Dutch Elections Block the Rise of Far-Right Leaders in Europe

Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) were re-elected in the highly-anticipated Dutch parliamentary elections on Wednesday, March 15. According to official election results, the VVD received 31 of 150 seats in the House of Representatives, which are not enough to gain a majority but enough to form a coalition government with other centrist parties. The other main contender in the election, the far-right, anti-Islamist Party for Freedom (PVV), created by the controversial Geert Wilders, tied for second place with 19 seats. The fairly-new PVV did not fare as well as projected, with some earlier polls predicting that Wilders’ party could have gained a coalition majority.

Wilders’ rise to power comes at a peculiar time in Europe, as voters appear to be rejecting European Union identity after Brexit and the wave of extreme populist, anti-immigration candidates rise in governments across the continent. For example, the resignation of Italy’s liberal Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the decision of socialist French President Francois Hollande not to seek reelection, the surging candidacy of France’s far-right Marine le Pen, and the possible defeat of the EU’s flagship liberal leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in elections this fall.

Speaking at a press conference in November, Wilders hailed U.S. President Donald Trump’s victory as a “revolution” that would set off a course of political change in Europe. Speaking to British news agency Sky News on February 9, Wilders promised to call for a referendum for the Netherlands to leave the EU, which some have dubbed “Nexit.” His Twitter account pledges to “stop Islamization.” Notably, voters were so worried that the Russian government would intervene in the election as they did in the U.S. election that votes were counted by hand. 

However, popular consensus recognizes Wilders’ defeat and Rutte’s reelection as a setback in the recent trend of populism in Europe.