Election in The Netherlands: After Brexit Second Chance For PopulismMarch 10, 2017 in The Netherlands
The Election Day is approaching in the Netherlands. First of a series of national elections that in the few months will help to decide the future for the European Union. The bloc’s two largest economies, France and Germany, will hold elections in two round for France (April and May) and September in Germany. Also Italy, depending on the status of its fragile governments, may join them. However, kicking it all off is the Netherlands, whose voters will go to the polls on the 15th on March. In the Netherlands, as in many other EU countries, nationalist and Euroskeptic parties are performing well in opinion polls.
In recent years, elections in many European countries have shown that popular support for mainstream political parties is waning as anti-system and Euroskeptic forces are gaining popularity. The Netherlands, one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, is following this trend.
Its parliament is composed of numerous parties, and coalitions are often needed to form governments. According to opinion polls, in the coming election, the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy of Prime Minister Mark Rutte would win from 23 to 28 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament. This would be a significant decline from the 41 seats it won in the general election of 2012. Similarly, the Labor Party would win 10 to 12 seats, well below the 38 seats it obtained in the last election.
These votes could be lost in favor of the euroskeptic Party of Freedom, who according to January opinion polls could double its parliamentary representation, reaching between 29 and 35 seats (in 2012, it won only 15 seats). That party and its leader, Geert Wilders, want the Netherlands to leave the European Union (a so-called Nexit) and to reintroduce the guilder as its national currency. The party has a strong anti-immigration and anti-Muslim agenda, presenting itself as a protector of Dutch culture and identity.
With the financial crisis over in the Netherlands, the economy is growing and has faded as an election issue, so Wildres’ electoral campaign has been dominated for the most part by the issue of immigration. Wilders has vowed to ban Muslim immigration and shut mosques if he wins. He was also convicted in December in a hate speech trial over his promise to reduce the number of Moroccans in the country.
However, Wilders’ campaign is faltering, with immigrants who make up 30% of Dutch population. Concerning the EU issue, opinion polls suggest support for a Dutch “Nexit” in the months after the Brexit vote fell by 8% to 25%. Pollsters say people have realized that leaving the EU would be more complicated than they thought. Nevertheless, according to latest polls two weeks before elections he was still leading polls.
But even if the Party of Freedom performs strongly in the election, it would struggle to enter the government. Most mainstream Dutch political parties refuse to cooperate with Wilders and have said they will exclude the Party of Freedom from the negotiations to form a government. The Party of Freedom is the only major party advocating a Nexit; the rest of the political establishment remains committed to the Netherlands’ EU membership and its role as the heart of the process of European integration.