Clash at European Election Debate in Groningen

By Edward J Szekeres and Rebekah Daunt

D66 accuses the SP of nationalist fear mongering, as an all-female candidate panel initially demonstrates solidarity, but ends up colliding on major policy issues facing the next European Parliament.

“Social Europe is too important to be left to the Socialists,” said D66 candidate Raquel García Hermida at a European Election Debate held last Monday in front of an international audience in the Aula Magna of the University of Groningen’s Academy building.

Ms. García Hermida, who is running for a seat in the next European Parliament under the banner of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, was joined in the richly decorated hall by three fellow candidates: Kati Piri (PvdA, Socialists & Democrats),Tineke Strik (GroenLinks, Greens/European Free Alliance), and Sara Murawski (SP, European United Left/Nordic Green Left). Major parties on the right side of the Dutch political spectrum failed to respond to the hosts’ invitation while the Christian Democratic Appeal party declined at the last minute, according to the event’s organisers.  

The all-female panel discussed pertinent issues, such as climate change, the labour market and the refugee crisis. While seemingly in accord on the necessity to tackle global warming, the four progressive candidates exposed gaping rifts between their positions on free trade and migrant workers as the evening drew to its conclusion.

The undermining of this apparent unity between left-wing parties adds another layer of complexity to the looming election. Voters in the Netherlands will choose 26 candidates from 16 parties to represent Dutch interests at the Brussels-based European Parliament on Thursday 23 May 2019. The Netherlands will be assigned three extra seats at a later date following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Locals First

“National solidarity trumps international solidarity,” said Ms. Murawski of the Socialist Party in her fierce critique of the “free market system” that she blames for “exploiting workers”. The SP wants more regulation of the labour markets to prevent exploitation by encouraging the hiring of local workers. “We want a system of working permits, that way companies are encouraged to look for local workers, so people in the neighbourhood [get priority],” said Ms. Murawski.

Ms. García Hermida of D66 challenged the socialist candidate and questioned the effectiveness of work permits as Europe already boasts the free movement of workers across state borders. In a passionate defense of the value of “individual liberties”, the D66 politician accused the Socialist Party of seeking to protect the rights of Dutch workers while disregarding those of international workers. “This identity based message of ´us against them´ only feeds into the discourse of the extreme right and that is why socialist voters are now voting for PVV [Party for Freedom] and Forum for Democracy,” concluded Ms. García Hermida.

Paying the Climate Bill

The implementation of an emissions tax on airline tickets was high on the agenda for GroenLinks on the night. “It is very strange that people pay tax for train tickets but not for flight tickets. We really want to create incentives for customers to make the right choices,” said Ms. Strik on the topic of climate change.

“Clean air is not a luxury, without it, we would all have a problem,” said Ms. Piri in agreement. But the Hungarian-Dutch politician was against the idea of enforcing an emissions tax. She emphasized that large corporations – rather than the customer – should pay for climate damage. “Airlines are the biggest polluters, it would be totally unfair not to tax them,” added the PvdA candidate.

Vote, Vote, Vote

Conflicts between the candidates underlined the debate’s central theme of setting the priority for the next European Parliament. Is it going to promote increased nationalism or increased globalisation? And what is the EU’s role in this unpredictable power field?

Ms. Strik urged the audience to be conscious of who they vote for next week. “It all depends on who is in the European Parliament, who has the power and what governments we are dealing with. So it is not about more of less [foreign policy within Europe] but whom you are voting for next Thursday,” concluded Ms. Strik.