Geert Wilders and the future of European populism Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
"Do you know this man?” Geert Wilders asked, gesturing at a closed-caption screen set up in his heavily guarded office in the Dutch parliament. “Some kind of fundraising guy who just became your ambassador?” The new U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands is Timothy Broas, a wealthy “bundler” for many Democratic campaigns. It was the week of President Obama’s visit in late March, and Broas was using the occasion to make his first major pronouncement. He warned that a recent statement by a certain Dutch politician about Moroccans “conflicts with Dutch values.”
That politician would be Wilders. On the night of municipal elections the week before, he had greeted supporters in the Tijd café and—more important—launched his party’s campaign for the upcoming election of Dutch representatives to the European parliament. Wilders asked the riled-up crowd three questions. Did they want more or less—meer of minder—of the European Union? “Min-der! Min-der! Min-der!” the crowd began to howl. Of course they wanted less of the EU. The whole country had said so again and again. The Netherlands had voted almost two-to-one against a European constitution when it was put to the voters in a referendum in 2005, and yet its politicians had kept handing over more and more sovereignty to officials—“scoundrels,” Wilders calls them—in Brussels. Wilders’s PVV, the most stridently anti-EU party in the country, held a commanding lead in the polls.
Wilders then asked a second question. Did the people in the room want more or less of the PvdA, the country’s center-left party? Again: “Min-der! Min-der! Min-der!” You didn’t need the crowd to tell you that. The PvdA’s own voters had already done so. It had suffered an electoral wipeout that night, losing Amsterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, The Hague—cities where a non-PvdA government would until recently have been unthinkable. The whole electorate wanted less of the damn PvdA. Once a benefit-bestowing powerhouse that commanded a third of the 150 seats in the national assembly, it has lost touch with the country’s working class. Although the party still serves as a junior partner in the national coalition, it would take only 13 seats—fewer than a tenth—if elections were held today.
It was replaced in the hearts of an increasingly upper-middle-class left by D66. That party was named after the year it was founded, and it has never traveled far from the mid-1960s limousine liberalism of then-New York mayor John Lindsay—a politician to whom the D66 leader, the equine Alexander Pechtold, bears a striking stylistic resemblance. So the PvdA are the leading victims of what the pollster Maurice De Hond has called “the slow-motion demolition of the Dutch political system,” just as Wilders seemed, until that night in March, to be its greatest beneficiary.
Wilders had one more question, though. After explaining that his party rested on straight talk and avoided political correctness, he asked the room: “Do you want, in this city and in the Netherlands, more or fewer Moroccans?” Wilders would explain in an interview a few minutes later—the post facto clarification is his political signature—that he didn’t mean all Moroccans, only the criminal ones. But the room did not insist on that qualification and hollered, “Min-der! Min-der! Min-der!” as lustily as it had for the other questions.
The fallout was almost immediate. One German news agency compared Wilders to the Nazi rabble-rouser Joseph Goebbels. Two of his 14 members of parliament exited the party. So did two city councilors and one of his European candidates. Then Wilders’s adversaries began to file judicial complaints against him for discrimination, 500 of them in a single day in the left-wing city of Nijmegen. The other parties debated whether to freeze Wilders’s party out of any involvement in governing, through what is called a cordon sanitaire. (Labour said yes; D66 said it would be undemocratic.) Wilders fell from 27 percent to 22 percent in the polls.
It was a signal that there are limits to what a populist candidate can say—but also that those limits might be getting less and less constraining. Five percentage points is not that many. As the days passed, it appeared that Wilders might be in the process of winning them back.
3:46 PM, Mar 25, 2014 • By ELLEN BORK
General Secretary Xi Jinping of China is in Lyon, France today, the second stop on a European swing, his first trip there since taking over the leadership of China’s Communist party. He has already visited Amsterdam, where he met with President Obama. After France, including a visit to Paris, Mr. Xi will continue on to Germany and Belgium.
