Geert Wilders ‘Wins’ Dutch Elections
The trend toward hard-right parties continues.
POLITICO EU (“Far-right leader Geert Wilders wins Dutch election“):
The anti-Islam, Euroskeptic radical Geert Wilders is projected to be the shock winner of the Dutch election.
With almost all votes counted, in a dramatic result that will stun European politics, his Freedom Party (PVV) is set to win around 37 of the 150 seats in parliament — more than double the number it secured in the 2021 election, according to exit polls.
Frans Timmermans’ Labour-Green alliance is forecast to take second place, winning 25 seats — a big jump from its current 17. Dilan Yeşilgöz, outgoing premier Mark Rutte’s successor as head of the center-right VVD, suffered heavy losses and is on course to take 24 seats, 10 fewer than before, according to early results.
A win for Wilders will put the Netherlands on track — potentially — for a dramatic shift in direction, after Rutte’s four consecutive centrist governments. The question now, though, is whether any other parties are willing to join Wilders to form a coalition. Despite emerging as the largest party, he will struggle to find an overall majority in parliament.
To the soundtrack of Rocky, Eye of the Tiger, Wilders greeted his supporters in a café on the Dutch coast with a big smile. “The voters have spoken tonight and they have said that they are fed up,” he said. “We are going to make sure that Dutch voters will be put first again.”
The party wants to work toward curbing the “asylum tsunami,” putting more money in people’s wallets and better security, Wilders added.
He extended a hand to other parties, declaring it is time to work together to come up with solutions. Wilders even suggested he would be willing to compromise on his anti-Muslim ideals for the sake of entering government. “I understand very well that parties do not want to be in a government with a party that wants unconstitutional measures,” he said. “We are not going to talk about mosques, Qurans and Islamic schools.”
Reuters (“Dutch election: Far-right’s Wilders aims to be PM after shock win“) adds:
Far-right populist Geert Wilders wants to be the Netherlands’ next prime minister and would focus his efforts on curbing immigration, he said following a landmark election win that will have repercussions in the Netherlands and Europe.
A fan of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Hungary’s eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the vocally anti-Islam, anti-EU Wilders has also vowed to slash Dutch payments to the European Union and block the entrance of any new members, including Ukraine.
Though Wilders’ most radical ideas will be rejected by other parties he must work with in order to form a coalition government, fellow populists including Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the hard-right League Matteo Salvini welcomed his win as showing that “a new Europe is possible.”
While his party will claim almost a quarter of seats in parliament, Wilders needs mainstream parties to join him in a coalition to govern and will have to water down some of his views.
Notably, none of the parties Wilders could form a government with would be willing to leave the EU or violate Dutch constitutional guarantees on freedom of religion, but he said he was confident an agreement could be reached.
Wilders’ win sends a warning shot to mainstream parties across Europe ahead of the European Parliament elections next June, which will likely be fought on the same issues as the Dutch election: immigration, cost of living and climate change.
“We had it with the old politicians,” voter Herman Borcher said in the eastern town of Enschede, welcoming the election outcome.
“The Netherlands needed change,” voter Sabine Schoppen agreed, adding with a smile: “Rutte bye bye. Welcome Geert Wilders.”
It’s certainly a refrain we’ve heard before. Whether Wilders is able to form a governing coalition and how much of the agenda on which he ran can be enacted remains to be seen. But we’ve seen the rise of the populist right going back to at least the Brexit vote, albeit not without exception.
Poland’s election last month, won by a grouping of pro-European parties against the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), shows not all countries in the region are veering to the right.
“The Netherlands are not France,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire quickly reacted, while acknowledging that the Dutch election showed “the fears that are emerging in Europe” over immigration and the economy.
But Wilders’ victory comes two months after the return to power of the equally anti-EU populist Robert Fico in Slovakia, who has pledged to halt military aid to Ukraine and cut immigration.
“The winds of change are here!,” Hungary’s Orban said.
Wilders has repeatedly said the Netherlands should stop providing arms to Ukraine, as he says the country needs the weapons to be able to defend itself. He is strongly pro-Israel.
Islamic and Moroccan organisations, and other rights groups, expressed concerns about Wilders’ victory. Muslims make up about 5% of the population.
“These election results are shocking for Dutch Muslims,” said Muhsin Koktas, of Dutch Muslim organisation CMO. “We have great concerns about the future of Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands.”
Amnesty International said: “Yesterday, human rights lost.”
All eyes will now turn to Wilders’ potential government partners who had expressed serious doubts about working with him during the campaign, but were now less outspoken after his win.
“We are available to govern,” NSC party’s Omtzigt said. “This is a difficult outcome. We will discuss on Thursday in what way we could best contribute.”
