What Do the Dutch Elections Mean for Europe?

In Brief

What Do the Dutch Elections Mean for Europe?

Far-right candidate Geert Wilders emerged as the biggest political force in Dutch politics in November’s general elections. What does his win mean for the Netherlands and Europe?

What led to the sharp rise in support for the Dutch far right?

Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) has done well in previous elections, especially in 2010, when it achieved more than 15 percent of votes and backed the first government of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte. However, this win is unprecedented. The PVV’s 23.5 percent of the vote, translating into 37 out of 150 seats, makes it by far the biggest faction in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.

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The sharp rise in support can be explained by the fact that in July, Rutte’s fourth government fell over the issue of migration. Rutte’s successor as leader of the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius, gambled on making migration a central campaign issue, seeming to open the door to working with Wilders’s PVV. This was something Rutte had firmly ruled out over the last ten years. In response, Wilders was quick to tone down his inflammatory rhetoric—media outlets even rebranded him “Milders”—to signal to voters that a vote for PVV would not be wasted this time.

Does PVV have a path to a coalition that would allow it to govern directly? And what policies would Wilders be able to implement as prime minister?

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It does, but it will be a very difficult balancing act. Two of Wilders’s potential coalition partners—the center-right VVD and the New Social Contract (NSC), the new party of Pieter Omtzigt, the former Christian Democrat who ran on a center-right anticorruption platform—have made it clear that they cannot tolerate certain PVV positions that go against the Dutch constitution, such as the closure of mosques. Yesilgoz-Zegerius has signaled that her party would not join a Wilders government, but that it would be open to offering ad hoc support for a minority government. Meanwhile, Omtzigt continues to make ambiguous statements about governing in a coalition with Wilders.

If Wilders succeeds in putting together a government, he will likely govern in a similar fashion right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who has had to scale back many of her more radical propositions. In other words, Wilders will have abandon his dreams of a referendum on leaving the European Union (EU) and his infatuation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and instead pursue more moderate, center-right policies.

Immigration policy and law and order are a different story. A potential Wilders government would likely take a much harsher line on both issues. On climate policy, a Wilders government would likely spare farmers from what some potential coalition partners (such as the Farmer Citizen Movement) see as excessive carbon-reduction targets and slow down the gradual transition toward a world with net-zero carbon emissions.

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How could a PVV government affect European cooperation, such as the EU’s migration policy?

It is no coincidence that the first EU leader to congratulate Wilders was Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who also wants the EU to become tougher on asylum seekers and immigration in general. After Slovakian elections in September were won by the party of Robert Fico, who is also on the same wavelength, there is no doubt that EU migration policy will continue to move in a more right-wing direction. Expect additional painful “money for refugees” deals such as those already struck with Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey, especially if the Israel-Hamas conflict pushes desperate Palestinian refugees to make their way to Europe via the Mediterranean.

Leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders speaks to the press in aftermath of his November 2023 election victory.
Leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders speaks to the press in the aftermath of his November 2023 election victory. Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

On climate policy, the EU will likely be forced to scale back its ambitious agenda and do more to compensate the losers of the move toward net-zero emissions. And on economic policy, a Wilders government would likely take a stricter line on debt and deficits. This would also be bad news for many of the EU’s future plans, which include spending more on defense—especially on aid to Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia—and investing more in renewable energy and industrial policy.

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Does Wilders’s win portend rising Euroskepticism, or is it an outlier compared to other recent elections?

It is probably not an outlier, as long as immigration and the environment remain key concerns for European voters. Even in Poland, the right-wing, populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) still won by far the most votes in that country’s October elections, despite losing its parliamentary majority.

This trend holds elsewhere. France’s National Rally, the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, is polling at 28 percent in the run-up to the June 2024 European Parliament elections, 8 points ahead of President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party. In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is now consistently the second-largest party with 22 percent support. In Belgium, the nationalist Flemish Interest party is poised to emerge as the largest party in next year’s national elections. Meanwhile, the far right is currently in government in Finland, Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia, while propping up a minority government in Sweden.

With Europe’s center-left social democrats and green parties steadily losing support, and center-right parties increasingly imitating the rhetoric (and occasionally also the policies) of the far right, finding common ground in the center is becoming more challenging. That undermines hopes of a new, stable coalition returning to the European Parliament, especially given the prospect that right-wing parties everywhere could outperform current polls. And that, in turn, would make it harder to put together a new European Commission, though current commission President Ursula von der Leyen remains the odds-on favorite for a second term. All of this adds up to bad news for EU officials in Brussels, as their jobs are about to get a lot harder.

 

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