Iranian success in European courtrooms. Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By ANDREW SOUTHAM and TED R. BROMUND
In a recently leaked private phone call, an EU foreign policy official, Helga Schmid, grumbled to the EU’s ambassador to Kiev that it was “very annoying” that the United States had criticized the EU for being “too soft” to impose sanctions on Ukraine. Criticism may be annoying, but EU softness is a fact of life, and the transatlantic trouble over sanctions goes beyond Ukraine. For the past year, British and European Union sanctions against Iran have faced a string of legal challenges and lost nearly every round.
7:24 AM, Dec 13, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
On November 26, the Financial Times published an extravagant encomium to Lady Catherine Ashton by its Brussels bureau chief Peter Spiegel, under the headline “EU foreign policy chief Lady Ashton comes of age in Iran talks.” Spiegel reported, “her team returned from negotiations in Geneva to a standing ovation . . . from EU ambassadors for their part in clinching a historic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
9:04 AM, Jul 17, 2013 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
This week the EU took a stance that it heralded as pro-peace, pro-"peace process," and anti-settlement. Henceforth, new guidelines require all 28 member nations to refuse any grants, scholarships, prizes, or funding to entities in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Or any part of Jerusalem that was not part of Israel prior to the 1967 war. Or the Golan Heights.
12:00 AM, Jul 13, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Here’s a TTIP for you. No, that’s not a typo missed by our ever-vigilant editors. It stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, what British prime minister David Cameron calls a “once-in-a-generation prize” that can create two million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, and Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador here in Washington, reportedly describes as the “Holy Grail” for resuscitating transatlantic economies.
The European Union’s coming attack on the Anglo-Saxon financial sector Jul 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 40 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
Take a visit to the cyber-belly of the beast, to a website run by the European Commission, the EU’s bureaucratic core, and you will be told that “the financial sector was a major cause of the [economic] crisis and received substantial government support.” Soon it will be payback time, in the form of Europe’s new Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), set to be levied at a rate of 0.1 percent on equity and debt transactions, and 0.01 percent on trades in derivatives. It will ensure that the financial sector “makes a fair and substantial contribution to public finances.”
3:05 PM, Mar 18, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Russian energy company Gazprom is offering to bailout Cyprus in exchange for gas exploration rights, according to media reports.
"Russian energy giant Gazprom has offered the Republic of Cyprus a plan in which the company will undertake the restructuring of the country’s banks in exchange for exploration rights for natural gas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, local media reported," reports GreeceReporter.com.
12:31 PM, Mar 17, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Recall how improbable it seemed that the tiny nation of Greece might bring down the Euro and cripple the world's financial mechanisms? And, then, the story – if not the danger – seemed to fade away. Well, it now appears that the even more insignificant island of Cyprus may provide the spark. As Liz Alderman reports in the New York Times:
12:00 AM, Feb 9, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Growth is the summum bonum of economic policy. Tough to arrange at home: stimulus packages don’t work very well, and monetary policy produces lots of fiat money but not very many jobs. The solution: export-led growth—the other guy will buy so much of your goods and services that your economy will grow. There are two ways to make this sort of growth happen. Lower the international value of your currency so that your output is cheaper overseas, or increase productivity at home by lowering labor and other costs and therefore the prices you need to charge foreigners.
1:29 PM, Feb 6, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
Yesterday the Bulgarian government announced the results of its investigation into the July 18, 2012 bus bombing that killed 5 Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver in the city of Burgas. At least two members of what appears to have been a three-man team belong to Hezbollah. More specifically, explained Bulgaria’s interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, they were part of Hezbollah’s “military wing”—a peculiar turn of phrase that hints at the political implications of the Bulgarian investigation, which may have a major impact on European Union foreign policy as well as Hezbollah’s ability to operate on the continent. And yet the most serious repercussions may be felt inside Lebanon, where Hezbollah is already feeling the pressure.