Dutch lead populist charge in EU elections

Classics-quoting climate skeptic Thierry Baudet’s party is on course to beat Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals when the Netherlands votes on Thursday. (File/AFP)
Updated 19 May 2019
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Dutch lead populist charge in EU elections

  • As the first country in the EU to vote, along with exit-bound Britain, Dutch exit polls will be closely watched as a bellwether of a populist earthquake
  • The Dutch politician was once best known for naked Instagram selfies and controversial comments about women

THE HAGUE: A flamboyant Dutch populist could open the floodgates for a tidal wave of euroskeptic and anti-immigration parties across the continent in this week’s European Parliament elections.
Classics-quoting climate skeptic Thierry Baudet founded the Forum for Democracy just two years ago, but his party is on course to beat Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals when the Netherlands votes on Thursday.
As the first country in the EU to vote, along with exit-bound Britain, Dutch exit polls will be closely watched as a bellwether of a populist earthquake ahead of official results for the whole EU on Sunday.
“What happens in the Netherlands is also happening elsewhere in Europe,” Claes de Vreese, politics professor at the University of Amsterdam, told AFP.
Once best known for naked Instagram selfies and controversial comments about women, Baudet, 36, stunned Europe in March when the Forum became the biggest party in the Dutch senate.
In the process he stole votes from Geert Wilders, the bleached-blonde anti-Islam leader who has long dented the Netherlands’ image abroad as a bastion of tolerant liberalism.
Baudet is now aiming for similar success on the European stage, with latest opinion polls showing the Forum snatching as many as five of the 26 European Parliament seats allotted to the Netherlands, similar to Rutte’s ruling VVD.

“Baudet is the new flavour of the year,” said de Vreese. “He does attract a certain audience of voters who may be disgruntled by the fact that Wilders’ style is very confrontational and not particularly intellectual.”
But while Baudet has toned down his support for a full “Nexit” from the EU after the chaos in Britain, his nativist, anti-immigration message is similar to the one that has swept Europe from Italy to Hungary.
His senate elections victory speech declaring that the “Owl of Minerva spreads his wings” — referring to the Roman goddess of wisdom — was typical of narrative that sees an ancient European civilization under threat from immigration.
His references to “boreal” or northern Europe echo those made in the past by French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Baudet, who has a law doctorate, has also successfully tapped into the populist railing against elites, whether in The Hague or Brussels or Washington, that has transformed western politics in recent years.
“For a long time, Europe has been a very technical story and people did not understand that,” Amy Verdun, European politics professor at Leiden University, told AFP.
“The populists made things simple. You may not agree with them, but they simplify things for the ordinary citizen.”
She predicted gains for parties that have a “strong line on Europe, whether anti- or pro-EU.”

Intriguingly in a low-lying country that is one of the world’s most vulnerable to rising sea levels, the Netherlands’ Baudet is also notable for his strong denial of climate change.
This puts him at odds with the leftist greens such as the GroenLinks party who also look set to make gains in the Netherlands on what is replacing the left-right divide as one of the most polarizing issues of our age.
“Voters have become more extreme,” said Verdun, pointing to factors such as US President Donald Trump pulling out of 2015 Paris accord.
But analysts urged overplaying populist gains, pointing out that the fragmented Dutch political scene means parties can come first with only a small share of the national vote, and most voters will still back centrist parties.
“There are very few voters who want to abandon Europe completely and there are very few who want a completely integrated state and no more nation states,” said De Vreese.
The repeated failure of squabbling populist and far-right parties to unite within the European Parliament would also lessen their impact, said Amy Verdun.
“The populists’ problem is that they can never agree on anything,” she said. “If they don’t capitalize on their result, the populists will never get much further.”


