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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is a staunch europhile, but the surge of eurosceptic figures in the Netherlands has seen him become a vocal figure in the European Council. As the EU grapples with the pandemic and economic turbulence, Mr Rutte has been critical in debates over the bloc’s budget. He was a leading figure demanding that Hungary and Poland abide by a rule of law mechanism, sparking a dispute which turned hostile when the two countries vetoed the budget. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused Mr Rutte of using “communist tactics” and of “hating” Hungary.
The row led Mr Rutte to warn the EU “can only survive in the long term if it is also a community of values”, indicating that the European Project had been threatened by Hungary and Poland.
Senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, Rem Korteweg, warned in 2017 that the Dutch were “falling out of love” with the EU amid disputes over fiscal and political policy.
He highlighted that while the Netherlands has an influential role in Brussels since this century, the country has “started to view the EU with growing suspicion”.
Mr Korteweg said in his paper for Carnegie Europe that the eurozone led to the Netherlands becoming a creditor country, asked to bailout struggling southern EU member states.
The perception that the Dutch were left paying the bill while other countries flouted the rules became fertile ground for eurosceptic politicians, the expert added.
Brexit could also have an impact on Dutch feeling towards Brussels, as Amsterdam and London held similar views on the economic policy of the EU, demanding more restricted spending and less European Commission interference.
But with the UK out of the EU, the Netherlands has lost an ally in making these demands, and could be forced to offer more ground to other countries.
Mr Korteweg added: “It remains to be seen whether the Netherlands can ensure that its interests are protected and its concerns heard in a union that will inevitably revolve around Berlin and Paris.
“For the time being, the Dutch feel they are being pushed—albeit reluctantly—ever closer to the exit.”
One of the major emerging eurosceptics in the Netherlands is Geert Wilders, who has been a prominent advocate for Nexit – Amsterdam’s version of Brexit.
He said the day after the UK voted to leave the EU that the bloc was “more or less dead”.
However, in the 2019 European elections, Dutch anti-EU parties fell short of expectations as europhile parties secured more of the vote than expected.
Pew Research polling showed that while just 51 percent of Dutch had a favourable view of the EU, this figure rose to 66 percent by 2019.
In January, Mr Korteweg said the Dutch see the UK and a country with an identity crisis after Brexit.
He said: “For us, the UK has always been seen as like-minded: economically progressive, politically stable, respect for the rule of law – a beacon of western liberal democracy.
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“I’m afraid that’s been seriously hit by the past four years. The Dutch have seen a country in a deep identity crisis; it’s been like watching a close friend go through a really, really difficult time. Brexit is an exercise in emotion, not rationality; in choosing your own facts. And it’s not clear how it will end.”
Another country sharing the Netherlands’ concerns over Brexit is Sweden, political scientist Mikael Sundstrom told Express.co.uk.
He said that the Swedes are “missing” the British.
Mr Sundstrom said: “Clearly Sweden is missing the UK more than most, because the UK and Sweden were very well aligned on a number of issues.
“Now Sweden no longer has that really powerful ally, so Sweden is missing out more than most on British support.
“They shared similar views on exports, trade and foreign policy for example. The UK and Sweden regularly teamed up on other issues.”
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