Late on Wednesday 15 March, Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that Dutch people rejected the wrong kind of populism, as he celebrated victory in the election.
The Prime Ministers centre-right VVD party lead positioned him for a third successive term as prime minister and easily beat the anti-immigration Freedom party of Geert Wilders. With all but two vote counts complete, the prime ministers party won 33 out of 150 seats a loss of eight seats from the previous parliament. The Freedom party came in second place with 20 seats, a gain of fiv, while the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal D66 party, tied for third with 19 seats each. The Green-left party gained 14 seats, an increase of 10. The Labour Party (PvdA), which is the junior party in the governing coalition, suffered a historic defeat by winning only nine seats a loss of 29. Labours defeat appeared to signal that voters were shifting to the right, as many of the seats it lost did not go to other left-wing parties. Voter turnout was 80.2% – the highest for thirty years, with analysts saying that this may have benefited pro-EU and liberal parties.
The Dutch race was seen as a test of support for nationalist parties that have been gaining ground across Europe. Mr Wilders however has insisted that the patriotic spring would still happen.
Fellow eurozone countries France and Germany also face elections this year. France will hold its first round of voting in its presidential election on 23 April, with the second round being held on 7 May. The far right National Front is forecast to increase its vote dramatically. Meanwhile, Germany will hold its general election in September, where the popularist Alternative for German (AfD) may win seats in parliament for the first time. Mr Rutte had already spoken of the election as a quarter-final against populism, ahead of the French and German polls, and his victory was warmly greeted by other European leaders and politicians. French President Francois Holland stated that Mr Rutte had won a clear victory against extremism, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a very pro-European result, a clear signaland a good day for democracy. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Dutch voters for their responsibility, while Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament until earlier this year, stated that he was relieved that the Freedom Party had lost, adding we must continue to fight for an open and free Europe.
According to a senior European Union (EU) official in Brussels, EU states are expected to decide on Monday 6 March to create a joint command centre for the bloc’s foreign training missions in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali and Somalia.
The official disclosed that foreign ministers of the 28 EU states are due to meet in Brussels on Monday where they will decide on creating the so-called Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) so that it can take over this spring. It would command the bloc’s “non-executive military missions” like the three military training missions which it currently runs. In the future however it would also cover any capacity-building, monitoring or demobilisation and disarmament military missions. While symbolically significant, the MPCC would in practice sit within other existing structures in Brussels and it would be led by the current head of the EU’s military staff. Highlighting how controversial the matter is amongst EU states, they have long debated whether the person should be called the “commander” or a “director” of the new body. Any movement towards an “EU military headquarters” has long been opposed by Britain, which is the bloc’s leading military power, however the idea has been revived by German and France since the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU.
Such an agreement however would only mark a small step forward on the EU’s quest for more security and defense cooperation. While politically sensitive and stalled for years, the bloc has now restarted such efforts, a move that was spurred by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and a growing threat from Islamic militants. Furthermore, suggestions by newly elected US President Donald Trump, that he could be less committed to the security of Washington’s NATO allies in Europe if they do not meet their defense spending goals, have also galvanized the EU, effectively creating a new sense of urgency.
This month, diplomats and MPs struck a deal to end an internal EU dispute, which will result in the EU soon letting Ukrainians and Georgians visit the bloc without needed a visa. The dispute had been holding up the promised measures.
Agreement on a mechanism to suspend such visa waivers in emergencies has effectively ended mounting embarrassment for those EU leaders who felt that the bloc was reneging on pledges to former Soviet states that it has promised to help as they try to move out from Moscow’s shadow. The move came after the European Council President warned that the EU was risking its credibility by failing to reward Georgia and Ukraine for painful reforms. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has since hailed the move as “encouraging news from Brussels.”
The prospect of easier travel to Western European countries has been used by governments in Kiev and Tbilisi in order to win popular backing for painful, EU-sponsored reforms. However EU leaders got cold feet about opening doors to 45 million Ukrainians after the public backlash that followed last year’s refugee crisis in Europe. Furthermore, facing strong challenges from anti-immigration parties in elections next year, leading powers France and Germany demanded strong controls before any visa agreement was signed. Late-night talks have since resulted in the European Parliament conceding that governments can reimpose visa requirements quickly, with MPs’ approval.