VVD leader Dilan Yesilgoz, who earlier this week said her party wouldn’t join a government led by Wilders, said it was now up to the winner to show he could get a majority.
Again, it’s part of a trend we’ve seen for a few years now.
Jon Henley, The Guardian, “How Europe’s far right is marching steadily into the mainstream” (June 30):
Almost 25 years ago, when Jörg Haider’s far-right populist Freedom party (FPÖ) won just under 27% of the vote and entered government in Austria, the shock waves reverberated around Europe. Diplomatic visits were cancelled and punitive measures imposed.
Not long after, when Jean-Marie Le Pen of France’s National Front (now National Rally or RN) reached the presidential runoff, the eventual winner, Jacques Chirac, refused even to debate with the far-right leader, so abhorrent – and abnormal – were his views.
But now across western Europe, far-right parties are advancing: climbing steadily up the polls, shaping the policies of the mainstream right to reflect nativist and populist platforms, and occupying select ministerial roles in coalition governments.
Giorgia Meloni, whose party has neofascist roots, is prime minister of Italy, and Spain’s far-right Vox, after recently doubling its regional and local vote, could soon be sharing power nationally.
The far right is part of the new coalition government in Finland and, in exchange for key policy concessions, is propping up another in Sweden. Back in Austria, the FPÖ is comfortably ahead in the polls, roughly a year from the next election.
In a “watershed moment” in the Germany’s politics, the country’s far-right AfD has just won its first district council election, after surging in the past year from 10% to 20% and into second place in the polls, ahead of the centre-left SPD.
In Greece, a trio of little-known hard-right and nativist parties won parliamentary seats in Sunday’s elections. They included the three-week-old Spartans, backed, from his prison cell, by a leading light of the now defunct neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.
“They are all different, and the cultures and political systems they operate in are all different,” said Catherine Fieschi, director of policy at Open Society Foundations Europe and an expert on populism, authoritarianism and the far right.
“But after every crisis, we have told ourselves that the populists and far right are waning in Europe, and the fact is they have been rising more or less steadily, with a few interruptions, since the 1980s. They are really now a part of the landscape.”
What’s more, Europe’s increasingly fragmented and polarised politics means “a 48/52 split basically turns these parties into kingmakers. That’s what happened in the Nordics, will probably happen in Spain, [and] could happen in France,” Fieschi said.
“In Italy and Austria there are additional factors – a far right that was never really rejected postwar, disenchantment with a system that feels rigged and inefficient – and in Germany, it’s all about the east and the weakness of the current coalition.”
For long, opposition to immigration, Islam and the EU were what united Europe’s far-right parties. New causes have now also emerged: the culture wars, minority rights, the climate crisis and the unfair sacrifices that governments insist will be needed to combat it.
Their appeal has been further enhanced by the cost of living crisis flowing from pandemic recovery and Russia’s war on Ukraine; by rapid and confusing social and digital change and, everywhere, by mounting mistrust of the mainstream.
But behind the surge, there also lies a two-way process of normalisation: as the centre right increasingly adopts far-right talking points and opens itself up for deals, smart far-right parties moderate some of their more voter-repellent views.
From Italy to Finland, much of Europe’s centre right is as hardline on immigration as the far right, while far-right parties are busy projecting economic discipline, dialling back on Euroscepticism and downplaying past support for Russia.
“The far right’s rise has coincided with the decline of a certain kind of left,” Fieschi said. “Far-right parties now seem like a reasonable vote for many of the people who in previous circumstances would have voted for a popular, protective left.”
What has changed, she said, is that we live “in the era of control. The Brexiters got that. The left may promise protection, but the far right promises order and control. It can’t necessarily deliver it – but it speaks more to people’s individual and cultural fears.”
EuroNews, “Why the far-right is increasingly getting into power across Europe” (June 19):
A shift is taking place little by little in Europe which could turn out to be a new political trend.
Previously on the margins of the political spectrum, far-right parties are now getting government roles alongside mainstream right-wing parties.
Analysts say that the reasons behind this trend vary from country to country, with immigration, the economy or the war in Ukraine among the drivers for the shift.
“In some countries, this is very strongly related —in many by the way, not only in those countries where they then assume a leadership role in government or a role in government — with the issue of migration,” Janis Emmanouilidis, deputy chief executive of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, said.
“In other countries, it is a way of showing the yellow or the red card to mainstream parties for issues related to the economy, with issues related to fears of people having with respect to transformation processes, which is happening in front of their eyes,” he added.
For Cathrine Thorleifsson, an associate professor at the University of Oslo and the head of the Norwegian Government’s Commission on Extremism, this trend is not new. She explained to Euronews that these different parties have been increasing their electoral support for the past decade.
For her, immigration and Euroscepticism are the main drivers.
