Another (national) election?
After the Dutch Senate elections on 27 March, new elections will be held at the end of this month for the European Parliament (EP). The big winner at the Dutch Senate elections was Thierry Baudet of Forum voor Democratie (FvD), a Right-Populist party. Although the Dutch Senate elections are regional elections, it does reflect how the parties could score during the European Parliamentary elections. Therefore, the elections of May also seem to be more focused on national issues than European themes, and especially to what extent Thierry Baudet and his party can break through on the European stage.
Baudet Vs Rutte
The polls differ slightly regarding the precise distribution of seats, but the trend is clear: the fight for votes at the European Parliamentary elections will be between Thierry Baudet, leader of the new Eurosceptic party, and the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte. According to the polls (Politico), Rutte’s VVD would win 2 seats, bringing the total number of seats up to 5. FvD could also enter the European Parliament with 5 seats. Moreover, research from I&O shows that the number of votes would mainly be a matter of turnout as the parties that succeed the most in mobilizing their supporters to vote are going to do well. This is exactly what FvD anticipates too as the same research shows that parties with more outspoken positions, such as FvD, raise the average turnout.
For the political groups at European level, ALDE remains the biggest in the Netherlands – both VVD and D66 are members. FvD indicated that it intends to join the Group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Following the good results in the local Dutch elections, the FvD is set to reinforce the ECR’s ranking. However, the FvD’s potential accession to the ECR will not take place without discussions: ChristenUnie (CU) is also part of the ECR Group and has already stated that they will not support FvD’s intention to join the ECR. The CU even said that they would object to the FvD becoming a member since both parties differ when it comes to priorities for the future of the EU. While the CU is in favour of a reform of the EU, the FvD has long advocated for a ‘Nexit’ – the Netherlands leaving the EU. Still, the CU will most probably have only a limited say in the matter because it is projected to win 1 seat compared to FvD’s 5 seats. Additionally, the FvD has softened its tone recently with regards to a ‘Nexit’, possibly to pave the way for their accession to the ECR Group and because of the negative impact of a possible Brexit. The damage of Brexit could be beneficial for traditional parties like VVD trying to break Baudet’s momentum.
The Dutch Spitzenkandidaten
Although the focus seems to be on the two largest parties in the polls, it should not be forgotten that there are two Dutch politicians running as Spitzenkandidaten to become the next President of the European Commission. The best known is Frans Timmermans, currently First Vice-President of the European Commission. However, when taking a closer look at the polls, Timmermans’ PVDA will lose 1 seat (from 3 to 2) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) at EU-level will also not win the majority of the seats which is the precondition to nominate the next President of the European Commission. The extra visibility that Timmermans receives as a Spitzenkandidat for S&D does not seem to result in any extra profit for him and his party. This is the contrary for the other Spitzenkandidat, Bas Eickhout. Eickhout is a member of the European Parliament for Groenlinks, a party that has been growing in recent years, and, together with Ska Keller, they are the frontrunners for the Greens in the fight for the Presidency for the European Commission. Moreover, his Groenlinks party is likely to win an extra seat in the EP following the elections.
At the end, the number of pro-European and Eurosceptic parties seems to remain more or less stable in the Netherlands. The difference lies mainly in the shifting of votes between the existing parties. The electoral profit of FvD is mainly due to the loss of PVV, which won 4 seats in 2014, but now it seems to lose 2 seats. Also, the electoral profit of the pro-European Green Left, for example, seems to be mainly due to the loss of D66, another pro-European party.