April 18. 2024. 12:15

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Dutch government creates €2.5m fund to deter criminal involvement in elections

The Dutch government has created a €2.5 million fund to ensure local politicians are not deterred from standing for election because they or their families are being threatened by criminals “with deep pockets”.

The fund was announced by interior affairs minister Hanke Bruins Slot, on foot of confidential research by her department which showed that the percentage of local politicians who experienced credible threats or intimidation had doubled to 52 per cent since 2014.

The announcement came as the country went to the polls on Wednesday in provincial elections in which the “farmer-civilian protest party”, BoerBurgerBeweging, known as BBB, is expected to ride a wave of protest at the government’s highly controversial plans to halve nitrogen emissions by 2030.

At national level, heightened security is a fact of life. Gangland threats against premier Mark Rutte are nothing new. The anti-Islamist Freedom Party leader, Geert Wilders, has 24-hour security. Protection has widened since the killings of lawyerDerk Wiersum and reporter Peter R de Vries.

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Foreign minister Sigrid Kaag was confronted at an election rally last month by protesters carrying flaming torches. Mr Rutte responded: “Demonstrating is fine but this intimidation of politicians needs to stop now.”

At local level, politicians can already apply for a fixed package of security measures worth about €2,500 – and the new €2.5 million fund, though still meagre, allows them to go further where independent advice deems it necessary.

“I see my job as offering a protective shield to those who work on the frontline of our democracy”, Ms Bruins Slot said.

“We are even seeing local appeals and complaints procedures being manipulated by criminals to gain access to politicians and to intimidate them. This too undermines our democracy.”

The row over the government’s proposed nitrogen cuts has led to unprecedented interest in Wednesday’s elections for the 12 provincial councils – which in turn elect the senate – and 21 regional water boards.

The good news for BBB came in polling by researchers I&O which suggests it could win up to 13 of the senate’s 75 seats, while Mr Rutte’s Liberals/VVD looked destined to drop from 12 to 10 seats, confirming an already bad situation where he hasn’t had a senate majority since 2019.

Some commentators suggest that a bad outcome for the four government coalition parties – Liberals, Christian Democrats, D66 and Christian Union – i could trigger a general election.

The BBB claims the nitrogen crisis is exaggerated and says the government’s solutions will lead to unnecessary farm closures and food shortages. On that issue it won a single seat in parliament for founder Caroline van de Plas in 2021.

In contrast, the Rutte government, his fourth consecutive coalition since 2010, has dropped to a 20 per cent approval rating, its lowest in a decade.