THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — In a foretaste of his campaign for European parliamentary elections in May, Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders is making his case that the Netherlands would be better off leaving the European Union.
He claimed Thursday a "NExit" — Netherlands exit from both the European Union and euro currency zone — would add nearly 10,000 euros ($13,000) to GDP per capita over two decades, from around 35,000 euros now.
The Dutch government rejects Wilders' views, saying a pullout from the European Union would cause irreparable damage to trade relations in a country heavily reliant on trade, and a euro departure would lead to a new financial crisis.
"I cannot explain to any voters in the Netherlands that we have to raise taxes, cut health care for the elderly, for example, but that we send billions of euros to the Southern European countries (for bailouts), or all the fees we pay to Brussels," Wilders said at a press conference outside Dutch parliament.
Wilders' views on leaving the European Union have so far gained little traction in the Netherlands, and are seen as practically unworkable. However, his euro-skeptic stance, like that of other parties elsewhere on the political extremes — such as France's Marine Le Pen, Greece's Alexis Tsipras and Britain's Nigel Farage, does resonate with a wider public.
A survey published last week by pollster Maurice de Hond found almost as many Dutch would vote for Wilders' Freedom Party as for the two parties in the centrist governing coalition combined — if national elections were held today. They are not scheduled until 2017. Wilders said he hoped that his faction would be the largest Dutch faction in the European elections.
At the press conference, Wilders presented a study that concluded there would be significant positive economic effects from leaving the EU. He commissioned the study from the London-based think-tank Capital Economics, founded by the Euroskeptic economist Roger Bootle.
The study concluded that the Dutch economy would benefit from no longer contributing to the EU budget. On a per-capita basis, the Dutch are among the highest net contributors.
Second, leaving the euro would enable the Dutch central bank to tailor monetary policy to better suit the country, Capital Economics analyst Mark Pragnell said.
"We think the Swiss option is viable for the Netherlands," Pragnell said, referring to Switzerland's good bilateral relations and trade with the European Union, even as it conducts its own monetary policy.
It is not clear that the Netherlands would be able to negotiate the same deals Switzerland has. Many would find it difficult to imagine the European Union without the Netherlands, one of its founding members and traditionally a strong supporter of the union.
But Wilders called the report's result "the best news for the Netherlands in years."
"It offers the Netherlands a way out of this crisis," he said.
Dutch GDP has scarcely grown since the start of the 2008 financial crisis, due in part to a sharp fall in housing prices, though most economists forecast a modest return to growth in 2014.
Unemployment is around 7 percent and rising, and many Dutch are unhappy with the government's austerity policies, after years of painful spending cuts and tax hikes.
In November Wilders and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced an international alliance of far-right European parties, intending to form a Euroskeptic bloc in the European Parliament.
Wilders acknowledged not all far right parties in Europe want to leave the union.
"What we all have in common is that we want to regain our national sovereignty, that we want (our national) capitals to be in charge instead of Brussels...and I think there is a good base to work together."