By Nicky Dempsey
In contrast to the leftist parties which have made advances in some European countries, the Dutch general election registered no progress for parties opposed to austerity or the left more generally.
Across Europe anti-austerity parties still far from command majority support. The Netherlands is one of a number of European countries where opposition to austerity has yet to make any electoral gains at all.
The previous Dutch coalition government collapsed in April unable to implement an agreed austerity programme. The focus for the election contest was twofold; whether to implement the earlier austerity measures and whether to support the new European Fiscal Treaty which was published during the campaign. This enshrines permanent austerity measures supplemented by the European bailout mechanisms.
The Netherlands is considered part of the EU core, and debate on the bailouts easily degenerates into xenophobic notions about refusing to bail out the profligate South of Europe.
The outright winner of the election was the leading rightist party of the former government the VVD. Campaigning on a slogan of ‘not a penny more’ (for Greece!) it increased its share of the popular vote by 6.1 per cent compared to the general election of 2010, the largest swing of any party. It increased its parliamentary representation by 10 seats to 41, in a total chamber of 150 deputies. The total vote of the mainstream parties of the right that won seats increased by 2.3 per cent to just over 48 per cent of the vote.
Among the workers’ parties the PvdA Labour party saw the next biggest gain with a swing of 5.1 per cent and it remains the second largest party helped by some anti-austerity rhetoric, and a friendly media due to its strident attacks on the Socialist Party.
The anti-austerity Socialist Party (SP) saw a narrow decline in its vote of 0.2 per cent. Opinion polls had shown it as the leading party in the middle of the campaign but its support nosedived dramatically. It is now joint third in highest number of seats, up from fifth as both the Christian Democrat CDA and far right PVV lost ground, despite an unchanged vote. This arises because of the decline of the other traditional parties and the fragmentation of votes to the fringe.
The Green Left cannot be considered on the left at all since on both major questions in the election it supported austerity and the Fiscal Pact. As a result the combined vote for parties of a broadly defined left fell by 3 per cent.
The biggest loser was the racist and Islamophobic PVV headed by Geert Wilders. It lost 5.3 per cent of the vote, more than any other party and 9 of it 24 parliamentary seats, leaving it as the joint-third biggest party alongside the SP. It was widely blamed in the media for bringing down the government in an opportunistic effort to pose as anti-austerity. In effect, the PVV suffered a setback as the price of bolstering the VVD as the dominant force in Dutch politics. Even so, its politics have become mainstream by participating in government and they will remain a threat.
The VVD should be able to command a parliamentary majority in favour of deepening austerity. Ideally, it would like to incorporate the Labour party to isolate its critics, and that cannot be ruled out.
The SP will need to regroup and reflect on an election which at one time seemed to promise so much. SP leader Roemer was widely regarded as the loser in the televised debates and has been criticised by some for backtracking on the party’s opposition to austerity measures such as the increase in the retirement age. But the decisive issue was that voters were unconvinced by the anti-austerity platform, however mildly it was put.
This is the context of the Dutch elections. Across Europe the working class and the oppressed are struggling under the ruling class offensive. Imperialist war-mongering is on the increase and the most oppressed are being blamed for the crisis, including Muslims, immigrants and other oppressed minorities. In their campaign of vilification the ruling classes of Europe are relying on the accumulated muck of ages.
Any effective response must be an all-rounded rejection of these attacks and the ideas supporting them. This includes a rejection of imperialist aggression and the efforts to scapegoat the most oppressed in society. There must also be no concession to the deliberate fostering of xenophobia between EU countries. The content of all economic policy must be to place the burden of paying for the recovery on capital, not on workers, the poor or the oppressed.
To be credible the left in Europe must go beyond opposition to austerity, important as that is, and argue for a clear alternative. This means developing economic policies which make capital pay for the crisis. It can begin with the fact that in 2011 the profits of firms operating in the Euro Area amounted to nearly 4 trillion Euros. Taking control of a portion of these would be sufficient to resolve the immediate crisis through increased investment, and in passing eliminate budget deficits.
Looking for a way out for the crisis, the capitalist parties are adopting policies which amount to increasing the rate of exploitation. To achieve this politically they are scapegoating the most oppressed in society, fostering divisions within Europe and increasing their war efforts. Socialists need to reverse that offensive on all fronts, by opposing imperialist aggression, promoting solidarity within Europe, by defending the most oppressed in society and by taking ownership of key sectors of the economy.