As the Netherlands prepares for general elections in March, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has written and published an open letter urging anyone who cannot respect Dutch customs to leave the country.
Published on his liberal VVD party’s website, Rutte says Dutch people are increasingly concerned about those who abuse the Netherlands’ freedoms to criticise the Dutch way of life while refusing to adapt themselves.
“We feel a growing discomfort when people abuse our freedom here to spoil things, while they just come to our country for that freedom,” Rutte wrote. “I understand that people think if you so fundamentally reject our country, I prefer that you leave. Act normally, or leave.”
Although not directly mentioning any particular group, Rutte’s letter is seen as clear swipe against migrants in the country and as an attempt to latch on to rising anti-immigrant sentiment ahead of key parliamentary elections.
Rutte says the Dutch people need to make clear what is “normal” behaviour.
“The solution is foremost a mindset,” Rutte said. “We must continue to make clear what is normal and what is not normal in this country. We will have to actively defend our values.”
Rutte leads the liberal VVD party which is keen to siphon votes from Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration and anti-Muslim PVV party, which in recent months has enjoyed a surge in momentum.
The VVD currently trails its PVV rivals in the polls. Peilingwijzer, a Dutch poll of polls , shows Wilders’ party could become the country’s largest with 33 percent of votes to Rutte’s 27 percent.
Rutte has previously said he would not consider forming a coalition government with Wilders.
The letter also came as European right-wing parties met in Koblenz to affirm their argument that voters are gravitating toward their populist message of wanting more control over borders, budgets and Brussels.
Wilders was found guilty in December of inciting discrimination against Moroccans, a ruling that he had called “shameful” and is appealing.
The Netherlands’ March 15 election will be closely watched and could act as a barometer for how receptive voters in Europe have become to populist politics.