A Europe-wide row has broken out over a website launched by the populist Freedom Party. On the site, people are asked to “tell their stories” about trouble caused by East European migrants to the Netherlands.
The European Union has branded the site “an open call for intolerance”. Ten ambassadors from East European countries have sent a letter of protest to the Dutch parliament. The government declines to comment, but the anger is growing.
The Netherlands has once again some international explaining to do about Geert Wilders’ right-wing Freedom Party (PVV). The release in 2008 of his anti-Islam film Fitna caused outrage, and now the party’s website for complaints about East Europeans in the Netherlands has sparked another controversy.
The website invites people to register complaints about nuisance and job losses caused by Poles, Romanians, Hungarians and other East Europeans in the Netherlands. Respondents can also level accusations of crime, alcohol and drug abuse and prostitution at the group.
The PVV says people have in the past been reluctant to make official complaints about East Europeans because they thought nothing would be done about it. The party has undertaken to collate information from the website and present it to the Dutch government.
Hard working Poles
The website has elicited anger, especially in East and Central Europe. As early as last week, the Polish ambassador to the Netherlands gave vent to his outrage. “The picture sketched by Mr Wilders’ of hard working Poles contaminating the Dutch jobs market is an insult,” he said.
The European Commission also slammed the PVV move. Viviane Reding, the European Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship commissioner, called the site “an open call for intolerance”. She went on: “In Europe we support freedom. We solve our problems by showing more solidarity, not by telling tales on fellow citizens.”
In the Netherlands, the left-wing opposition has been quick to exploit the situation. At least four websites were immediately launched to poke fun at the PVV. One invited people to complain about people from the southern Dutch province of Limburg – where Geert Wilders was born. Another, calling itself the Valuable Conviviality Hotline, was launched by the Polish-Dutch rapper, Mr Polska: “Have you had a wild night out with some Poles? Let us know.”
Employers’ groups have been more seriously irritated by the PVV website. Many East Europeans do jobs which Dutch people are no longer willing to do, such as in the market gardening industry in the west of the Netherlands. The VNO-NCW employers’ organisation has condemned the PVV site as xenophobic and is calling on the government to make a point of distancing itself from it.
The call is lost on conservative VVD Prime Minister Mark Rutte, however, who says the website is just PVV party business about which he sees no reason to comment. Social Affairs Minister Henk Kamp (VVD) has also declined to condemn it.
Despite the public nonchalance, the government has once again been embarrassed by the PVV. The minority right-wing coalition can only rule courtesy of a deal ensuring PVV support from parliament in exchange for a tough line on immigration, asylum and other issues dear to the PVV. Ministers are regularly embarrassed, though, by Mr Wilders stirring up populist trouble.
Just as he did during the fuss created by his film, Fitna, he is rubbishing the latest condemnations in typically blunt language. The charge made by the European Commission that his website is discriminatory is dismissed as “fantasy and nonsense – Brussels can stuff it.” In the glare of publicity, Mr Wilders is pointing in triumph to the success of the website, saying that more than 32,000 people have already lodged complaints about European migrants in less than a week.