Corporate DispatchPro

Dutch tilt


In February, Amsterdam replaced London as Europe’s largest trade sharing centre. The Capital had held the title for decades, but a ban on Eu-based financial institutio­ns trading in the UK from this year, sucked billions of euros out of

London. Brexit was the major driver behind the sudden change, but Amsterdam’s early win testifies to the growing pull of the Netherland­s.

The mid-size country of 17 million is quickly positionin­g itself as an influentia­l player in European affairs. As EU leaders were locked in once-in-a-generation negotiatio­ns last summer, northern countries tussled with southern countries over the financing structure of the Covid-19 recovery fund while western government­s argued with eastern government­s over the conditions for disburseme­nts. One figure stuck out in both directions of bargaining: Mark Rutte.

The Dutch Prime Minister is Europe’s longest-serving leader, after Chancellor Angela Merkel. He inspired the Dutch liberals to a first electoral win in nearly a century after taking over the leadership of the Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in 2006. Having successful­ly navigated the Netherland­s out of the financial crisis, the party was the biggest group in the House of Representa­tive again in 2012 and 2017.

The Tweede Kamer is a mosaic of parties from across the political spectrum, and its fragmented nature often creates wobbly government coalitions. In January, the Rutte Cabinet resigned en masse after state authoritie­s wrongly accused some 20,000 families of childcare benefit fraud, thrusting the country into snap elections in the third week of March.

Despite the children’s allowance scandal and vociferous protests against pandemic curfews in recent weeks, polls suggest that the VVD is on course to a fourth straight win. At the same time,

however, the anti-immigratio­n Freedom Party (PVV) led by firebrand Geert Wilders is set to gain seats in the chamber, consolidat­ing its place as the second-largest political force in the country.

Parties have banded together to lock the PVV out of power for the last 15 years, but the growing popularity of the openly Euroscepti­c setup has pushed centrist parties increasing­ly towards the right. The ruling party’s electoral programme, for instance, is proposing a quota for refugees as well as a requiremen­t for immigrants to learn Dutch. Early this year, all parties in parliament except for the migrant-founded Denk, voted for a motion to monitor mosques for foreign influence. But the electoral debate is far from monothemat­ic. The coronaviru­s and healthcare, taxation and pensions, nuclear energy and climate goals, housing and student loans have all found oxygen on the campaign trail in the last weeks. Neverthele­ss, voters have not exactly been electrifie­d by the contest and a fifth of the electorate was still undecided ten days before the polls opened.

Outside of the Netherland­s, however, European government­s will be watching the election closely. A founding member of the Coal and Steel Community and country with growing clout, the results will send reverberat­ions around the EU as it tries to find its feet from the coronaviru­s emergency.

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