Ahead of the Primary Elections in the US: The Status Quo and Revolution

By Nemanja Milosevic

The Democratic primary season in the US has started, and different candidates have lined up with a message “I can beat Donald Trump”. Getting Trump out of office has become a goal not only of the democrats, who are opposing this president more than any other “ideological rival” in recent history but also of many centrist, independents and some republicans. The fear and frustration are expressed by many of my friends from the US, who in a recent conversation confessed that they have not been so scared, they are tired of hearing about physical attacks at people of different identities, racist politics, divisiveness, and many other things that characterize the Trump presidency. This frustration is expressed by one of my friends who is in his twenties, who is tired of the tensions in the current political climate and who would rather go and spend time abroad.

Another friend, who in the previous elections supported Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, because she can get things done (an argument used by many Democratic voters in the 2016 Democratic Primaries), now supports candidates who are proposing more leftist policies, like Elizabeth Warren. He is frustrated that he cannot have things in his country, probably the richest country in the history of the world, that are common and exist in other developed countries for decades.

Redefining what it means to be a Democrat

Economic liberties, small government and promotion of private ownership have for a long time been a symbol of US politics and ideology, which was part of the so-called American dream, where your entrepreneurial skills and hard work can get you up the ladder and improve your lifestyle significantly.

That has become difficult with the acceleration of globalization processes, Amazon getting benefits such as a total tax exemption made impossible for any other business to compete on the market. Job automatization, trade agreements and outsourcing of jobs left many people unemployed and wealth inequality has surged. Unemployment among young people is increasing and it is now expected that for the first time in modern history, a generation of children will be worse off socially and economically that their parents [1].

All that leads to a change in mainstream politics, where calling someone a socialist is not an insult in the US any longer. The last time a centrist democrat was elected a president was in 2012, and since there have been seven generations of young Americans who have entered the political process by turning 18 and getting the right to vote. That changed the political landscape so much that someone like Bernie Sanders, a socialist democratic candidate in 2016 got so close to beating Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. The ideas that he then presented, that many called radical socialist ones, such as a universal healthcare plan, commonly known as Medicare for All, are now widely accepted, not only by young liberal democrats but by Americans in general [2]. Other policies that Bernie introduced three years ago also got mainstream appeal – student debt cancelation, publicly funded higher education and a 15$-per-hour minimum wage.

Identifying candidates: From Left to Center

The ideas that Sanders presented during the last primaries and the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the general election have changed the approach of the Democratic Party establishment and had a large influence on the candidates that entered the race this time. It was obvious from the early stage that Sanders has moved the bar to the left, when normally known centrist democrats presented some policies mimicking those of Sanders, but with enough back-tracking to satisfy both the donors (necessary for financing campaigns in the States, and who are usually against policies such as those of Sanders) and the changing democratic base that overwhelmingly supports the turn to the left.

Confronted with these new progressive candidates made Sanders move further to the left, thus changing his rhetoric and policies to the extremes (such as the plan to combat global warming worth 16 trillion dollars, in comparison to the one of Elizabeth Warren worth 2 trillion $). He has now come out as an anti-establishment candidate [3], recognizing the damage he suffered the last time by the DNC (Democratic National Committee) that ran the primary season heavily favoring Clinton, and he is calling out the establishment media [4] that has a clear bias against him [5], such as The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, the company that is often under fire by the Sanders campaign. Another thing that changed since the last time he ran is the campaign and the outreach to different demographics, which was something he was heavily criticized for. Having people of different backgrounds on key positions in his campaign brought him popularity among young voters of color [6].

Candidate next in line on the progressive side after Bernie would be Elizabeth Warren, drawing a lot of inspiration from the Sanders’ campaign in 2016, just without renouncing corporatism, the Democratic establishment, and the media. She appeals largely to the white, college-educated voters [7], which may have something to do with the fact that she was a university professor and has detailed and precise plans and policies to introduce proposals such as Medicare for All or free college (opposite from Sanders, who uses more populist language to explain and propose similar things).

