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Europe wins in Netherlands vote, extremism loses: exit polls
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Sept 12, 2012

Dutch voters overwhelmingly rejected anti-EU extremism in favour of pro-European pragmatism on Wednesday, electing centrist parties that will remain committed to debt-busting austerity.

Exit polls said that the ruling Liberals picked up one more seat than rivals Labour, while the anti-Islam PVV party of firebrand politician Geert Wilders suffered a humiliating defeat after changing tack to attack Brussels.

If confirmed the result would mean that current premier Mark Rutte would be called upon to form a new coalition that would keep the eurozone's fifth largest economy closely allied with European economic powerhouse Germany.

The exit polls by Ipsos Synovate said Rutte's VDD would win 41 seats in the new parliament, the PvdA Labour party of former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom 40 seats and the more hard-left Socialist Party 15.

That means that if the two main parties agreed an alliance, the VDD and Labour would have 81 seats, a majority sufficient to form a government in the 150-seat parliament.

Wilders' PVV was set to win just 13 seats, almost half its previous tally of 24, exit polls said.

"That result shows a very large support in the Netherlands for Rutte's policy," VDD Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal told AFP at a victory party in The Hague.

"It shows that making savings is the right course... The results shows that the Dutch are good allies of the Germans," he said.

With Rutte expected at the party later in the evening, Rosenthal said the failure by former ally Wilders showed the Dutch were not extremist.

"It s very explicit that the Dutch don't like a very extreme European stand. We're a member of the EU and we should stick to it for many years to come," he said.

Wilders, who brought down the last government in April after refusing to approve an austerity-driven budget, is not expected to play any role in this coalition.

"I'd rather have stood in front of you with good news," a visibly shaken Wilders told his party's gathering in The Hague. "In Brussels they are having a party... That's a pity."

"Tomorrow we will lick our wounds," he said. "This is not the end of the struggle."

The PVV vowed to pull out of the euro and the EU itself if they came to power. But many Dutch voters and the political mainstream decided that Wilders was simply unreliable.

Fiscally prudent Rutte's government has been allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Samsom's calls for stimulus echo those of France's Socialist President Francois Hollande.

Both parties had lashed out at the EU status quo during campaigning, but the Dutch export-based economy could not afford to call into question membership in the bloc, where it sends 75 percent of its exports.

Many Dutch citizens are fed up with bailing out indebted eurozone members while swallowing their own budget cuts, but voters had nevertheless been expected to shun anti-EU parties for the mainstream.

"It seems it will turn into a great result," Labour Party chairman Hans Spekman told an excited crowd at the Paradiso Theatre in central Amsterdam, where party leader Diederik Samsom was expected later in the evening.

Opinion polls before voting started had predicted that both the Liberals and Labour would send around 35 MPs each to the 150-seat lower house.

Despite a campaign dominated by anti-Brussels rhetoric, the election will almost certainly result in a centrist coalition government that will remain committed to austerity and staying in the EU.

The eurosceptic Socialist Party led by Emile Roemer, won the same 15 seats it had in the last election in 2010, reflecting unease at purely austerity-driven policies.

The Socialists' score was much less than polls in August, which had predicted the hard-left party would be the overall winner.

Roemer's popularity ebbed in recent weeks after Samsom seized the initiative in a string of televised debates during which Roemer was perceived as hesitant.

Official result predictions are to be announced later on Wednesday with final results to come from the Electoral Commission on Thursday, but it will take weeks if not months for a new coalition to be formed.

The news came on the same day as a key ruling for the eurozone's future: the top court in neighbouring Germany approved a new European firewall for ratification by parliament that is seen as a crucial crisis-fighting tool.

Echoing Dutch calls for a change in the EU dynamic, Commission President Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday that a "federation of nation states" was now required "to win the battle against nationalists, or extreme populists."



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