Dutch Want To Limit Influx of EU Workers, Survey Shows

Dutch want to limit influx of EU workers, survey shows

By Wilmer Heck and Annemarie Kas
NRC Handelsblad
Published: 27 May 2009 15:45
Changed: 29 May 2009 09:49

Dutch people want to reverse some of the power transferred to Brussels, a new survey shows. The results confirm the negative sentiments the Dutch voiced when they voted against the European constitution in 2005.

A majority of Dutch people does not want the powers of the European Union to be expanded, an extensive survey shows. The results will be presented to deputy foreign minister Frans Timmermans, responsible for European affairs, on Wednesday.

Most Dutch people oppose the transfer of more political power to Brussels, according to the poll by 21minuten.nl. Half of the 60,000 people who took part in the survey say they would like to see European integration partly reversed: 54 percent says there should be limits to the migration of workers from other EU member states, even if that leads to a rise in prices for products and services.

A majority is still opposed to a European constitution, the survey shows. The Dutch voted against the constitution in a referendum in 2005, but no popular vote was held about the Lisbon Treaty, which the Dutch parliament approved in 2008.

The conclusions of the '21 minutes' survey are harsh, but not surprising in the light of the 2005 referendum. Although the polls show no overwhelming support for eurosceptic parties such as Geert Wilders' anti-immigration Party for Freedom and the Socialist Party in next week's elections, a record low turnout is expected.

An important counterweight

“The anti-European attitude can no longer be brushed aside as a coincidence,” political scientist Alfred Pijpers, who is affiliated with Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute for international relations, says in a reaction to the survey.
The survey is not altogether negative about Europe. The Dutch say they want more collaboration on economic development and in combating climate change. A large majority also thinks the European Union offers an important counterweight to the power of the United States and is important in competing with the emerging economies of India and China. But they are far more critical when it comes to expanding the union or the freedom of movement for workers.


60,000 people participated in the online survey by 21 minutes over the past couple of weeks. The economic crisis, the climate and Europe were the central issues. The organisation says the survey is representative of the Dutch population, although it admits the voluntary nature of the online survey could mean some groups in the population are overrepresented. It says it has weighed the results accordingly.

“Integration and immigration have a far bigger impact on the Dutch identity than the climate or energy policies will ever have,” says Pijpers.

After the rejection of the European constitution in 2005, three causes were said to have influenced whether people voted for or against it: the popularity of the current government, the debate about integration and immigration and the state of the economy. This time all those three ingredients point in the same direction and that is away from Brussels. “However, there are more sides to the debate now that it is not a 'yes' or 'no' vote but a party vote,” says Claes de Vreese, a professor of political communication at the University of Amsterdam.

Polish plumbers

Europe watcher Mendeltje van Keulen, also with the Clingendael institute, says the current economic crisis is clearly visible in the results. “In times of economic recession, people are more negative about foreign workers. The story about the Polish plumbers stealing Dutch jobs resonates with people, even if it isn't actually true.”

Van Keulen says the Dutch are also inclined to worry about the diminishing influence of the smaller member states. And they tend to be more negative when the questions become more specific.

“Most Dutch people will be in favour of one European asylum policy, until they are told that would mean that the Netherlands will have less to say about who gets into the country. The Dutch want a joint foreign policy, until they hear that the Dutch minister of foreign affairs will lose power. On the other hand, they gain confidence in a joint policy when they are told that France, Germany and England now decide European policy.”

Another remarkable result of the survey is that 40 percent has “little to no confidence” in the EU, 28 has “some to a lot” and 32 is neutral. The Eurobarometer survey by the European Commission from the fall of 2008 showed 80 percent of Dutch people feel the Dutch membership of the EU is a good thing.