4 shot, 2 arrested at Raptors rally in Toronto: Police

Updated 31 min 8 sec ago
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4 shot, 2 arrested at Raptors rally in Toronto: Police

TORONTO: Four people were shot and wounded at a rally Monday for the NBA champion Raptors, and two people were arrested “with firearms,” police said.
Droves of Raptors fans ran from the shooting in a stampede from the City Hall square, which was packed with tens of thousands of people. A million or more fans earlier packed downtown Toronto for a parade for the Raptors, raising concerns about safety and overcrowding.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said four people suffered gunshot wounds but said none of the injuries were life-threatening. Others suffered minor injuries as they tried to get away from the shooting, said Saunders, who asked for witnesses and people who might have video to come forward and help investigators.
“We do have people arrested with firearms and that’s the start of the investigation,” Saunders said.
Asked if it was a targeted shooting or terrorism-related, police spokeswoman Allison Sparkes said the investigation was ongoing.
During a speech from one of the team owners, the host of the rally interrupted the proceedings to alert the crowd to an emergency and asked for calm. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Toronto Mayor John Tory, NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and other players were among those on stage at the time.
“I want to make sure everyone stays calm,” said the host, sportscaster Matt Devlin. “This is serious. Everyone stay calm ... There is an emergency being dealt with.”
Those on stage remained in place and speeches resumed shortly after.
Andrew Singh said he heard what appeared to be gunshots and that a woman was wounded before people started scrambling.
“We just saw the girl drop to the floor and the guy running off,” the 29-year-old said. “All I heard was, ‘bop bop bop.’“
Mike Mudidi said he was enjoying the celebrations when he heard screams behind him that someone had pulled out a gun. He said he froze as people started running in all directions.
“I just grabbed my buddies’ hands and ran,” he said.
Raptors fan Phil D’Souza said the violence left a bad taste in his mouth, and he questioned whether he would attend a similar event in the future.
“You couldn’t see the shooter but it was that kind of chaos where you’re just expecting to see somebody coming around the corner. It was that kind of vibe,” D’Souza said.
Another fan said the stampede was scary.
“When you see a bunch of people coming at you, you don’t know what to do, whether to run or not. You don’t want to get stampeded over,” Sam Sunday said.
Trudeau’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the shooting near the prime minister.
“We never comment on matters relating to the PM’s security,” Eleanore Catenaro said.
Tory, the mayor, thanked police for their quick response and said he was angered by the shooting.
“It is disappointing and I’m sure a source of anger for more than just me that anyone would carry a gun and discharge it at what was otherwise a joyous celebration,” Tory said in a statement. “I hope those found responsible will be held to account to the full extent that the law permits. I want to commend and thank the millions of other people who happily and peacefully celebrated our beloved Toronto Raptors.”
Tory previously urged every city resident to come celebrate the Raptors’ first championship and declared Monday as “We The North Day,” after the franchise’s slogan.
“Toronto, more than a million of us flooded the streets today to celebrate our Raptors,” city councilman Joe Cressy tweeted. “People of all every age, every race, every religion — our City. As awful as the shooting was and terrifying for many in the crowd afterwards, don’t let it take away from our moment.”
Some 1.5 million fans withstood packed conditions to attend the parade. Nicolas Caramanna, 21, said the crowd started to get rowdy shortly after he arrived at 9 a.m.
Many others chose to miss school or work. Cypher Sabanal, 15, said his mom let him skip class to attend the celebration.
John Moreira called in sick to work so he could be part of Toronto’s first celebration of this magnitude since the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1993.
“I told my boss I wanted to be at the parade and he said there wasn’t much he could do if I called in sick, so that’s exactly what I did,” the 31-year-old said.
As the parade inched forward — discernibly behind schedule — a number of Raptors could not help but marvel at the fan response.
“It’s been amazing,” Leonard said. “Thank you Toronto, thank you Canada for the support. We did it.”
Several fans were seen carrying signs imploring Leonard to re-sign with the Raptors. He will be a free agent this summer.
Kyle Lowry, the team’s longest-tenured player, hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy while his teammates smoked cigars.
“This is unbelievable,” he said.