The Netherlands, known for its open and permissive attitude towards various aspects of life, including sex, drugs, and corporate profits, has historically thrived as an expansionist trading power. However, in recent years, the country has faced challenges such as housing shortages and tensions over immigration, leading to a shift in public sentiment against unbridled growth.
As the country prepares for the upcoming elections, the candidates are competing to close off the Netherlands and prioritize domestic concerns. The outgoing government has set the tone by implementing policies to deter expats, including cutting flights, reducing migration numbers, and eliminating tax breaks for foreign workers. These measures seem to resonate with voters, as the center-right incumbents are currently leading in the polls.
The shift towards a more inward-looking approach marks a departure from the Netherlands’ previous reputation as one of the most business-friendly nations in the European Union. The country, built on land reclaimed from the sea, has experienced a change in attitude towards addressing internal challenges rather than focusing solely on global ambitions.
Key candidates in the upcoming elections have made immigration and environmental issues central to their campaigns. Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius, a former refugee herself, has emphasized cracking down on immigration. Frans Timmermans, a prominent figure in EU climate policies, has advocated for environmental measures that have resulted in the closure of farms. Pieter Omtzigt, representing a breakaway party, has proposed shrinking tax exemptions for expat salaries.
Geert Wilders, known for mainstreaming anti-migration sentiment, has gained support for his far-right Party for Freedom, potentially making him a significant player in post-election negotiations. Yesilgoz-Zegerius has refused to rule out partnering with Wilders, highlighting the changing political landscape.
Under the leadership of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the Netherlands has experienced a shift in its relationship with corporations. High-profile scandals involving companies such as Shell and Booking.com have led to a growing perception that the government’s alliance with businesses was not working effectively. Rutte’s attempts to scuttle a popular dividend tax and subsequent relocation of Shell to the UK have further eroded public trust.
The Netherlands has also faced internal challenges, such as earthquakes caused by gas extraction and soaring housing costs. The government has responded by closing Europe’s largest gas field and implementing measures to restrict flights at Schiphol Airport, the country’s largest transfer hub. However, the government’s ownership stake in the airport has sparked a battle with airlines over the proposed cuts.
As the campaign for the upcoming elections unfolds, the focus has shifted towards addressing the detriment to living standards and the need for restriction rather than irresponsible growth. The Netherlands’ historical prosperity, built on colonial exploitation, is now being reevaluated, with the government recently apologizing for its role in the slave trade. Current concerns include tourism-related issues, housing shortages, and the cost of living.
While immigration remains a key topic in the election campaign, critics argue that blaming migrants for housing shortages diverts attention from the government’s failure to address the issue effectively. Businesses that rely on knowledge migration, such as ASML Holding NV, have raised concerns about the potential negative impact of policies aimed at deterring foreign students and staff.
The outcome of the elections will determine the path the Netherlands takes in addressing these challenges. A progressive coalition could tackle difficult topics effectively, while a conservative coalition might backtrack on certain issues, including climate policies. The results will shape the country’s future direction and its reputation as a global trading power.