The big election issues: Europe, Nexit and winning back support for the EU

The Netherlands goes to the polls to elect a new government on March 15. is taking a close look at the five big issues dominating the campaign: healthcare, immigration, the elderly, housing and Europe.

Part 5: Europe

In early March, the European Commission published five scenarios for the future of the European Union, ranging from a focus on the internal market without further integration to full steam ahead for a fully integrated United States of Europe.

Despite coming in the middle of the election campaign, there has been little public debate on the suggestions. A Maurice de Hond opinion poll concluded that only 25% of the Dutch want more integration and there was a slight majority in favour of an economic union only, but the overall picture was one of divisions and more divisions.

The Dutch have always had a mixed relationship with Europe. After all, they rejected the Maastricht treaty which would have created a European constitution in 2005. And last year, rejected the EU’s treaty with Ukraine, albeit it on a low turnover.

The foreign media attention on the Dutch election campaign is largely focused on the rise of populism in the west as a whole, and that means turning away from Europe as well. Is the Netherlands, as some seem to think, ready for a Nexit?

No, a Nexit is far off – if the polls and the party manifestos are to be believed. Research published by the government’s socio-cultural think tank SCP last September showed the Dutch have become more positive about the European Union, with 46% now thinking membership is ‘a good thing’.

At the same time, the percentage of people who support a Nexit – the Netherlands pulling out of the EU – had gone down from 24% to 20%.

Nevertheless, Europe is likely to be a key issue in the cabinet formation talks which will follow the March 15 vote. Most of the parties are keen to see a more focused Europe, concentrating on trade, the single market and controlling the borders rather than continued integration.

Party programmes

PVV: The Netherlands should leave the EU

VVD:The EU should focus on cross border key areas, such as the internal market, trade, energy, climate change and migration. It should not be involved in pensions, healthcare, taxes and social security. A several speed Europe should also be possible but countries which consistently fail to meet agreements should be suspended. No more expansion.

D66: The Netherlands should play a key role in strengthening the single market, and Europe must work to boost competition, reduce red tape and simplify the rules for cross border transport and employment. In the long term, D66 wants full, democratic, economic and monetary union. Countries currently in the process of joining the EU should be allowed to continue but talks with Turkey should stop if the country adopts more undemocratic measures.

CDA: A united approach to security, energy, security, refugees and economic stability is key to boost confidence in the EU. Measures must also be taken to ensure member states meet financial agreements. No further expansion.

PvdA: Now is not the time for large moves towards federalism. The EU should focus on stimulating employment, managing the refugee crisis and migration and tackling tax avoidance. Further expansion should be limited to the countries which have already started the process to become a member.

50Plus: Opposes withdrawal from the EU but says Brussels should focus on three key areas: economic and monetary stability, the environment and energy provision and border controls. No further expansion.

SP: There needs to be a new treaty to strengthen the independence of EU member states and the European Commission should stop developing new policies. There should be a referendum on this new, slimmed-down EU.  The European Central Bank is too focused on business and should do more to foster job creation. The European parliament should stop the ‘circus’ of moving between Brussels and Strasbourg. All future expansion should be put to a referendum.

GroenLinks: The EU should become greener, more social and more democratic. It needs a new treaty which should be put to citizens in a Europe-wide referendum.  The stability and growth pact needs reform.

ChristenUnie: Europe needs serious reform to make sure that support does not completely ebb away. There should be limits to the power of Brussels and the European Commission should act as a support for members states. European budgetary rules should be adhered to and countries can be forced to leave the eurozone. No further expansion with central and eastern European countries, apart from members of the former Yugoslavia.

SGP: More room for different sorts of alliances and more focus on issues which should be dealt with at a European level, such as trade, the internal market, environment, agriculture, energy and climate policy. Power should be returned to the member states from Brussels’ institutions and treaties giving Brussels power over national governments should be subject to a two-thirds majority in the Dutch parliament.

PvdD: No new powers to Brussels without a referendum. Develop the option of splitting Europe into northern and southern regions. Develop an exit strategy for countries which wish to leave the eurozone.  No further expansion of the eurozone.

Denk: Supports the EU but is against the expansion of undemocratic EU red tape. More power should be given to the European parliament. Expansion of membership only within the approved criteria.

VNL:  Backs a Nexit referendum. Europe should return to its key tasks and the European parliament should be abolished. Would like to see a northern European alliance with Belgian Flanders, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Ireland.

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