On the more centrist side, we have Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg (more candidates would fall into this category, but their polling numbers are too low). Harris is a Democratic establishment and media darling, former prosecutor and a talented debater. Other than that, her campaign is failing to maintain cohesion throughout the process, as she flip-flops on many issues, most probably based on what is popular in the polls or with donors. Most notably, she changed her opinion on Medicare for All, and although she co-sponsored the Sanders’ bill, she now backtracks as it becomes obvious that she cannot compete with Warren and Sanders in that arena and has no chance of attracting the progressive base. One of the things that negatively affect her popularity is her record as a prosecutor, as pointed out in the second debate by another candidate – her work as a prosecutor affected negatively and to a large extent the black community in California, where she worked.

Biden and Buttigieg are other centrist candidates that run on moderate policies and realistic solutions, which goes along with the idea of bringing the divided country back together, which for more progressive thinkers and politicians means that they are ready to succumb to Republicans and not fight for things that the Democratic base wants and needs.

Electability

One thing that is on everyone’s mind is electability. It does not matter who has better policies, but who can beat Trump. This is also the argument that even the Biden’s wife used to promote him on one occasion, she claims that although he might not be the best on policies such as Medicare for All, he is the one that can beat Trump in general elections (I assume it is due to name recognition, as he was a vice of a very popular president) and thus deserves everyone’s support [8]. I would argue that this claim is debatable, as Biden exposed several weaknesses that someone as unscrupulous and vicious as Trump can use easily in the debates. Those being claims of several women that Biden touched them inappropriately and countless verbal gaffes that Biden had (the most notable one being the gaffe in one speech where he said that poor kids are just as bright as white kids, when wanting to say wealthy kids [9]).

The danger that lays there is that Trump can easily downplay his sexual misconducts and racism by claiming that the Democratic candidate expresses the same behavior (Biden also bragged about working with segregationists in the past, which drew critiques from other candidates of color and civil rights movements). Other than that, it would be a great risk having a centrist candidate that does not excite the base – his rallies attract smaller and more inert crowds when compared to some candidates who poll way lower than him at the moment. If we consider 2016 as an experiment of how would a centrist candidate measure against Trump, we can conclude that Biden might not be the best choice.

Both Sanders and Warren show great potential to beat Trump by a large margin, as some current polls may suggest. I think that is crucial to go with a more progressive candidate in general elections, especially the one that dedicates his/her political activity to issues that concern the part of the population that is hurt by the globalized economy, neo-conservative measures and the strong relationship between political establishment and corporations. Recent poll showed that 90% of voters identifying themselves as Republicans think that Trump is still doing a great job [10], so going with a centrist because he/she can gather support from democrats and republicans who do not like Trump would not work, since that would alienate a large portion of progressive voters and not attract enough republican voters.

Between the two progressive candidates, they both have good things to offer. Warren would be the first female president, a progressive one and with detailed plans and policies proving that everything she proposes is meticulously planned. On the other hand, she suffered an incident when she claimed that she has Native-American origin, followed by a DNA test that showed that she is only an insignificant fraction a Native-American. This backfired when Trump called her out on it and gave her the nickname “Pocahontas” [11]. She has apologized since, but still shows the inability to confront that incident when asked.

Unlike Harris or Sanders, she has not shown yet skills that she could use in a confrontation with Trump. She did well and could be named a winner of both democratic debates, but lacks the audacity that Sanders expresses, for example. In a recent tweet, Sanders called Trump “an idiot”, and has shown in many cases that he can be loud and eloquent at the same time, which are the skills that could benefit someone going against Trump. Recent research showed that Republican candidates tend to use nouns phrases that work efficiently in a political debate, as they “essentializing”, they appear to express an indisputable feature,

and that is how nicknames that Trump assigns to his opponents work [12]. “Sleepy Joe”, “Crazy Bernie” and “Pocahontas” are nicknames that Trump has for top Democratic candidates, and it is very important to have an opponent who can go against a bully, as campaign for this general election would not be a typical, solely policy-based one (which is a style of debate where Warren excels).

