Netherlands election imminent: Centre-right soaring in polls & Brussels should be worried

EU: Mark Rutte admits a 'deal is a deal' in a union

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The current Dutch Cabinet is led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who presides over a coalition made up of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, Christian Democratic Appeal, Democrats 66 and the Christian Union. But the grouping collapsed earlier this year and now, in the run-up to parliamentary elections later this month, centre-right and extreme right parties are taking the lead in the polls. According to polls conducted by Politico, The People’s Party for Freedom (VVD), a centre-right party led by Mr Rutte, continues to lead. The party is expected to gain seats compared to the last election. The opposition far-right nationalist Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, is running just behind the VVD in polls, and is also expected to increase the number of seats held in Parliament. 

The parties are calling for a surveillance state that will come down hard on the country’s marginalised and minority groups.

And according to Nani Jansen Reventlow, founding director of the Digital Freedom Fund and professor at Oxford University, Brussels should be worried.

Ms Reventlow said: “This should send alarm bells ringing in Brussels and beyond.” But it’s not the only crisis affecting the nation right now.

Six party leaders – including Rutte – took to the stage in the first televised debate of the election campaign on Monday, which was broken down into a series of five themed issues.

Each leader was addressed by members of the public on a range of topics – which saw Mr Rutte come under fire from Kristie Rongen, one of the victims of the child benefit scandal which has tarnished the Prime Minister’s name.

The scandal, which saw as many as 26,000 parents wrongly accused of having fraudulently claimed childcare benefits, was dubbed “unprecedented injustice” and a violation of “fundamental principles of the rule of law” by a parliamentary report.

As a result of the false accusations, an estimated 10,000 families were forced to repay tens of thousands of Euros to the Dutch Government which plunged many into financial difficulties, bankruptcies, unemployment and personal losses.

One parent even committed suicide as a result of the events.

An investigation conducted by the Dutch Data Protection Authority last summer made it Crystal clear that methods used by tax authorities to detect these reported cases of fraud were purely discriminatory.

Parents were singled out for added scrutiny based solely on their ethnic origin or dual nationality status.

Writing for Politico, Ms Reventlow said: “The scandal – and the Netherlands’ failure to formally reckon with its underlying causes – is an uncomfortable reminder for Europe that institutional racism is very much the lived experience of millions of people of colour living across the Continent.

“This problem will not go away if left unaddressed.”

She continued: “The European Union (EU) has a crucial role to play here – not only by addressing the inequalities within its own institutions and considering new legislation, as outlined in its recent anti-racism action plan but also by holding member countries to account for their compliance with existing regulations such as the Racial Equality Directive.”

In February, the EU Parliament’s Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup called on EU executives to “take a strong and decisive stand against institutional racism” in the Netherlands following the events.

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The group was also urging the Commission to ensure promises are properly put in place in the wake of international Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd.

While the Dutch Government has apologised and promised to compensate the families affected, no steps have actually been taken to rectify the situation – or to stop something like this happening again in future.

The Dutch Government is reported to be using at least another 211 blacklists, and the country’s main political parties refused a parliamentary motion to forbid the use of nationality or ethnic origin in risk profiling.

The Prime Minister’s party is, worryingly, going one step further and campaigning with a pledge to make “an exception to privacy legislation to make it possible to create blacklists of fraudulent individuals and share that information between governmental and private institutions”.

Ms Reventlow concluded: “The EU can’t afford to ignore what is happening in the Netherlands.

“The country’s failure to formally reckon with the institutional racism brought to light by the recent scandal, its lack of transparency regarding what other ‘blacklists’ are being used by the government, and its proposal to expand such automated, potentially discriminatory processes at scale is deeply worrying.

“When the EU’s anti-racism plan was launched last September, the Commission’s Vice President for values and transparency, Vera Jourova, said ‘change must happen now’.

“The Commission should make good on its word and take concrete steps to use the tools at its disposal to thoroughly investigate cases like those in the Netherlands.

“The risks posed by this kind of automation and its potential to reinforce institutional racism are not limited to the Netherlands. It’s happening across Europe and at a global scale.”

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