The Guest Blog

Below you´ll find a written opinon of the fresh MEP Judith Merkies of the Dutch PvdA-delegation in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (former PES) on the policial situation in the Netherlands after the recent elections for the European Parliament. As you certainly know, the social-democrats (PvdA) lost dearly, four of the seven EP-seats, all in favour of the populist and extreme right wing party of Geert Wilders. Merkies explains how to fight back.

The Dutch Prime-minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, is sometimes labeled as “the Harry Potter from the Netherlands”. But is he really ‘the chosen one’? Where are the scar, the wand and the broom? No, this tale is not about the rise of a new Harry Potter, but about the materializing of Voldemort.

The heavy blow taken by the Labour party in the Netherlands at the European elections, and the victory of the extreme right, resemble one of the closing chapters somewhere in the middle of the Harry Potter series.

All over Europe populist and extreme right wing parties have won over a considerable part of the electorate with eurosceptic, nationalistic and anti-immigration issues. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom became at once the second largest party, winning 17% of all votes cast. Is this a new tale about the materializing of Voldemort? How to fight the looming of a new dark era? Anyone can be Harry Potter, with the right wand and scar.

Out of the ashes of the Pim Fortuyn era, another spirit arose, breaking away from the liberal-conservative side, Geert Wilders. Slowly, this spirit began to take a bodily form, campaigning against the European constitution to prevent Europe becoming a federal superpower. The visible outline of Wilder’s movement became clearer at the national elections in 2006, already casting a predictive shadow with a party called ‘The Party for Freedom’ and a program dubbed ‘Clear Wine’. Purity is at the centre of the party’s doctrine, demanding a change of the first article of the Dutch Constitution, proclaiming the dominance of the Dutch culture and Jewish – Christian roots.

The specter of nationalism is no longer transparent but in an instant developing bodily form. The philosophy of exclusion paid off in the campaign for the European election, delimiting the world with a clear ‘no’ against Turkey, Islam and other foreign influence. Foreign influences starting in Brussels. The foes of Dutch culture are apparently not only to be found abroad or with the immigrant, the enemy is also within and is to be found amongst the elite as well.

As we seem to be only in the middle of the saga, the second half could be spine-chilling. However, if the resurfacing of extreme nationalism resembles the materialization of Voldemort, there have to be “horcruxes” – the Achilles heels, which if pierced, might prevent completion of the physical materialization. And, indeed, two horcruxes, a scar and a wand can be found.

The two horcruxes are exclusion and unachievable goals. Many extreme parties thrive in isolation. It is them against the establishment. Many Dutch parties have excluded the possibility of a coalition with the Party for Freedom. This isolation, this “cordon sanitaire” is what could make Wilders even stronger. Take an opposite approach. Extend a hand, show cooperation. In this way the nationalists will have to show their incapacity to work together, as they will exclude any cooperation. Let them isolate themselves and not claim isolation because of the unwillingness of others.

Once a party is in the driving seat in government the reality check is cashed and compromises are made. As history of all European populist parties over the last 30 years shows, getting to govern might be the fastest way out for the newest extreme right movement. However as a rocky political landscape stays behind, preventing this new chapter in the Voldemort series is preferable.

Parts of Wilders’ and other populist parties’ success come from clearly communicated one-dimensional goals. No more immigrants, “no” to Turkey, no more money to Brussels, getting rid of European Parliament. If the truth could only be so clear. Show that these goals are far from reachable.

For the Party for Freedom, the EU should return to a purely economic cooperation. The euro is good, the rest is redundant. Payments to the EU should be stopped immediately and the European Parliament should be abolished. , These claims are easy to counter. The monetary union thrives on principles like labour mobility, a European monetary policy and fiscal policy coordination. How can you close the borders and still have the euro? And how would you deal with climate change and energy policy without Europe?

However, the votes for populist parties are no phantom and politicians should develop a scar to connect with the Death Eaters. With the disappearance of Europe’s inner borders, the world has suddenly changed its size. Borders keep people in and out and provide a cultural, psychological and official security. The shock, going from a small and orderly country to a multi-ethnic melting pot and a large world has been too sudden. People have lost the feeling of security and are prone to fall for strong leaders promising shelter, security and a return to the old ways.

Too long have the old parties tried to reason the gut feeling of insecurity away. It is time to recognize the problems, whether imagined or real, and start a discussion in society on how to solve these. An illness, imagined or real, is only healed with treatment. The most powerful weapon of a politician is not his plans, his vision or his deeds, it is his tongue. Do not underestimate the power of words. This is a continuing campaign. And campaign is war. Study eloquence, I has brought Obama to the White House. Put your best soldiers forward. Do not reason problems in society away with statistics about Moslems or foreigners not being a problem, still do not adopt the same black/white tone of Wilders. Politics is all about persuasion.

The party embodying Harry Potter will have to crush the horcruxes and use the scar to connect to society. It will need the wand to touch the hearts of people and not the minds, their worries but also humanity.

Where is (s)he?

Judith Merkies, Dutch PvdA-delegation of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament

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