“Lots of voters are quite disillusioned with ordinary conventional political parties. And we seem to be in a new globalised crisis,” she told Euronews.
“First, you had the financial crisis, the pandemic, (the) economic fallout of the war in Ukraine and (the) cost of living crisis. And in times of crisis, some of these populist right parties, they do find quite simple solutions to these very complicated problems and promising to protect the people and also sovereignty against the perceived and real threats from the outside,” she said.
The way people feel in times of crisis has historically been the same, she explained.
“Very often also religion is being emphasised. In the case of Spain now it’s an appeal to traditional values and way of life. It’s an appeal to Catholicism. And it’s also really in all countries a veiled threat to liberal values associated with liberal democracy and the EU,” she said.
In an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered” last month, political scientist Cas Mudde echoed the normalization theme:
I see it as kind of a conclusion of a at least two-decade-long process of what is the mainstream normalization of the far-right across Europe. And so if you look at the last election in both countries, you see the trend towards this. But what has shifted is that, for example, the Sweden Democrats, while they won only 3% more, they have now finally become accepted as one of the parties. Similarly, whereas a party like Brothers of Italy about 10 years ago could be popular but would still be seen as outside of the scope, in today’s politics in Europe, they are also now acceptable. And that has to do with a right-wing shift in general. On the one hand, extreme right, radical right parties that win more support, but also, mainstream parties that move more towards the positions of these parties.
While rejecting the idea that this is a sudden phenomenon:
Well, you have to go back to the mid-1980s. And so the origin has to do with societal changes. On the one hand, the decrease of the working class, on the other hand, the secularization of population, and then also the effects of mass immigration that we actually saw in the ’50s, ’60s. But in the 1980s, immigrants and their families became more visible parts of society. And this is to a large extent related to a backlash to a multicultural society as well as a shift towards more inclusion.
Now, there was a moment then with 9/11 that the focus on Islam became very strong. And whereas politics used to be purely socioeconomic, now the focus was on identity issues. And then in 2015, ’16, the so-called refugee crisis was kind of like a catalyst for these sentiments. So on the one hand, there are specific moments that have pushed the support for the far right, but overall, the process is a very gradual process that has taken now at least four decades.
And pushed back somewhat on the obvious Trump comparison:
I think it’s important to note that the U.S. has a very unique political system, and therefore, a lot of the things that happen in Europe will not happen in the U.S. – most notably, coalition formations. And that is a fundamental difference. At the same time, it is clear that within the broader and very radicalized right wing within the U.S., there is much more attention for Europe these days than there ever was. That being said, the U.S. remains relatively parochial and is not going to follow, like, a prime minister of a small country.
I think what will be interesting is if Trump or DeSantis or another Republican will come back to the White House. And then there are now much more relationships, personal relationships between people in the broader entourage of the Republican Party and particularly parties like Fidesz from Orban or Meloni, actually, and the Brothers of Italy. And that could lead to some closer relationships. Mostly what people like Orban and Meloni will probably use that for is to find some kind of leverage in their negotiations with the EU. But we are still very far away from an international-like collaboration. And even within the European Union itself, it is important that the radical right remains pretty divided. Even over Russia, for example, where Orban and Meloni, for example, don’t see eye to eye at all, and to a certain extent within the coalition of Meloni, there are also more pro-Putin voices and very anti-Putin voices. So the radical right remains, on the one hand, divided. On the other hand, it is growing. And there are more connections than there were before.
At some point, if they continue winning elections, “radical right” is perhaps not the best description. Almost by definition, they’re no longer radical but mainstream.
In most of the European systems, there’s not a binary choice. Typically, this requires the formation of coalition governments and, usually, this requires moderation. Despite the post-fascist origins of Meloni’s party, Italy has not reverted to a style of governance Musolini would recognize.
More importantly, we’re not seeing unusual levels of political violence. Wilders and company aren’t coming to power with the aid of brown shirts. Or losing elections and then using violence and intimidation to take power.
The United States, alas, essentially presents voters with a binary choice. Our system of separation of powers and checks and balances is designed to force compromise but, increasingly, it’s been producing gridlock.
And, of course, Trump used all manner of extra-legal—and perhaps illegal—means to retain power after losing the 2020 elections. This culminated in the Capitol riots, for which the January 6 commission found him responsible and a federal grand jury has indicted him for multiple felonies.
Democrats have now won in several successive elections, seemingly signaling that Trump and MAGA are not what the American public wants. Then again, he came to power the first time despite getting 3 million fewer votes than his 2016 opponent. He lost by 8 million votes in 2020 but still came close to winning and, again, was willing to foment violence to keep power. The guardrails that prevented that succeeding are weaker now and polls show an increasing support for violence.
Update from SLT: I would also recommend Matthew Shugart’s post at Fruits and Votes: Netherlands 2023.