It is still early on in the primary season to make any firm claim, but it is important to recognize mistakes from 2016 and do everything possible to avoid them this time, especially the ones that DNC has power over. It is important to present a candidate that can excite the base – the Democratic, not the moderate Republican one – challenges the dominant narrative (and avoid going back to status quo), has oratory skills to go against a bully and has a clean record (avoiding affairs such as Hilary’s emails or Benghazi). In any event, a recent poll shows that support for Biden decreases, while for Sanders and Warren surges [13]. We could say that so far things are going well.

Featured picture: President of the United States Donald J. Trump at CPAC 2017 February 24th 2017 by Michael Vadon

References

[1] Charles Hymas, More than two thirds of millennials believe their generation will be “worse off “ than their parents’. Guardian. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/07/two-thirds-millennials-believe-generation-will-worse-parents/

[2] Megan Keller, Seventy percent of Americans support “Medicare for all”; in new poll. The Hill. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/403248-poll-seventy-percent-of-americans-support-medicare-for-all

[3] The Beat With Ari Melber, Sanders Campaign Unloads On Dem “Establishment”: Be “Terrified”. MSNBC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN_1skpp8cA

[4] John Nichols, Bernie Sanders Is As Frustrated as Ever With Corporate Media, The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-corporate-media/

[5] Adam Johnson, Washington Post Ran 16 Negative Stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 Hours, Fair.org. https://fair.org/home/washington-post-ran-16-negative-stories-on-bernie-sanders-in-16-hours/

[6] Hunter Walker, Bernie Sanders campaign touts its diversity and fights “the narrative of 2016”;. Yahoo! News. https://news.yahoo.com/bernie-sanders-campaign-touts-diversity-fights-narrative-2016-194035907.html?

[7] Ed Kilgore, Elizabeth Warren’s Struggle to Draw Black Voters Is a Big Problem. New York Intelligencer. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/08/elizabeth-warren-is-struggling-to-draw-black-voters.html

[8] John Wagner, Jill Biden urges support for husband even if voters consider their candidates ‘better’ on the issues. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/jill-biden-urges-support-for-husband-even-if-other-democrats-are-better-on-the-issues/2019/08/20/e9fb1738-c33a-11e9-b72f-b31dfaa77212_story.html

[9] Matt Viser and John Wagner, Biden tells minority voters in Iowa that ‘poor kids’ are just as bright as ‘white kids’. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-tells-minority-voters-in-iowa-that-poor-kids-are-just-as-bright-as-white-kids/2019/08/09/4926be02-ba8e-11e9-a091-6a96e67d9cce_story.html

[10] Stephanie Mencimer, 90 Percent of Republicans Still Think Trump Is Doing a Great Job. Mother Jones. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/05/90-percent-of-republicans-still-think-trump-is-doing-a-great-job/

[11] Ed O’keefe, Elizabeth Warren publicly apologizes for first time over controversial DNA test, CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/elizabeth-warren-apology-controversial-dna-test-native-american-heritage-2019-08-19/

[12] Colby Itkowitz, ‘Little Marco,’ ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ ‘Crooked Hillary:’ How Donald Trump makes name calling stick, The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/04/20/little-marco-lying-ted-crooked-hillary-donald-trumps-winning-strategy-nouns/

[13] Grace Sparks, Monmouth poll: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in three-way lead for Democratic bid, CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/26/politics/monmouth-august-democrats-biden-warren-sanders/index.html

Advertisements

Municipal elections in Turkey: what did happen there

By Sumeyye Hancer

On March 31, 2019, Turkey held its municipal elections. According to the BBC, 57 million people were registered and the turnout displayed an outstanding 85%. After 25 years of seat in Ankara, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), known as the Justice and Development Party, has lost its seat in the capital city as well as in Istanbul metropolis and other municipalities. The recession announced last March appears to have played a decisive role against the ruling party.

