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The Dutch could hardly have given supporters of the European Union a more depressing start to the elections to the EU parliament.
First only 36 percent of them bother to turn up to vote. Then they break EU rules by releasing provisional results ahead of the time. Worst of all, they made a far-right, anti-EU group, led by an outspoken, Islamophobic populist the big winner of Thursday’s election.
The Party for Freedom (PVV), whose platinum blond leader Geert Wilders has likened Islam to fascism and wants the Koran banned, picked up more than 15 percent according to exit polls.
That will give the PVV four of the Netherlands’ 25 seats in the European Parliament, just behind the center-right Christian Democrats (CDA) of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The CDA remains the biggest party with around 20 percent, but is likely to see its seat count drop from seven to five.
Balkenende’s coalition partners in the Labor Party (PVDA) were the big losers, dropping from seven to three seats. EU supporters can take some consolation from the strong showing of the liberal D-66 party, which increased its seat tally from one to three after campaigning on a strongly pro-European ticket.
However the PVV’s score is an ominous sign for the EU ahead of the release of full results from around the union on Sunday after all 27 countries have finished voting. Fringe parties are expected to make gains elsewhere and further low turnout would reinforce the euroskeptics’ argument that the EU is out of touch with its citizens.
Building on its anti-Islamic platform, the PVV is demanding a halt to EU membership talks with Turkey. It also campaigned for a weakening of the EU’s powers and an end to aid for poorer parts of the EU.
“We want economic cooperation and not all these billions of euros going from the Netherlands to all these other countries,” said Barry Madlener, who will lead the PVV faction in the European Parliament. “There should be less Europe, not more,” he told Radio Netherlands International.