Our American readers will find this hard to believe, but the electoral system in the Netherlands has been devised to ensure that new or small parties will not be able to win more than 20% of the seats in the Dutch Parliament. Indeed, Dutch law forbids new parties and parties which currently hold less than 16 of the 150 seats in Parliament to put forward more than 30 candidates for parliament.
This law is causing concern for the popular politician Geert Wilders, the founder and leader of the Freedom Party, PVV, which at present holds 9 seats. The latest poll predicts that the PVV will win 32 seats in the general elections next year. If Mr. Wilders does as well or even better than the poll predicts, the additional seats above 30 which his party wins will be evenly divided among the other parties.
Wilders has asked parliament to change the law to allow him to put forward more than 30 candidates. It remains to be seen whether the other parties will agree to change the law. [Update: The major parties announced this afternoon that they are willing to change the law -- pb]
In the Netherlands, it is the custom that the largest party in Parliament provides the Prime Minister and puts together a government coalition. At present, the Dutch Christian-Democrat CDA of Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende is the largest party, holding 41 seats in Parliament. The latest poll predicts that the CDA will shrink to 30 seats while Mr. Wilders’ PVV becomes the largest party with 32 seats and the Labour Party PvdA (currently Mr. Balkenende’s coalition partner with 33 seats) comes third with 22 seats.
If the law is not changed and the PVV does as well in the voting booth as in the present polls, Mr. Wilders will be denied all his seats above 30 and be forced to give one seat to Labour and one to the Christian-Democrats. This will allow the CDA to remain the largest party with 31 seats.
Meanwhile, the Dutch establishment is anxiously waiting for the results of tomorrow’s European elections. These results will only be announced on Sunday evening, after all of the 27 European Union member states have finished voting. The Dutch expect Mr. Wilders to win. Polls predict that the PVV, which is currently not represented in the European Parliament (EP), will win 4 of the 25 Dutch seats there. The EP has a total of 732 seats.
Pundits are wondering whether the PVV will join one of the formally recognised groups in the EP.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who do not belong to a recognised group, the so-called “non-inscrits,” are severely restricted in their parliamentary work.
This, too, may be difficult to understand for our American readers who might naively think that all members of parliament are equal since they each represent their respective voters. If all voters are equal, then all elected representatives must be equal with regard to rights and duties.
In the European Parliament, however, this is not the case. The EP has “privileged” and “underprivileged” MEPs. Members who do not belong to a formally recognised group receive less money, fewer staff, can only speak for one (sic) minute during debates, may not table amendments in the plenary session, cannot chair parliamentary committees, etc.
For a Group to be formally recognised in the European Parliament, it must consist of 25 MEPs from 7 of the 27 EU member states. This used to be only 20 members from 6 countries, but the rules have been tightened with the specific aim of making it harder for non-establishment parties to form a group. Following this week’s European elections a realignment of the groups is expected. The British Conservatives have announced that they will leave the Christian-Democrat group, the so-called “European People’s Party” EPP, to become the nucleus of a group of Conservative parties, while two of the existing smaller groups are expected to dissolve.
The two groups expected to dissolve after this week’s elections are the Independence/Democracy Group (ID), which is the Eurosceptic (anti-EU) group around the British UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), and the Union of the Europe of Nations (UEN), which, despite its name and its claim to be Eurosceptic, was led by the Europhile Irishman Brian Crowley of the Fianna Fáil party.
Two parties formerly belonging to the UEN, the Danish People’s Party (DF) and the Italian Lega Nord (LN), have already announced that they are leaving the UEN. Both parties are eurosceptic and oppose the Islamization of Europe. They are willing to form a new group with the Belgian Vlaams Belang and have also been talking to the Austrian Freedom Party FPÖ. They would also like to form a group with UKIP and, if he is willing to team up with them, with Mr. Wilders’ PVV.
In an article in the Dutch newspaper Trouw today, the leftist journalist Rinke van den Brink, a self-declared expert of the “far-right” and the author of a number of biased books, such as the “Internationale de la haine” (The International of Hatred), writes about “Wilders’ European family.” Mr. van den Brink talked to Filip Dewinter (VB), Mogens Camre and Morten Messerschmidt (DF), Mario Borghezio (LN), Andreas Mölzer (FPÖ), and Gerard Batten (UKIP). Mr. Batten says he personally favors cooperation with Mr. Wilders but is not sure whether his party leadership is keen to address the issues (read: the fight against Islamisation) which have made the PVV so successful.
Mr. van den Brink’s article is part of a concerted project. Tonight, Dutch television broadcasts a documentary with the same title, in the hope of persuading the Dutch voters to abstain from voting for Mr. Wilders tomorrow. Part of the documentary is an interview with the Dutch academic André Krouwel who warns that Mr. Wilders is an extremist. Mr. Krouwel says Mr. Wilders is dangerous because he, and the other parties who would like to team up with him, emphasize the importance of national sovereignty over European cooperation. “Giving a central role to the national states will lead to many serious problems: to economic decline and to tensions between the states. It endangers prosperity and peace in Europe,” he says. [video]
On Dutch television this evening (June 3), Geert Wilders announced that he will not team up to form a group with other parties in the European Parliament. He said that joining a group would "lead to confusion".
He said he realizes that not joining a group has consequences such as less speaking time and less influence, but he is willing to accept these. Opponents of Wilders in Brussels say that as he will not belong to a group, his influence in the European Parliament will be limited.