Make the Netherlands great again?

Alex Rogers, Consultant

“We will make sure that the Netherlands will be for the Dutch people again!”

In one of the first speeches following the Dutch General Election on November 22nd, leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV), Geert Wilders addressed his supporters with these Trumpianesque words to celebrate their resounding success of winning 37 seats in the House of Representatives. Whilst his premiership isn’t assured and there is no guarantee the PVV will play any role in a new government, a right wing and controversial party has progressed in yet another European country, adding to the weight of uncertainty for the future of the European Union and the direction of European politics.

The PVV are not a new entity, forming as a result of a disgruntled Wilders leaving Prime Minister Rutte’s government in 2004. Until recently though this has largely been viewed akin to an eccentric parading at ‘Speaker’s Corner’ in Hyde Park; loud but never in a position of power. However, these elections have changed this shift and placed Wilders as the frontrunner to form a new Dutch government.

Like Farage was to UKIP, the PVV is built around the cult of personality of Geert Wilders. The PVV is not based on a membership structure, making him the sole decision maker and authoritarian within all PVV activities. This personality is built around controversy and radical policies that would make a life as Prime Minister difficult at best and filled with unconstitutional policies if he presses through.

On a personal note, Geert Wilders continues to need physical protection, blacked out windows and a careful plan surrounding all trips just to be able to leave his house safely. There is a history of political assassinations in The Netherlands. Right wing Pim Fortuyn, who held a similar outlook to Geert Wilders was assassinated in 2002. He has also been in court over his comments relating to nationalism and continues to hold an extreme anti-Islamic stance. However, this hasn’t deterred Dutch voters. In a country most notable for its social liberalism, many have vote in a way that has sent an ‘earthquake’ through the mainstream parties.

So, where did it all go wrong for the moderates like outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the People’s Party for Democracy and Freedom (VVD)?

Perhaps the answer to this question reflects on the record of the previous government. Mark Rutte’s previous two governments fell apart in a less than gracious style with both an internal benefits scandal and a dispute on immigration policy finishing the final two VVD led coalitions respectively.

After 12 years at the helm, the centre-right VVD lost 10 seats to leave them with 24 seats overall. They were beaten by the highly anticipated left-wing, Labour-Green (GroenLinks-PvdA) coalition who secured 25. This pro-EU coalition, under former EU EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans, was anticipated to make real headway, but to the disappointment of Timmermans and Brussels, failed to do so.

This failure by the centre-left to entice Dutch voters has given the EU a headache it didn’t need. With other European nations and issues keeping the political behemoth occupied, another right-wing leader, this one even closer to Brussels and in a nation previously devoted, will only cause trouble. It will also galvanise other Eurosceptic parties across the continent to think the EU’s time is ticking and Brexit might be replaced with ‘Nexit’ or ‘Frexit’.

This widespread unrest and the fallout of international developments have been noticed on Dutch streets. Energy inflation stemming from the Ukraine war and struggles with post-covid finances seem to have been a factor in where votes have been cast. Alongside this, Wilders’ clear strategy (whether feasible or not) regarding immigration seems to provide clarity to the issue that moderates across Europe, and in the EU, seem unable to carve out. The ownership of the issue seems to have translated to the Dutch people in the ballot box and signifies a much-needed re-think for the VVD and other moderates.

Given elections in other European countries this shouldn’t be surprising for most. Europe has seen a wave of outliers win, or come close to winning, elections in recent years. From Victor Orban in Hungary, Giorgia Meloni in Italy, Marine La Pen in France and the progress of the AfD in Germany, populism is present in Europe and with it brings a disruption to the current order. Some of these divisive figures have heaped praise onto Geert Wilders already and hope to follow in his footsteps with their own elections.

However, they shouldn’t ‘jump the gun’. With 76 seats needed for a majority in the Dutch House of Representatives, Wilders is some way off his majority and with his past rhetoric he does not have many political allies. Only on Friday did Mark Rutte, rule out the VVD from serving in a Wilders-led cabinet, despite new leader Dilan Yesilgoz scheduled to meet with Wilders on the Monday.

The ‘GroenLinks-PvdA’ is also fundamentally opposed to any Wilders led government, therefore attention might need to turn to the populist Farmer-Citizen movement (BBB) who won the provincial elections earlier this year. Winning only 7 seats this time though their success seems limited and even with their support this still leaves Wilders over 30 seats short. A likely partner in a Wilders government might be Pieter Omtzigt, who leads the centre right NSC Party and their 20 seats. Once again Wilders’ previous unconstitutional policy intentions have put a stop on this for now as the NSC remain concerned regarding Wilders’ unconstitutional policy.

With Wilders currently locked out mathematically and other parties unable to find that ‘magic’ 76 seats it seems like a deadlock. To make matters worse for Wilders his hired “scout,” to look into viable governing coalitions, has already resigned due to a possible fraud charge in which he denies wrongdoing. This then leaves the VVD and NSC in a decisive position and, whilst they may be softening to the prospects of a constrained Wilders, there is no clear pathway in sight. Kijk uit!

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