The event took a tragic turn as clashes occurred and four people died in south and east Turkey. Dozens were also reported injured in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. In Istanbul, one person was stabbed in Kadıköy district as reported by The Guardian.

In the European Union, the German magazine Der Spiegel announced the “Ende eines Mythos” (“The End of a Myth”, in English). In France, Le Monde spoke of “un revers cinglant” (“A scathing reverse”). In Spain, El País mentioned “un duro revés” (“a harsh reverse”) and the loss of the “islamistas turcos” (“Turkish islamists”).

Indeed, the results seem to showcase patterns of a new momentum vis-à-vis the 2023 national elections, albeit the outcomes have been contested by the ruling party which at first denounced “invalid votes and irregularities in most of the 12,158 polling stations in Ankara”, then “irregularities” and “organised crime”. The result of the election in Istanbul was appealed as announced by Ali İhsan Yavuz, the deputy chairman of AKP. However, on April 9th The Guardian announced that the partial recount process confirmed the lead of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

Today, half of the citizens support Erdogan and the other half despises him for polarising the country, according to the analysis by Mark Lowen, BBC Turkey correspondent, in article published on April 1st entitled “Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan in big cities”.

How do I approach the event as a Euroculture student? Continue reading “Municipal elections in Turkey: what did happen there”

Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream

By Hanna Schlegel

Being German these days means witnessing the end of the Angela Merkel era. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Angela Merkel, is the CDU voters’ favourite to succeed the German chancellor as head of the Christian Democrats, according to a new poll published last Friday [23.11.2018]. But the disputed Friedrich Merz would be a way better choice from the view of the German centre-left parties.

Angela Merkel, as a result of her Christian Democratic Union’s poor showing in both federal (2017) and regional (2018, Bavaria and Hesse) elections, announced last October that she would neither run again as party chief in December nor seek re-election as chancellor in 2021. This decision not only further destabilizes German politics, with the threat of Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) collapsing in the coming months; the decision also means she will become less influential on the European stage. For the past 13 years, the ‘Queen of Europe’, as she is fittingly being nicknamed, has dominated European affairs and held Europe together. Her departure will have significant consequences for the Europe as a whole, given the position that Germany, being the EU’s country with the largest economy and population, occupies within the EU. A change of power in Germany might very well affect the EU power structure in general.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the race to succeed her as CDU leader will entail a battle over the party’s direction. Three candidates have already announced their intentions of running for the post: Health minister Jens Spahn, the chancellor’s loudest internal critic; Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Merkel; and Friedrich Merz, who is coming back to the political scene after a 10 years break. Continue reading “Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream”

Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?

By Julia Mason

Participatory democracy is the new trend. With the European parliament elections on the horizon, do citizens still have faith in representative democracy?

The Rise of Participatory Democracy

At a recent European Parliament event to celebrate the International Day of Democracy (18 September), statements proclaiming the merits of participatory democracy abounded. This might seem strange in the meeting rooms of one of the world’s biggest houses of political representatives, but participatory democracy is making waves in Brussels and beyond.
Citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting, public consultations…These are the buzz words that are bringing legitimacy to contemporary democracies. On the model of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, propelled to fame thanks to its role in bringing about the Article 8 referendum on abortion rights, citizens’ assemblies have begun to pop up across the continent.[1] The number of municipalities setting up participatory budgeting is on the rise,[2] with some cities, such as Paris, handing over as much as 5% of their resources to publically-decided projects.[3] And of course, high-profile citizen consultation processes have started across the EU, largely inspired by Emmanuel Macron’s consultations citoyennes.
In his recent article, Stephen Boucher even goes as far as to propose that, post-Brexit, the remaining forty-six British seats in the European Parliament be reassigned to “a contingent of ordinary citizens from around the EU to examine legislation from the long-term perspective.”[4] But isn’t this precisely the role of an MEP? What happened to the concept of electing a trusted figure to represent your views in parliament on your behalf? Continue reading “Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?”

