The Dutch government yesterday discovered the electoral price of its support for the US-led occupation of Iraq, losing seats in European elections which also brought gains for Eurosceptics campaigning to "clean up" Brussels.
Preliminary results released after Thursday's poll showed voters anxious to punish the government and register a strong protest vote. However, turnout was higher than in either of the last two contests - up 9 per cent on 1999 results.
The Dutch authorities have courted legal action by allowing preliminary results to be released as soon as they were available, rather than waiting for all 25 EU countries to finish polling on Sunday night.
The deployment of nearly 1,400 Dutch troops to Iraq was a dominant campaign issue in the Netherlands. With most of the votes counted, the ruling Christian Democratic Appeal party of the Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, had lost two of its nine seats. The main opposition Social Democrats won an extra seat, putting them on an equal footing with the Christian Democrats. Theanti-war socialists took two seats. The Liberal VVD lost two seats, and voters also registered a protest vote against the EU, giving two seats to a new party called Transparent Europe.
The group is led by Paul van Buitenen, a former EU official and whistleblower whose claims of mismanagement helped to bring about the resignation of the entire European Commission in 1999.
But the elections also underlined the disappearance of the party founded by the murdered anti-immigration campaigner Pim Fortuyn, which won only 2.5 per cent of the vote.