René van Leeuwen: Europe wasn’t the issue but it should have been

The election results aren’t as pro-Europe as they are made out to be, says René van Leeuwen. It’s just that Wilders’ tactics failed to do the job.

It didn’t take long for the tweets and comments on newspaper websites to appear: the elections results are not just election results, they are a vote for Europe. But nothing could be further from the truth.




And it’s not just because the majority of those tweets and comments were produced by spin doctors. I don’t follow their feeds but apparently there are lots of people who mimic them (re-tweeting).

Oh, the yawning void. Spin doctors, by definition, only concern themselves with form and framing (with Kay van de Linde scraping the bottom of the barrel with his comments on Jolande Sap’s hairstyle) and should be completely ignored during election time. But let’s leave the toxic influence of spin doctors and other form-over-content fetishists to one side for now.


A Google analysis in NRC Next showed what the elections were really all about: healthcare, the housing market and education. These were the main issues.




You could question whether they should have been, but the fact is that these issues are close to home. Closer to home than the issue of the European Union. But in the hypothetical (but by no means unlikely) scenario of a Southern European collapse and a loss of all loans and guarantees, many a voter will ponder why it was that Europe wasn’t higher on the list.


Here we come to the heart of the matter: the position of Europe on the political agenda. I think this is where the cause of the PVV’s hopeless performance lies.


Euro sceptiscism


A look at the polls and surveys asking specifically about Europe and the euro show a pronounced Euro scepticism which shouldn’t be underestimated.

Diehard pro-Europe parties, such as GroenLinks and D66, gained fewer seats than the diehard Euro-sceptic parties PVV, CU and SGP. The VVD, the biggest party in the country, has also made unequivocally anti-European noises. The question is whether that was just a public relations exercise.


The PVV scored very low on both content and argumentation. Wilders’ once-praised one-liners seemed to have had the opposite effect. His tactics did not fit the issue of Europe, which is far too complex for soundbites.

The rhetoric was there but the argumentation and the content failed to match up, even with a mountain of anti-European arguments to choose from. I sometimes wonder how far a party with less fanatical speechifying and more political know-how could go.


In conclusion it is fair to say that Europe was just one of many issues to feature in the election campaigns. The PVV gambled on Europe and lost. It failed to make the issue prominent enough to win votes. The party will have to deal with that but to say the election results are a vote in favour of Europe is pathetic nonsense.



René van Leeuwen is studying for a Masters degree at Erasmus University, Rotterdam


This article was published earlier in the Volkskrant





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