Manuel Valls Hopes for Reconversion in Barcelona

By Richard Blais

Politics always leave room for unexpected twists of events and incongruous stories. It was to the surprise of many that former French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, announced in 2018 he would leave every office he has in France and attempt to be elected mayor of the city of Barcelona. Such surprising news began to take a more concrete shape when on October 2nd, Manuel Valls publicly resigned at the French National Assembly in order to focus solely on his political campaign abroad. This election occurs in a turbulent context due to the actions of the Catalan independentists last year, and the designation of the mayor of Barcelona is yet another fight between those who wish to remain within the Spanish nation, and those who crave for independence.

A Former French Prime Minister in Spain?

Why would a French politician aim for an office in Barcelona? Good question, right?! Manuel Valls is not alien to the Catalan city, as he was actually born there and only became a regular French citizen at the age of 20. He was approached by the centre-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens), as this pro-European, liberal and mostly loyalist party could see in Manuel Valls a potential candidate for their programme. This new party, created in 2006, yet never “won” any major city nor any major leading figures.(1) On the other hand, Manuel Valls always advocated for a united Spain when commenting the 2017 turmoil in Barcelona, stating on French television that “Catalonia without Spain is not Catalonia”. Continue reading “Manuel Valls Hopes for Reconversion in Barcelona”

Elections in Brazil: A Case of Political Polarisation

By Guilherme Becker

After a cold and rainy winter in Southern Brazil, springtime has already come with some sunny but not so shiny weeks. As time runs towards the national election on October 7th, a land worldwide known for its clear sky and spectacular shores seems to be a bit cloudier and darker than usual. The feeling may come from the fact that things will remain the same for the next hundred years: stagnant, conservative, late, backwards and with its best minds leaving it behind. Is there anything worse than that? Well, maybe yes.
Democratic since 1985 and with direct elections since 1989, Brazil now faces a campaign full of hate. Violence has dropped off from the internet directly into the streets. Almost a month ago the right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) was stabbed while campaigning in the midst of a crowd in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Southeast.

On March this year, violent mood was already in the air, when a bus transporting voters of the then candidate of centre-left-wing Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT, Workers’ Party, former president from 2003 to 2010, sentenced to jail for corruption and thus forbidden to run under Brazilian law) was shot twice in the state of Paraná, in the South, without injuries.
The first impression is that all that hate speech that people used to flow freely on social media now has poured into reality. And that is not only worrying: it actually is a very frightening development to observe. Continue reading “Elections in Brazil: A Case of Political Polarisation”

The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?

By Charlotte Culine

Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.

To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks. Continue reading “The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?”

How Brexit could pose an opportunity for the EU

By Linda Piersma

In the midst of a nasty break-up in the West and moves by Hungary and Poland towards ‘illiberal democracy’ in the East, a unique opportunity might present itself: a pan-European list of MEPs. Because let’s face it, the European elections do not rouse the spirits of most European citizens. Very often, European elections are hijacked by national quarrels that transform the European elections into an evaluation of respective national government’s performances. While we know all about Trump and American affairs, European issues do not get a seat at the dinner table. With the United Kingdom (UK) leaving the European Union in March 2019, 73 seats will become available in the European Parliament. Notwithstanding the trauma of Brexit, these free seats can be  used to create a pan-European list of MEPs to be voted upon directly by European citizens. Such an electoral college will strengthen European democracy, thereby bringing the EU ever closer to its citizens and put a halt to the nationalization of the European elections.

