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March 14, 2017

Rutte vs Wilders

The Dutch general election is tomorrow, and just yesterday Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders faced off in a TV debate. The two men, who have framed the election as a two-horse race, refused to take part in two previous debates with other party leaders. This was at a time when Wilders' far-right PVV was leading in the polls and the second-tier parties were lagging far behind Rutte's right-liberal VVD. These days the election is much closer. 

The debate was spirited, with both candidates talking very fast, writes NRC. Rutte framed the Dutch election as a "quarter-finals against populism" (the semifinals being France, and the final Germany). Wilders, for his part, said he is playing a final against liars who give Dutch money away to Brussels and Africa, writes Volkskrant. The debate focused on the economy, welfare and health care, and immigration. Rutte tried to show that Wilders' policy proposals are no real solutions for the Dutch problems, while Wilders attacked Rutte's personal credibility, which has been eroded by a number of political scandals during his tenure. On immigration, Rutte managed to get Wilders to admit his Quran ban could not be implemented. Rutte also called Wilders' proposal to close the borders a "non-solution". The weekend's diplomatic spat with Turkey also gave Wilders a chance to attack Rutte for putting himself in a position to be blackmailed by the refugee deal.

Taking the median of the five major polls as we have done before, Rutte's VVD would come first with 26 seats, followed by Wilders' PVV at 24. The Christian democrats CDA are up to 21, followed by the green left GL at and left-liberal D66 tied at 16. The left SP follow with 14, and the Labour Party PvdA at 11. The rest of the 150 seats go to a smattering of religious and single-issue parties. Currently the first three right-wing parties together can expect to get 71 seats, within the margin of error of the 76 needed for a majority in the Tweede Kamer. The CDA leader Sybrand Buma has rejected the possibility of an alliance with Wilders, as has Mark Rutte during the campaign and again at yesterday's debate. VVD and CDA were in a government with PVV outside support in 2010-2012, which failed leading to early elections when Wilders refused to sign on to austerity policies.

See Peilingwijzer for a sumary of all the polls and Frontbencher for the latest results of each of the five major running polls. 

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March 14, 2017

Fillon doubles down on his reform programme

Is François Fillon a teflon man? While some new revelations show Fillon received a gift of suits worth €48,500 paid by generous friends since 2012, and that his children paid 70% of their salary back to their parents, Fillon seems untouchable. A friend paid for his suits, so what?

Instead, Fillon is focusing on his economic reform programme, the tough version with which he won the primaries. He is throwing out all compromises his team was about to concede. Fillon is presenting himself as the man of steel who can deliver it. His main adversary is now Emmanuel Macron, whom he targets as a man who would just deliver another Hollande administration. There are only two deviations from the original programme, writes Le Point. The first is that Fillon no longer plans to raise the VAT rate immediately, which means that there would be about €2.3bn less revenues per year. The other is that income tax reductions will be a flat €350 per year, regardless of income. With his presentation yesterday, he focused media attention away from his other troubles. Though this is not going to hold for tomorrow, when he is summoned to appeared before a court which will decide whether to bring formal charges against him.

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