EU Liberals chief decries member party’s deal with Dutch far-right as ‘unacceptable’

President of the Renew Europe group, Valérie Hayer
President of the Renew Europe group, Valérie Hayer Copyright Alexis HAULOT/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
Copyright Alexis HAULOT/ European Union 2024 - Source : EP
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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Valérie Hayer says the agreement to form a new government in the Netherlands contravenes the values her political group holds dear.

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The president of the European Parliament's centrist faction, Valérie Hayer, has slammed the deal struck between her group's member party - the Dutch VVD - and Geert Wilders' far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) to form a four-way coalition government in the Netherlands.

"I would like to communicate my total disapproval and deep concern about how discussions to form a government coalition in the Netherlands have evolved," Hayer wrote in a statement shared on social media platform X. 

"(Wilder's) PVV is the opposite of what we defend on values, the rule of law, the economy, the climate and, of course, Europe."

The coalition agreement will see Wilders - an anti-Islam firebrand and staunch Eurosceptic - enter government after sweeping to victory in November's Dutch election, although he will not become prime minister due to his deeply divisive views.

Wilder's coalition partners are the centre-right New Social Contract (NSC), the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB), and perhaps most controversially caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte's liberal Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which belongs to Hayer's Renew Europe group.

The deal, which carries the slogan "Hope, courage and pride", vows to impose strict measures on asylum seekers, prevent family reunification for refugees and reduce the number of international students studying in the northern European country.

The coalition agreement breaches a declaration Renew co-signed last week to "never cooperate nor form a coalition with the far right and radical parties at any level."

It also comes three weeks before some 370 million voters across the EU's 27 member states head to the polls to choose who will represent them in the next parliament. Hayer's centrist group is expected to lose around 15 seats and could surrender its position as the parliament's third-biggest force to the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, to which Wilders' party belongs.

Hayer is French President Emmanuel Macron's pick for the European election, but is trailing far behind far-right rival Rassemblement National, also from the ID group.

The Dutch coalition deal is the result of months of painstaking negotiations following November's general election, which saw Wilders win a landslide victory and clinch 23.5% of the vote. 

A left-wing bloc of socialists and green parties trailed in second place, led by former European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. 

On Thursday, the Party of European Socialists also condemned the Liberals and centre-right EPP - which did not sign the declaration vowing to isolate the far-right - for enabling a far-right Dutch government.

"A line now runs from Finland, through Sweden, down to the Netherlands, to Croatia, and to Italy. It is a line connecting all those places where supposedly ‘pro-EU’ parties have now struck deals with the far-right to gain power. As socialists, we condemn these very worrying developments," the statement reads.

The European Greens have explicitly called on the Liberals to "take measures towards the liberal party VVD" in retaliation for the move, and criticised Renew for breaching the joint declaration where it pledged to cordon off far-right parties.

"We demand that (the Liberals) do not let VVD’s decision, which is of grave historical significance, pass without consequences for their Dutch member party. As pro-European democrats, we cannot stay silent when liberal and conservative parties team up with the far-right to form a government," the Greens' co-chair and lead election candidate, Terry Reintke, said.

Europe veers right

The deal is the first time a party belonging to the European Parliament's most far-right faction, the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, forms a coalition government with mainstream parties across the EU.

It comes as polls ahead of June's European elections suggest the bloc will veer sharply to the right, with far-right parties set to romp to victory in around seven of the bloc's member states, including France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Just last week, Croatia's ruling centre-right party also agreed to form a coalition with the far-right Homeland Movement, a relatively young party that is yet to choose its affiliation in the European Parliament.

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Parties belonging to the softly Eurosceptic, right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), have already entered formal coalitions or struck governing deals with mainstream parties in the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy and Sweden.

Wilders' coalition deal is the latest indication that the far-right is steadily marching into the mainstream across the bloc. 

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who also leads a hardline right-wing government, has warmly congratulated Wilders on the deal.

The centre-right EPP, whose lead candidate von der Leyen is likely to secure a second term as the chief of the EU's powerful executive arm, the European Commission, has come under fire for keeping its door ajar to right-wing populists following June's vote.

Von der Leyen has clearly indicated that she views some parties within the right-wing ECR group - such as Giorgia Meloni's hard-right Fratelli d'Italia - as suitable partners in the next European Parliament. 

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It would break with decades of precedence, as the EPP has traditionally collaborated with mainstream parties to its left in Brussels.

The EPP's overtures have deepened a rift between the EPP and its liberal and left-leaning partners. Last week, the party refused to sign a joint statement denouncing violence against lawmakers in the run-up to June's vote after a German socialist was beaten up while putting up campaign posters in Germany, drawing the ire of the main political parties.

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