More than being just a fancy idea, it provides a firm response in the face of recent illiberal moves by Hungary and Poland. Over the last year, ruling Eurosceptic parties Fidesz and PiS have taken several highly controversial measures. For example, by taking government control of NGO funding. Recently, their close bond was confirmed when Mateusz Morawiecki, freshly appointed Prime Minister of Poland, decided to use his first bilateral visit to meet with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Together, their deep resentment and distrust of Brussels increasingly poses a threat to Europe’s core values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Continue reading “How Brexit could pose an opportunity for the EU”

German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign

Wong Tsz 

Germany has just experienced one of the most turbulent general elections in recent history. Merkel has gained another 4-year term; for the first time since WWII, a far-right party, the AfD, has made its way into the German parliament; and a three-party coalition seems inevitable. But what else can we tell from this election?

Winners and losers:

Picture2
Official election figures. (Source)

Coalition

A record six parties have entered the Bundestag. They are: The centre-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union), SPD (Social Democratic Party), The Left (Die Linke), The Greens (Die Grünen), the FDP (Free Democratic Party), and the AfD (Alternative for Germany).

As it stands, no party wishes to cooperate with the AfD, and die Linke is a traditionally difficult ally due to its uneasy past regarding the East German Stasi (Staatssicherheitsdienst, SSD). Since the SPD vows to withdraw from the grand coalition that it has formed with the CDU since 2013, the only feasible possibility is the CDU-Greens-FDP coalition – also known as the ‘Jamaica’ coalition, named after the three colours. Although coalition government is not something new for the German politics, a three-party coalition is still not commonly seen in the German parliament. Continue reading “German Elections Explained – Inside the politics of the 2017 campaign”

The Elections that will shape Europe #1: The Netherlands

Geert_Wilders_tijdens_een_politieke_campagne_in_Spijkenisse
Geert Wilders. Photo by Peter van der Sluijs

Arne Van Lienden

This is the first in a series where The Euroculturer dives into the upcoming elections in The Netherlands, France, and Germany. In this first article, Arne van Lienden explains the stakes in the Dutch elections.

It is safe to say that 2017 will be a decisive year for the future of the European Union. Not only will the EU have to negotiate the exit of the UK from the Union, following the Brexit referendum, but it will also have to contend with uncertain elections in three founding Member States. Among these three are Germany and France, who, especially after the UK’s departure, are the most financially and politically powerful members of the Union. With populism on the rise and anti-EU sentiment becoming more widespread, it is needless to say that these elections will be vital for the survival of the EU, at least in its current form. With the French elections in April and the German elections in September, it might be easy to overlook the Dutch elections this month. Although The Netherlands is significantly smaller and less powerful in the European arena than France and Germany, the elections on the 15th of March will serve as a lipid test for how the electorates of the so-called ‘core’ countries of the EU will respond to the Brexit referendum, austerity measures and budget cuts, as well as the influx of refugees. It is the first round in a series of fights that will decide Europe’s future.

The surge and decline of Geert Wilders

In order to form an executive government in the Netherlands, a party needs a majority of the seats in the Tweede Kamer (Parliament). This comes down to 76 seats out of the 150 available. In contrast to, for instance, the UK, a Dutch party has never managed to win 76 seats outright. Therefore, the Dutch government is always a coalition of different parties, often with strikingly different political ideologies. Especially in today’s fragmented political climate, polls show that the biggest party will probably get no more than 25 seats in this election. This will mean that there is most likely going to be a broad coalition government, which sometimes can consist of four or five parties. The coalition system ensures that governmental policies are always the result of a consensus between different, often opposing, parties, making it impossible for radical policies to get passed. However, a common criticism is that practically nothing ever gets done due to this balancing act.

