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Euro debt crisis top of mind as Dutch head to polls

As The Netherlands feel the pinch from austerity measures, Wednesday's Dutch parliamentary election will likely turn on the degree to which voters are willing to commit to the eurozone.

By Peter TefferContributor / September 11, 2012

Campaign posters are seen in front of the Dutch Parliament in The Hague September 11. Voting begins for the Dutch general election on Wednesday.

Michael Kooren/Reuters

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Amsterdam

Martijn van Dam, a Dutch member of parliament for the pro-Europe Social Democrats party, has a simple reason for why the European common currency has to prevail. “The Netherlands is a small country. If we want to compete with China, India, the US, and Brazil, we will have to work together with other European states,” he said at a recent debate in Amsterdam.

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But despite being one of the six founding countries of what is now the European Union, The Netherlands have become increasingly skeptical about the bloc and its currency as the eurocrisis has spread across Europe. Now, the Dutch parliamentary elections look set to be an unofficial referendum on the Netherlands' commitment to the future of European integration.

Dutch voters will go to the polls on Sept. 12 to elect a new parliament, five months after the collapse of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the center-right Liberal party. And while The Netherlands face an array of concerns, including rising unemployment (6.5 percent of the Dutch are now without a job) and increasing healthcare costs, it is the eurozone that is drawing the most attention in the campaign.

In fact, it is debate over the eurozone that led to the election in the first place. Mr. Rutte's government collapsed in April when coalition partner Geert Wilders of the right-wing populist Freedom Party withdrew his support to protest an austerity budget, necessitated by the euro debt crisis and pushed by the EU, that cut 14 billion euros in government spending and hiked taxes. Rutte was able to assemble enough opposition support to pass the budget without Freedom Party support.

But with the economic crisis, The Netherlands are feeling the pinch. Consumers are being more careful, opting to save instead of spend, and companies are increasingly shy of giving new employees a permanent contract. And as the Dutch tighten their own belts – and as southern European nations like Greece and Spain struggle to do the same – some have been having second thoughts about the wisdom of joining the euro.

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