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The Hague - Despite a campaign marked by attacks on Brussels, the leading Dutch parties wound up efforts on Tuesday to sway undecided voters to elect a grudgingly Europe-friendly government.
Wednesday's vote is shaping into a battle between current Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal VVD party and rising star Diederick Samsom's centre-left PvdA Labour party, but neither will be able to govern alone.
Latest opinion polls predict a middle-of-the-road coalition government involving the pro-austerity VVD and pro-stimulus PvdA will emerge once an expected 12.5 million voters cast their ballots.
“It is as good as set in stone that we will get a 'middle' government that will remain pro-Europe,” political analyst Alfred Pijpers told AFP of the eurozone's fifth-largest economy.
Fiscally prudent Rutte's government has been allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Samsom's calls for stimulus echo those of France's Socialist President Francois Hollande, elected this year on similar promises.
Polls give both Rutte's VVD and the PvdA of former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom 35 seats in the 150-seat lower house.
But whatever shape the new government takes it will stick to helping Merkel crack the austerity whip on the backs of indebted southern European nations.
A coalition between the VVD, which garnered 31 seats in 2010 and the PvdA, which had 30, together with one or two smaller parties seems the most likely option to get a 76-seat majority.
Budget cuts in the founding EU member are already hitting Dutch pockets hard and weighing heavily on voters' minds. Analysts say at least one million voters have yet to decide who to vote for.
Party leaders will have one more chance to convince undecided voters when they face-off in a final live debate on Dutch television Tuesday night.
Both the Liberals and Labour are pro-Europe but because of cuts to pay for spendthrift eurozone nations, they are faced with an electorate that is increasingly negative towards Brussels although realistic about the impossibility of European disintegration.
“There is a general feeling - although it's a perception - that in Brussels it's about well-paid government officials with their interfering little rules,” including in regards to Greece, said Bert van den Braak, a political analyst at Leiden University.
Rutte himself said in a debate Monday he would put the brakes on handing over further power to the European Union.
It was a spat over austerity measures to stay within a EU imposed deficit target that led to Rutte's coalition crashing in April.
“I am 'Mr No' when it comes to a Brussels that's expanding more and more,” he said. Samsom announced last week he had telephoned Hollande to discuss the eurozone debt crisis, setting his compass clearly more towards France than Germany.
Van den Braak however said Rutte's anti-Europe rhetoric might change after the election once he is confronted with the political reality of tackling the debt crisis.
With opinion polls predicting a tight race, the focus Tuesday shifted towards the political duel between Rutte, 45 and Samsom, 41, for the position of prime minister.
But whether the VVD or PvdA wins, there will be no seismic shift in the Netherlands' relationship with Brussels, analysts said.
With months of horsetrading expected before a coalition is agreed, Van den Braak said: “The Netherlands simply has too much vested interest in Europe to leave it. It will continue on its current course... and that is the reality.”
Germany Constitutional Court is meanwhile to rule Wednesday on the legality of two key eurozone's crisis tools - a 500-billion-euro ($640-billion) rescue fund called the ESM, and the EU fiscal pact.
Observers say that should the German court order a legal review of parliament's recent approval of the measures, as wanted by many German citizens, it may also further aggravate anti-EU sentiment in the Netherlands. - Sapa-AFP