Mark_Rutte_Torentje_2012
Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Photo by Minister-president

It is important to understand the coalition system to understand why, in the last months before the election, far-right Eurosceptic Geert Wilders is dropping several points in the polls per week. Of all the 28 (!) parties that are participating in the elections, only a few have not ruled out Geert Wilders’ PVV as a coalition partner. PVV’s stance on Islam and immigration were a deal breaker for parties on both the left and right. For current Prime Minister and leader of the right-leaning VVD Mark Rutte, there is also a personal factor that rules Wilders out as a coalition partner. Rutte’s first government fell after Wilders withdrew his support, something that Rutte has never forgiven. The slim chances of actually ending up in government made the PVV lose many voters – voters who rather strategically support a party that will be able to form a coalition. Nonetheless, recent polls still show that the PVV will end up as one of the biggest parties – if not the biggest – in the Netherlands, and for that reason it will be an important voice in the opposition of the future government. Some people also fear that promises of moderates to not work with the PVV will be forgotten once the votes are cast. Mark Rutte’s VVD in particular is seen as a party that could pragmatically change its tune after the elections.

Puzzling for a coalition

With new polls coming out every other day, Dutch politicians and citizens are puzzling to find a workable coalition that has 76 or more seats in Parliament. The VVD and PVV seem to be leading in the polls, but few other parties want to work in a coalition with these two parties. A more likely option is a center-left government, including Christian-Democrats, socialists, environmentalists, and classical liberals. A loud proponent of a possible center-left coalition is the young Jesse Klaver, leader of GroenLinks (GreenLeft). Often compared to Justin Trudeau for his appearance and political style, Klaver’s GroenLinks is expected to go from four seats to 18 or more. Klaver’s political star is rising and this is frightening the VVD and PVV, who both chose to resign from a televised debate after they heard that Klaver was invited behind their backs. Right-wing tabloid De Telegraaf started the offensive against Klaver and was surprisingly joined by other leftist parties that were aiming to win back voters that have been lured over to GroenLinks. Lodewijk Asscher, the new leader of PvdA (Labor), attacked Klaver for allowing prices to rise due to higher taxes on driving cars and more subsidies for green energy.

JesseKlaver
Jesse Klaver. Photo by BuelensLeon

Nothing is settled yet, and the coalition negotiations after the coming elections will be fierce and difficult. Although Klaver has repeatedly reached out to the Christian-Democrats as a possible coalition partner, these parties might very well choose to join Mark Rutte’s VVD. The VVD is still rising in the polls, but with a strikingly smaller margin than in 2012. Austerity measures and integrity scandals have made trust in Rutte and the VVD decline significantly, and the campaign by the VVD revolves completely around regaining lost trust, combined with a more right-wing tone to siphon votes from the PVV.

The Netherlands in Europe

What does the current political climate say about the role of the Netherlands in Europe? It is clear that the Netherlands is heavily divided over issues of integration, finance, and Europe. Like many European countries where populism is on the rise, the political debate has become more complicated. With Wilders trying to delegitimize the media and Rutte refusing televised debates, it seems that democracy has already become a clear loser in the upcoming elections. The role of the Dutch in Europe is contested, but except for the PVV and some marginal right-wing parties, it is a political consensus that the Netherlands needs the EU more than that it suffers from the EU.

However, even though the PVV is unlikely to form a part of the government, it has succeeded in hardening the tone of the Dutch political debate and making anti-EU rhetoric more acceptable. To be pro-European is often frowned upon, and needs more explaining than to say one is against the European project. Although the Dutch elections precede the French and German ones, government policy will, for a great part, rely on how the new German and French governments will deal with the EU. The Netherlands is too small to unilaterally turn its back on Europe or to single-handedly speed up the integration processes. It relies on the policies set in the European powerhouses. The normalization of anti-EU rhetoric in the political arena of a founding EU Member State is a frightening development that promises nothing good for the future of Europe. On the other hand, a pro-European center-left coalition  could serve as an example to other European countries that, even in a time of populism and the alt-right, progressive policies still stand a chance.

Click here for more National Politics on The Euroculturer.

Click here for more EU on The Euroculturer.