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New Dutch government drives wedge through EU liberals

New Dutch government drives wedge through EU liberals

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New Dutch government drives wedge through EU liberals

BRUSSELS — The decision by outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal party to enter government with Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party provoked a sharp rebuke from French President Emmanuel Macron’s top ally in Brussels.

On Thursday, Valérie Hayer, a French MEP who leads the liberal Renew Europe bloc in the European Parliament, expressed “total disapproval” following the announcement of a four-party Dutch coalition deal that includes both Wilders’ party (PVV) and Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

She suggested that the matter will be discussed at the first post-election meeting of the Renew group. A VVD MEP, Malik Azmani, is Hayer’s second-in-command.

The tensions could further divide the Renew parliamentary faction at a time when it risks losing its status as kingmaker, with polls suggesting that parties to the right will gain seats.

Hayer is campaigning against Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in France, a party whose MEPs will sit with Wilders’ lawmakers in the next European Parliament. Hayer described Wilders’ party as “the opposite of what we defend” on values, rule of law, climate and the EU.

The entry of the far-right into the Dutch government, a first for the traditionally liberal and progressive country, highlights the growth of the far right across the continent — and puts centrist parties in a difficult position.

It also comes weeks ahead of an expected far-right surge in the European Parliament election on June 6-9, in which both the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the hardline Identity and Democracy (ID) groups are expected to gain seats.

No longer a threat?

The European Greens were quick to note that the Dutch coalition deal came just a week after Renew signed a public declaration with other parliamentary groups designating the far right as a “threat” to the EU.

“We will never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far-right and radical parties at any level,” Renew and other political groups pledged on May 8.

The VVD is a pillar of Renew Europe, which was formed in 2019 when Macron teamed up with Rutte’s party. But the tensions between the two are not new. The two parties have never merged at the European level, amid simmering disagreements over who would lead a full-fledged pan-European liberal party.

The European People’s Party group did not sign the declaration against the far right and its national parties govern alongside the far right in Italy and Finland. Two parties affiliated to it — the New Social Contract and Farmer-Citizen Movement — are also in the Dutch coalition.

National parties are sometimes excluded at the EU level. The Socialists in the EU Parliament excluded Robert Fico’s leftist-populist Smer last year, after it formed a coalition with a far-right nationalist party, and the EPP parted ways with Viktor Orbán’s nationalist Fidesz party in 2021.

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