On Thursday April 24, the European election debate ‘One vote: many voices and real choices’ was held in the auditorium of Campus The Hague. This debate was organized by the Clingendael Institute, Leiden University, the Montesquieu Institute, the Netherlands Association for International Relations, and the European Movement in the Netherlands.
Nearly 200 people attended the debate. Even more were able to watch the debate through a live stream in the Campus café and on the websites of the organizing partners. EU watcher and Brussels-based journalist Joop Hazenberg moderated the event.
Prior to the debate, several researchers from Leiden University conducted a comparative analysis on the election programmes of the groups in the European Parliament. Also, attendees were asked to fill out a survey on their voting intentions. The results of both the analysis and the survey were presented at the start of the debate. Interestingly, although the majority of the audience planned to vote for liberal parties VVD or D66, almost one-quarter of the audience indicated that they had not yet decided which party to vote for.
The first debating round was labeled Green Europe and pitched GroenLinks MEP Bas Eickhout versus Flemish CD&V candidate Tom Vandenkendelaere. To introduce this debate, a 3-minute video message by Unilever was presented in which the multinational urged European politicians to take bold steps to improve sustainability to tackle climate change and to reduce our environmental footprint. Eickhout argued that ambitious environmental policies and economic recovery do not contradict but in fact complement each other. Developing renewable energy helps to create jobs, especially on the SME-level. Vandenkendelaere emphasized that economic growth is a precondition for green growth and stressed that the economy should receive priority from policy makers.
In the second round, on Social Europe, MEP candidate for VVD Cora van Nieuwenhuizen faced former union leader and Labour candidate MEP Agnes Jongerius. The majority of the debate saw Jongerius defending her proposal to set an EU-wide norm for unemployment at 5%. In the same way the 3% budget deficit norm has stimulated governments to bring down government debt, she argues, the European countries need supervision from Brussels to fight growing inequality and unemployment through an unemployment norm. Van Nieuwenhuizen opposed the proposal by stating that European governments are very motivated to fight unemployment and don’t need a norm imposed by Brussels. Her strategy to create jobs would be to create a global level playing field for European companies to allow them to grow and hire more people.
On the topic of Open Europe, candidate MEP for CDA Dirk Gotink and Flemish sp.a. MEP Saïd El Khadraoui were in the hot seats. They debated each other on expansion of the internal market, negotiations of the TTIP agreement with the US, and immigration from countries outside the EU. Gotink stressed the importance of creating opportunities for young people and pointed at the responsibility of national governments to address fears of unemployment and decrease the burden of debt. El Khadraoui highlighted the need for completing the single market, especially in areas related to banking supervision, tax evasion and the mobility of social security. On TTIP, the Dutch Christian democrat and Belgian socialist shared concerns with consumer protection, genetically modified foods and the environment. Immigration from outside the EU could be part of solving the problems associated with the ageing population, although Gotink said that the organization of the common labour market needs to be improved and legal holes need to be covered before immigration should be considered.
From a polls perspective, the fourth round of the debate promised to be the most important one. Marcel de Graaff, who is currently senator for the PVV and leading candidate MEP, debated D66 MEP Gerben Jan Gerbrandy on Europe Light. D66 and Geert Wilders’ PVV are both leading in the Dutch polls. De Graaff pleaded for a Dutch exit out of the EU. He argued that socio-economic problems such as the general dissatisfaction and unemployment can at least in part be blamed on Brussels and that ‘we would be wealthier outside the EU’, referring to a research of Capital Economics on a Dutch leave of the Union. He pointed out that his party is very much in favor of cooperation with European countries, but not in transferring sovereignty. Gerbrandy stressed the economic necessity of European integration for Dutch trade, and pointed out that many global challenges can only be effectively addressed when the Netherlands is part of a ‘strong and decisive Europe’. Gerbrandy also said it ‘hurts’ him that the PVV has found European friends that are ‘racist, homophobic, and anti-Semite’.
After these debates, a public voting took place. Using their smartphones, the audience was invited to vote on statements linked to the four debating rounds and on the winner of the debate. The voting results were shown in real time and reflected the pro-green and liberal preference of the audience. Gerbrandy was announced winner of the debate by the public.
A cocktail reception with the candidate MEPs and attendees took place afterwards.