Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Inti Suarez: the Election in The Netherlands Are under the Sign of Hesitating Voters

Ralitsa Kovacheva, September 4, 2012

Inti Suarez was born in Buenos Aires (Argentina), studied physics and biology in Caracas (Venezuela), acquired a degree in ecology in Basel (Switzerland). Since 2000 he has lived in Utrecht (the Netherlands), where he manages his own research company. He is interested in research in the economics of migration and the evolution of social networks. He is a member of the Dutch Green Party, actively engaged with the issue of migration. euinside asked him to comment on the election campaign in the Netherlands, where general election is scheduled for 12 September. We publish the entire interview (via email) with Mr Suarez because we believe his observations are valid not only for the Dutch but also for all European societies, including the Bulgarian. Most notably, the problem with the lack of relevant issues to be discussed during the election campaign, unclear positions by politicians and hence, increasing voter indecision and the rise of populism.

еuinside: What are the main issues in the electoral campaign?

Inti Suarez: I see this as a funnily loaded question. Of course, being involved in politics myself I would like to believe that this campaign is about issues. As a matter of fact, quite some journalists and politicians seem to believe it is. I beg to disagree. There are no relevant issues about which competing parties disagree, or have strongly different visions. The key word here is being relevant.

I believe that far more important is that the societal process that is driving the political landscape of northern Europe in general and of the Netherlands in particular is the lack of defining issues (from an elector's viewpoint), which brings a huge amount of undecided voters. Which makes politicians become even less clear in their positions (since we do not know what the elector wants, we get more careful), which drives further distrust from the elector. A real and dangerous vicious cycle.

There is, still, a relevant process shaping this election. That is the further indecision of the elector. Traditionally, big parties had a core of electors, constituencies in a way. To give you a simple example, for many years the Christian Democrats counted with the support of the small and medium entrepreneur, meanwhile the Social Democrats could depend on voting from trade unions and teachers. Those electoral blocks have been slowly eroding, and that erosion is relevant today, up to the point of producing government with coalitions unthinkable as few years ago.

еuinside: Given that Europe (the EU) appears to be one of the main campaign issues, how do you assess the public sentiments?

Inti Suarez: Surely, as in most northern European countries, our parties have different views on the issues that you mention below [austerity measures, bailout programmes, EU integration, migration, etc.]. But those issues are driving neither the campaign nor the predicted votes. There is a national consensus about austerity, and a minor discussion on how much budget slashing should happen. Nobody likes bailout programmes but everybody knows they will happen and in the long run they are likely to be good for the Netherlands. And there is also broad national consensus in trying to reduce migration and stop EU integration. Given these broad agreements, these issues are not driving the campaigns. If you read the dutch press, you would have read few months ago that Europe would be the dominant issue. And in the last weeks, you would have read the surprise that journalists express about that not being the case.

еuinside: Is there strong anti-EU sentiment?

Inti Suarez: The Netherlands has never been a anti-EU country. Here, when I say The Netherlands, I talk about the Dutch in the street. There certainly is an underground pride in the long Dutch tradition of overseas and across Europe trading. In that sense, a message against Europe can carry our demagogues only so far. Probably that is what explains the predicted electoral shrink of our main demagogue, Mr Wilders. Wilders started his political career writing speeches for the first prominent liberal that opposed the Dutch multiculturalism of the nineties, Mr Bolkenstein. With such a start Wilders was capable to channel societal discontent with the - mostly - unemployed and petty criminal youth of the big cities, which happens to be of ethnic background. A normal Dutch would tell you: "It's not good to attack Muslims as Wilders does, but he does have a point". Now, Wilders has turned his attacks to the EU. To use my previous metaphor, a normal Dutch would tell you "It's not right to attack Europe as Wilders does, and he does not have a point either".

All this being said, there is also the image that Dutch governments have been reasonably successful in sailing through the crisis, against the debaucheries of southern countries. So, if you ask the dutch in the street, he or she will also tell you that Greece is likely to be a pit of corruption and laziness, and that in crisis times it is a good thing to be austere. After all, this is northern Europe. I seriously doubt that these feelings would translate in whatever might be called anti-EU sentiment.

еuinside: What is the view of the party you represent on these issues (austerity measures, bailout programmes, EU integration, migration, etc.?)

Inti Suarez: Sure, I am involved in the dutch green party (GroenLinks) but I am in no way a spokesman of it. That being said, in principle we oppose austerity measures, support bailout programmes and further EU integration and would like to see an opener migration policy. Our party has also been changing its rather radical views, making them softer and more mainstream. So we recently build an austerity package that was born of collaboration with the Liberals and the Christian Democrats (and two other smaller parties). I do not expect any of my party leaders calling for an extended bailout to Greece or Spain in the TV prime time, if you understand what I mean. You could say that the Dutch Greens are a moderate left/progressive party.

еuinside: What is your forecast for the outcome of the election?

Inti Suarez: My crystal ball is cloudier than ever ...With the fragmented political landscape that I tried to describe, predictions today are less reliable than ever before. That is the sign of our times. That being said, the kind of fragmentation that we are witnessing in the Netherlands leads to further radicalisation. Of course, if you do not get clarity from the centre party that you used to vote for, some day you will find a more clear party to the right or to the left. That explains the rise in polls of right wing liberals, on one side, and the far left on the other.

All the same, the Netherlands is a rather conservative country, so I expect that after all the liberals, and not the far left, will be forming a new cabinet. Probably, a cabinet more fragmented than ever, likely with the participation of the mild liberals of D66, the Christian Democrats, the milder Christian Union (also a confessional party) and who knows, maybe even with the Green party. I believe that the Social Democrats do not have the push to get elected in crisis times and the far left is, at the end of the day, not what the Dutch in the street wants to see in government.

еuinside: What will be the consequences of the Dutch election for the EU and the euro?

Inti Suarez: I am strongly tempted to say none. But it is true that our prime and not so prime ministers would be under pressure from their spin doctors to use strong expressions in Brussels. It is extremely unlikely that strong language translates - for a Dutch - in suggesting any change within the structure of the euro. But Dutch politicians in Brussels would be likely to oppose any bailout. As far as I can see, those voices would not be relevant anyhow, and would also fold into any consensus that Merkel (or Hollande?) manages to create.