Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is the Merkel protege, ready to keep the status quo in tact within the Netherlands and throughout Europe, even as Rome burns.
Geert Wilders is a provocative nation-statist who wants to do away with the neo-liberal, Merkel dogma, and return the Netherlands back to its Dutch identity.
With tensions running high, courtesy of Turkish President Erdogan, the two men hoping to lead the Netherlands, laid out their opposing visions for the EU country in a heated televised debate.
Wilders told Rutte…
“You are being taken hostage by Erdogan. Close the Dutch borders.”
Rutte shot back…
“That’s a totally fake solution.”
“You want Nexit, you want The Netherlands out of Europe. You know what it will cost … don’t do it.”
Wilders wants to follow the BREXIT model and pull the Netherlands out of the European Union. Wilders has also promised to shut Dutch borders to Muslim immigrants, close mosques and ban sales of the Koran.
Polls suggest a close race, with Rutte’s Liberal VVD narrowly winning a manjority in the 150-seat parliament.
AFP reports further on the heated debate…
The elections are being closely watched as a signal of the possible rise of far-right and populist parties in Europe, with key elections also planned this year in France and Germany.
“I want The Netherlands to be the first country which stops this trend of the wrong sort of populism,” Rutte told reporters, just hours before the debate.
Monday’s debate, plus Tuesday’s vote-eve round-table with eight political party leaders, could yet sway the poll, one analyst told AFP, estimating some 60 percent of Dutch voters remain undecided.
Wilders has delighted in the chaos which erupted over the weekend when riot police moved in to disperse hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags in Rotterdam, angered by a Dutch government ban on their ministers.
Rutte appealed for calm, but he has rejected Turkey’s calls to apologise for expelling one of its ministers who tried to attend the pro-Ankara rally in Rotterdam.
In one tense exchange, Rutte said it was time to de-escalate the crisis, but Wilders retorted: “We must answer back. We must expel the Turkish ambassador and his staff.”
“There’s the difference between tweeting from the sofa and running a country. If you are in charge of a country you need to take sensible measures,” Rutte replied, to loud applause, in a jab at the Dutch MP known for his love of Twitter.
The VVD is predicted to return as the largest party in the 150-seat parliament with between 23 to 27 seats, according to the latest aggregated polls.
That is well down from the 40 VVD MPs in the outgoing lower chamber however, and would leave Rutte scrambling to cobble together a viable coalition which may have to include four or five parties to reach the 76-seat majority.
After weeks of flirting at the top of the polls, Wilders has seen his ratings slip and may now come second with between 19 and 23 seats, polls suggest. But that would still leave him a difficult voice to ignore.
Rutte repeated his vow never to work with Wilders again, accusing him of causing problems for the country after the peroxide-haired MP triggered the collapse of an earlier coalition in 2012.
Telling Wilders he had become “radicalised” and was making “extreme statements” about Moroccan-Dutch citizens, Rutte insisted: “I will not cooperate with such a party. No, never, no.” But Wilders retorted that he was standing up against “the liars and the legislators” and urged Dutch voters “if you want to take the Netherlands back for ourselves, then chase this man away and put me in the prime minister’s office.”