Growth of exclusionary political forces in Europe must not be ignored

The Yomiuri Shimbun A situation in which an exclusionary political force would sweep the Netherlands has been avoided. But the expansion of this force’s influence, it can be said, is a matter of concern for the European Union.

The center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, lost some of its seats in the Dutch House of Representatives election but managed to remain the largest party in the parliament.

The populist Party for Freedom (PVV), which has taken an anti-Muslim and anti-EU stance, was limited to being the second-largest parliamentary force. The PVV had topped popularity rankings until just before the general election.

PVV leader Geert Wilders appealed to the electorate during the campaign that Islam is not compatible with the set of values common to Europe, such as gender equality, and called for blocking the “Islamization” of the Netherlands.

The populist party’s campaign pledges included stopping the acceptance of migrants from Islamic countries and shutting down mosques in the Netherlands. Wilders used Twitter a great deal to lash out at established political parties that prioritize cooperation with the EU.

If the PVV had won the election in the Netherlands, which is a founding member of the EU and belongs to the eurozone, it would have certainly dealt a serious blow to the EU.

It is highly significant that the VVD held out to remain the largest force in the Dutch parliament. It is likely to form a coalition government with other parties emphasizing cooperation with the EU. In his election victory speech, Rutte said, “The Netherlands said ‘stop’ to the wrong kind of populism.”

Overcome tide of populism

The uncertainty stemming from the aggressive political measures by U.S. President Donald Trump, such as immigration control, and uncertain prospects in the aftermath of Brexit were also factors that motivated voters’ feelings in favor of stability.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been a driving force for European unity, congratulated Rutte, saying that she wanted to cooperate with him as a friend and a European.

It is notable that Rutte displayed a harsh stance toward immigrants during the campaign period, in an attempt to win anti-Muslim votes.

In a newspaper ad, he warned that “those who cannot respect our social norms, such as gender equality, should leave this country.”

Rutte has taken a tough stance toward Turkey, too. He refused entry to Turkish Cabinet ministers who were trying to attend political rallies in the Netherlands.

Undeniably, a vague sense of unease has been swelling among the Dutch people that immigrants from Turkey and other Islamic countries would deprive them of jobs and disrupt the social order. Rutte probably could not treat this situation lightly.

Marine Le Pen of the National Front will be at the center of French presidential elections set for April through May. Le Pen will try to expand her support base by stressing her anti-Islam and anti-EU stance.

The European situation must be watched closely to see whether the EU will be able to overcome challenges posed by the growth of populism and keep unity.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2017)Speech


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