The eurozone faces a major political test on Wednesday as the Netherlands votes in elections expected to weaken Angela Merkel’s grip on Europe and deliver unprecedented gains for radical Euro-sceptics.
Holland , home of the city of Maastricht which gave the EU treaty that created the euro its name, has fallen out of love with the single currency as eurozone austerity bites and Dutch taxpayers are asked to fund bailouts for highly indebted southern European countries.
Opinion polls put radical, Eurosceptic parties in third and fourth place in elections that are expected to rob Mrs Merkel, the German Chancellor, of a key ally as the Netherlands swings to the Left, away from Berlin’s doctrine of fiscal discipline and towards Francois Hollande’s support for reduced austerity.
Mark Rutte, the current Dutch centre-Right prime minister, is neck and neck in the polls with Diederik Samsom’s centre-left Labour party with many commentators predicting Holland’s biggest swing to the left in the country’s history as Dutch voters react against austerity measures demanded by the European Union in order to meet eurozone spending targets.
Mr Rutte on Tuesday warned voters that a swing to the left would damage the “Hague-Berlin” axis, jeopardising the close Dutch economic relationship with Germany and Holland’s traditional role as a strident supporter of fiscal discipline in the eurozone.
“If another party wins, there is the threat of a ‘Hague-Paris axis’ emerging. And France is the country of high state debt, high taxes and low economic growth,” he said.
Mr Rutte is allied to Chancellor Merkel while Mr Samsom’s calls for a spending stimulus have linked him to the Socialist French President, threatening to further tilt the political balance against eurozone austerity measures widely seen as vital for solving the eurozone’s deepening debt and economic crisis.
Dutch opinion polls put Mr Rutte and Mr Sansom on an equal footing, predicting 35 seats each in the country’s 150-seat parliament with commentators predicting a fragile coalition after the vote.
But as the eurozone economic crisis and budget cuts hit the Dutch hard in their pockets, Eurosceptic parties on both sides of the spectrum are predicted to make historic gains as up to 40 per cent of Dutch voters still remain undecided.
Even pro-EU politicians such as Mr Rutte have been forced to adopt anti-EU rhetoric.
“I have no time for the Europe of the blue flag and the little stars, some elevated ideal,” he said on Tuesday.
The radical, former Marxist Socialist Party, campaigning against eurozone austerity rules is expected to come third with up to 25 seats, doubling the number of its seats in the parliament. Close behind it will be Geert Wilders, and his Freedom Party, who supports a Dutch exit from the euro.
Diederik Olders, a Socialist Party activist campaigning on the streets of Rotterdam, said that while the Dutch were pro-European, they were increasingly anti-EU.
“There is a growing awareness that the EU is ideological, it is no longer seen as technocratic and above politics,” he said. “A turning point was when the Dutch rejected the EU constitution in 2004 only to have the referendum result ignored with the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.”
Many middle-class Dutch voters are backing the Socialists because they are worried about the impact of austerity on the Dutch economy and welfare state.
Gerard Roijackers, a shop-owner in the Oude Westen district of Rotterdam, said he was going to switch his vote to the radical leftists, despite their Maoist and Marxist past. “Austerity is bad for business,” he said.
In Spijkenisse, a suburb of Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port, the election and eurozone crisis threatens an architectural project to build the seven fictional bridges portrayed on euro banknotes.
The stylised designs of the banknote bridge designs were imaginary to prevent inter-European nationalist rivalry in the eurozone until Robin Stam, a Dutch designer, had the idea of actually building them as part of a housing project.
“The project did not have political ideology behind it, I thought it was fun but with the euro crisis it is more controversial,” he said.
“Now, when the euro is perhaps about to collapse the bridges might become part of history, a memorial to the single currency.”
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