Georgia, which has only 5 million citizens, has long been seen as being ready for visa liberalization. However many believe that its failure to achieve such as agreement has been due to the EU’s hesitation over Ukraine, which is bigger, closer and currently stuck in conflict with Russia. A similar plan to ease travel for Turkey’s 75 million citizens, which is part of a deal whereby Ankara has helped the EU shut out Syrians and other people seeking asylum, has added to political sensitivities in Brussels about the issue. The process with Turkey has been frozen because of Ankara’s failure to fulfil all the EU conditions, coupled with anger across Europe at Turkey’s crackdown on opponents following a coup attempt in July.
The bloc has disclosed that any new visa waivers can only come into force after the EU has increased an emergency brake to suspend any free-travel deals in emergencies. However talks on exactly how that “snap-back” mechanism would work have dragged on for months. It will now allow the executive European Commission or a majority of EU states to suspend swiftly a country’s visa exemption for nine months if there is a sharp rise in its citizens overstaying their permitted time in the EU making multiple asylum requests or other problem for th European. The EU would be able to extend the suspension period for a further eighteen months in some cases, however through amore complex procedure that would also give a say to the European Parliament.
The European Union (EU) on 26 September launched a programme to issue monthly electronic cash grants to benefit a million refugees in Turkey. The programme is pat of a deal under which Ankara will curb the numbers trying to reach Europe.
According to officials, the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) will give refugees pre-paid cash cards for food, housing, schooling or medical expenses in Turkey. Speaking at a news conference, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides disclosed “today we launch the biggest and largest humanitarian project the EU had ever supported. It will provide a basic source of income for one million Syrian refugees.” Stylianides further disclosed that “the ESSN is perfect proof of the EU’s commitment to tackle the challenge posed by the refugee crisis. It’s a clear example of the strong partnership of the EU and Turkey in finding together new, innovative ways to address one of the most important humanitarian challenges of our times.”
Earlier this year, EU member states approved a fund of 3 billion euros to help Turkey improve the living conditions for some 3 million Syrian migrants on its territory. The ESSN, which is part of that agreement, will be implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Turkish Red Crescent, in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy and the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency. The EU is also funding other humanitarian projects in the country, however Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused the bloc of now following through on its financial pledges.
More than a million migrants entered the EU after crossing from Turkey to Greece by boat in 2015. Since Turkey agreed to prevent people from setting sail from its shores earlier this year, the numbers taking that route have fallen dramatically.
8 July, 2016
Over 3000 migrants currently live in a make-shift camp near the French town of Calais. That camp and others across northern France have long been a source of tension between the French and UK Governments. Since the Sangatte Protocol came into effect in 1993, France and the UK have conducted Eurotunnel immigration checks at the point of origin instead of at the destination. In 2000, the immigration agreement was expanded to Belgium, allowing checkpoints to be established for the Eurostar and specific English Channel ferry crossings. In recent years, the United Kingdom has invested heavily in the northern France checkpoints due to migrants hiding in commercial trucks crossing the border and attempting to walk through the Eurotunnel. In 2014, the UK Government announced £12m over three years for increased security at Calais. This was followed by a further UK-France agreement in August 2015 to create a command-and-control centre and deploy hundreds more police officers.
The United Kingdom’s referendum on EU membership has placed new strains on the series of agreements with France. Before the vote, in May 2016, France’s Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron had warned that a victory for the leave campaign would threaten the immigration agreements between the 2 countries. This statement was later contradicted by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayraul. After the referendum occurred, he promised that there would be no sudden reversal of the current policy. However, many local politicians in northern France, specifically Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, have argued that the current approach is no longer sustainable. There appears to be a growing movement of people along France’s north coast who believe the migrant camps should be officially moved to the UK. In a significant recent development, French presidential candidate Alain Juppé has been campaigning on an end to the treaty. Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, had argued that such a position could gain considerable support from centrist and centre-right voters.
It is unlikely that any change to the UK-France border agreements will happen in the short-term. France’s governing Socialist Party remains committed to the policy. But over the longer term, France’s 2017 Presidential elections are a reminder that this controversy is far from over.