Euro Debt Crisis Top of Mind as Dutch Head to Polls

Article excerpt

Martijn van Dam, a Dutch member of parliament for the pro-Europe Social Democrats party, has a simple reason for why the European common currency has to prevail. The Netherlands is a small country. If we want to compete with China, India, the US, and Brazil, we will have to work together with other European states, he said at a recent debate in Amsterdam.

But despite being one of the six founding countries of what is now the European Union, The Netherlands have become increasingly skeptical about the bloc and its currency as the eurocrisis has spread across Europe. Now, the Dutch parliamentary elections look set to be an unofficial referendum on the Netherlands' commitment to the future of European integration.

Dutch voters will go to the polls on Sept. 12 to elect a new parliament, five months after the collapse of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the center-right Liberal party. And while The Netherlands face an array of concerns, including rising unemployment (6.5 percent of the Dutch are now without a job) and increasing healthcare costs, it is the eurozone that is drawing the most attention in the campaign.

In fact, it is debate over the eurozone that led to the election in the first place. Mr. Rutte's government collapsed in April when coalition partner Geert Wilders of the right-wing populist Freedom Party withdrew his support to protest an austerity budget, necessitated by the euro debt crisis and pushed by the EU, that cut 14 billion euros in government spending and hiked taxes. Rutte was able to assemble enough opposition support to pass the budget without Freedom Party support.

But with the economic crisis, The Netherlands are feeling the pinch. Consumers are being more careful, opting to save instead of spend, and companies are increasingly shy of giving new employees a permanent contract. And as the Dutch tighten their own belts and as southern European nations like Greece and Spain struggle to do the same some have been having second thoughts about the wisdom of joining the euro.

A single European currency should have been the crowning of European integration, said Emile Roemer, leader of the left-wing Socialist Party, in an interview in Arnhem recently. But the differences in culture and economy between the northern and southern member states are far too large, said Mr. Roemer, who hopes to become prime minister.

But parliamentarian Jesse Klaver of the GreenLeft party, speaking at the same debate Mr. van Dam was attending in Amsterdam, pointed out that European integration has brought peace and stability to the continent. …