Against the Eastern Europeans, and never mind the Muslims

With the PvdA sucession becoming the hottest political topic I haven’t yet had the time to discuss another important shift: Wilders’s switch to attacking Eastern Europeans instead of Muslims.

Not that he suddenly loves Muslims, but right now he’s specifically targeting the Polish, Rumanian, Bulgarian, and other odd people from the fringes of civilisation (i.e. Eastern Europe) who come to the Netherlands to take away our jobs.

Needed: a new enemy

Wilders made a serious mistake when he criticsed the Queen and slid down in the polls. He badly needed to focus on the “good” parts of his platform, but instead of yet another round of Muslim bashing he decided to go after the Eastern Europeans. That’s interesting, and unexpected.

It may be that people start to get tired of all the anti-Muslim stuff. Everyone from left to right now agrees that there is a problem with a fairly specific set of Moroccans, so that’s nothing new any more. Also, immigration from Muslim countries has fallen quite a bit in the past ten years. Finally, there are more important problems right now. The recession and the euro-crisis, for instance.

Apparently Wilders has decided the anti-Muslim stuff isn’t going to keep him going. He needs a new enemy.

A few weeks back the PVV set up a website where people could complain about Eastern Europeans, especially Poles, who work in the Netherlands and are supposed to steal “our” jobs. While the stealing bit may be partly true in construction work, a lot of Poles work in agricultural jobs that Dutch (including all sorts of immigrants) feel too good for.

Consequences

Thus Wilders created yet another row to put himself back in the centre of attention. This one had unintended consequences, though. The Polish government was not amused and protested, the EU got involved and criticised the affair. The CDA, too, protested: Poles are catholic and popular with the farmers they work for, and those are two important constituencies for the christian-democrats.

Prime minister Rutte initially disclaimed any responsibility, saying the site is an internal PVV affair. However, it turns out that the other European countries don’t understand the details of the PVV’s gedoogsteun, and simply see Wilders as part of government. Thus Rutte is responsible in the eyes of Brussels, as well as the Polish government. Calls for a boycott of Dutch goods have already started in Poland, and that’s not good for a government concerned with foreign trade.

So this affair has the possibility of damaging government. A CDA vs. PVV battle with the VVD in-between is nothing new. Now, however, the VVD is criticised for doing nothing, especially by the other European countries, and Rutte will soon have to do something or lose all authority in the EU, and with it in the Netherlands. Good. I like that.

Now the most interesting question is: did this switch to Pole-bashing help Wilders in the polls? The answer appears to be No. The first Peil.nl poll gave Wilders a +4 from 20 seats back to his familiar 24, but the subsequent Politieke Barometer did not bear this out and had him stay at 20. The latest Peil.nl has him at 22, so he’s already lost half of his gain of last week.

Government in danger; again

So it seems the anti-Pole website isn’t going to help Wilders much, and has made his coalition partners very annoyed. The question is: how long are the three parties going to keep government going?

Is it in Wilders’s interest to pull the plug now? I’m not sure. He needs a solid win in the upcoming elections; any sort of loss will lead the other parties to conclude that Wilders’s days are numbered. Right now, though, he won’t win any seats. So on balance I think he has to grit his teeth and stay in the coalition.

Is it in Rutte’s interest to call Wilders firmly to heel and make him behave more moderate toward European partners? Yes, definitely, but not to the point of endangering government.

So on balance this is one more factor destabilising the Rutte government, but by itself it’s not enough to cause its fall. Continuing pressure from Poland and the EU might conceivably do the trick. On the other hand, that will allow Wilders to say that the “foreigners” are against him and all right-thinking Dutch should support him.

Still, let him. I hope the EU and Poland keep the pressure up. It might help Wilders some, but it will hurt government, and without support of both VVD and CDA Wilders doesn’t amount to much.

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This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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