobilizing their voters.”
Backing for Rutte’s coalition of Liberals and the Labor Party slumped by more than half from the September 2012 general election, when they won a majority in the Dutch parliament between them, in the wake of austerity measures to cut the budget deficit. Rutte’s Liberals took 12.3 percent for third place today, with Labor at 9.4 percent, according to NOS.
The Socialists, who like the Freedom Party and D66 have benefited from anti-government sentiment, took 10 percent of the vote, NOS said, less than pre-election polls suggested. Reflecting the increasingly splintered nature of Dutch politics, 10 parties will share the 26 seats, the exit poll indicated.
Parties with anti-EU messages similar to Wilders are challenging for first place in countries such as the U.K., where voters also went to the polls yesterday, and France, where voting takes place May 25. The Freedom Party leader told reporters in The Hague last week that his aim was to form an alliance in the European Parliament with such groups, including the U.K. Independence Party and France’s Front National.
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 Parliament three days ago.
That didn’t necessarily resonate with voters. Anouk van Groningen, a 23-year-old security guard from Zwaag in North Holland, said she decided to vote for the Freedom Party for domestic-policy reasons.
“The Freedom Party wants to abolish taxes for dogs and wants to keep care homes for the elderly people,” she said in an interview.
D66, which campaigned for a “strong Netherlands in a strong Europe,” benefited from anti-government sentiment while bucking the more generalized EU trend for protest voters to switch to parties that want to repatriate powers to national capitals.
“D66 is not happy with Europe as it is now; we want to move forward,” its leader, Alexander Pechtold, told a party rally in Nijmegen, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of Amsterdam.
Labor’s vote slumped after Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem announced 6 billion euros ($8.2 billion) of austerity measures last year on top of a previously outlined 16 billion-euro package. More than half of Labor supporters failed to vote, according to NOS’s “Nieuwsuur” program. 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.
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