TOPICS > Politics

Dutch Elections

May 16, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: The establishment parties that ran the Netherlands for a decade of prosperity have been thrown out of office. The right of center Christian Democrats will lead a new Dutch government, and a brand new party led by the assassinated Pim Fortyn came out of nowhere to place second.

Not even a week after the nationalist professor at the head of an upstart political movement was buried amidst national mourning, his followers, members of the party called Pim Fortyn’s List, are now waiting to see if they’ll be included in the new Dutch government.

Fortyn brought an earthquake to stuffy, stable, consensus- craving Dutch politics. A proud gay man, blunt-spoken, he campaigned against open immigration, against foreign- born residents who didn’t assimilate, against Islam and its attitudes toward women and homosexuals, and perhaps most of all, against the Dutch political establishment.

Pim Fortyn’s death appears to have catapulted his party into sudden influence.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the elections, we turn to Viktor Frolke, a correspondent for the Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad, and Charles Kupchan, Director of European Affairs on the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration. He’s now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Kupchan, why did Pim Fortyn’s List do so well in the Dutch elections?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think we have seen a shift across Europe in the past year that is strengthened what would could call an extreme right, an anti-immigrant group, partly because of 9/11 and the fear of Muslim populations inside Europe, partly as a reaction against incumbent parties, which have generally been center left.

So we’re to some extent seeing extremist groups grow in strength but more importantly we’re seeing a general shift in Europe from center left governments to center right governments, and the extreme right is being strengthened not so much in terms of numbers, but in terms of their ability to attach to the center right and therefore, gain more political power.

RAY SUAREZ: Victor Frolke, not only was the government tossed out but a party that wasn’t even a party more than a few months ago came in in second place.

Was there widespread dissatisfaction in Holland?

VIKTOR FROLKE: I guess so, yes, I believe so. The establishment, the established parties in Holland were stuck and weren’t able to change anything that was relevant to the people of the Netherlands.

RAY SUAREZ: So Pim Fortyn came along at a time when people were hungry for a new way of politics?

VIKTOR FROLKE: Absolutely. There was actually talk about there wasn’t a democracy in the Netherlands — Holland being the country that had prided itself for having the oldest democracy of Europe.

Why was this, because the parties had basically locked up every decision that was made, and the people didn’t feel that they could have any influence on what was going on.

RAY SUAREZ: Was the murder of Fortyn in just the last two weeks a contributing factor to their very strong showing?

VIKTOR FROLKE: I don’t think so. I think that people who voted out of sentiment were also — were already going to vote for this party, so I think,. and a lot of people also who were planning to vote for the party didn’t do so because they thought only Fortyn could do it for them.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Kupchan, there have been a lot of political movements in Europe that have gotten similar attention.

Is it fair to try to connect the dots and talk about Fortyn in the same way we talk about Jean Marie Le Pen, Haider, similar Danish and Belgian politicians?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think yes and no. I mean on the one hand Fortyn was tapping into concern about increasing crime, about the failure of European countries to integrate immigrants into their populations.

But, on the other hand, a lot of this is about the failure of the center left governments.

For example, in the first round of the French election almost a third of the French electorate did not vote because they felt that they were disinterested in what was going on.

If you look at the Italian election, where Berlusconi came to power, attached to an extreme right wing party led by Fini, you saw that Routelli, the center left candidate, was almost a sacrificial lamb. They put him forward because the left was in such disarray that Massimo Delamo, the previous prime minister, didn’t want to put himself out because he thought they were going to lose.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: So part of what we’re seeing is the failure of the vision of the center left, a sense of stasis, of paralysis within these European countries, and that is strengthening the right and the extreme right, especially when you look at the Middle East crisis, increasing fear about terrorism, the Palestine-Israel dispute and the attack that that has led to in France, in Belgium, for example, on synagogues, and so I think this is all part and parcel of let’s go back to someone who can give us more order.

RAY SUAREZ: You heard what Charles said, Victor Frolke, but haven’t the Dutch been doing pretty well lately?

There’s good economic growth, low unemployment and by Western standards still pretty low crime.

VIKTOR FROLKE: Yes but you shouldn’t forget that Holland has one of the highest population densities in the world.

And, I think that simple fact was never really acknowledged by the established politicians, they didn’t know that, yes you need a place in a country with 16 million people where you can be alone. And you couldn’t anymore. Everywhere you were, were people. And I think that’s a problem that has to be solved and people who are living there need to be able to live together in a reasonable way.

And I agree with Charles, that basically the integration of those new immigrants failed dramatically.

RAY SUAREZ: So that was the most powerful weapon that the Pim Fortyn List and Fortyn himself had in the election, that really hit home, the immigration issue more than the others?

VIKTOR FROLKE: Absolutely. I think he was the first person who dared to take this issue at hand and look at it in a very realistic way.

Instead of trying to be politically correct and trying to appease everyone, like the way it has been done for years, he just said, well, listen, we’re full, this country is full.

We have to find new ways to accommodate people who are already living here, and we need to get, we need to give them jobs.

I think that’s something that’s really an aspect of this story that has not been looked at enough, is that the unemployment, yes, seems pretty low in Holland, but actually it’s really high, because a lot of people who are not officially unemployed are unemployed, because they get disability, because they are sick, so-called sick.

Those laws were way too generous and Fortyn was the first man who actually said, enough, we can’t go on like this. We need to give people jobs and we need to get all those people out of the welfare state.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Kupchan, when he’s been talked about, Pim Fortyn, so much as a hard right politician, or a new right wing leader in the Netherlands, is that… does that mean what we use it regularly to mean in other contexts, or is there a Dutch context for that, where their hard right isn’t necessarily the hard right of another place or the United States for instance?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: It is a unique brand of the hard right in a sense there are immigrants in his party, one of the top people in the party comes from the Cape Verde Islands. He was openly gay; this is not something you’d see in right parties in other countries.

So it was a uniquely European brand, but I think that as Victor was saying, one of the things that looms on the horizon that’s important here, is European demographics, unemployment issues, because if you look at Europe you see shrinking populations right across the content.

Especially in the big economies, Germany Italy France — how are they going to pay pensions, how are they going to find workers to fill their factories? They’re going to have to open the doors to new immigrants.

And that means rethinking the victory of the extreme right here, because it does say, we’re not doing a good job of integrating immigrant. We need to think about more civic definitions of citizenship rather than ethnic definitions because ultimately Europe will have to bring in immigrants, many of them are going to be Muslims because they’re coming from the Middle East and North America.

So I think this not a sign of a return to some sort of nasty right wing politics of the 1930s; rather it’s a warning shot that Europe has to deal more effectively with immigration, and I think it also does suggest a shift to the center right at the elite level, which raises interesting questions about where Europe is headed right now in part because they’re in the midst of this constitutional convention — will probably slow down European immigration, given the center right is generally more cautious about collective character for Europe than the center left.

RAY SUAREZ: Charles Kupchan, Victor Frolke, thank you, gentlemen, both.