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Friday, August 31, 2012

Dutch populist leader takes aim at EU — and flops

[...] as the Netherlands heads into elections with economic crisis raging across the continent, Wilders has taken aim at a different target: the European Union.

Wilders has tried to revive his Freedom Party's fortunes on promises to ditch the euro and ignore European budgetary rules ahead of the Sept. 12 election.

[...] as Europe's debt crisis forced immigration issues into the background, Wilders' popularity began a steady slide.

Wilders has always been a skeptic of the European Union, but he hadn't concentrated on Brussels much since 2005, when he was in the vanguard as the Dutch overwhelmingly voted to reject a European constitution in a national referendum.

Wilders loudly opposed bailouts for southern European countries, at one point printing up an oversize replica of an old drachma note and trying to deliver it to the Greek Embassy as a stunt.

Under Prime Minister Mark Rutte's all-conservative coalition, the Netherlands has been a reliable supporter of the German approach to the crisis: austerity for all and support for weaker economies only when things seemed about to spin out of control.

The Socialists, long a fringe party with no experience in national government, have grown fast under affable leader Emile Roemer, dubbed "Fozzie Bear" by a popular Dutch news blog.

Polls show Roemer's Socialists and Rutte's libertarian VVD Party in a neck-and-neck race to take the most votes, with each forecast to win around 32 seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament.

With the far-left and far-right splitting the anti-euro vote, there is no credible coalition with centrist parties that would be willing to adopt a radically anti-Brussels line.