Reading Time: 5 minutes Minister-president Rutte from Nederland (+31), CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I have been one, amongst many, who has been worried about the surge of right-wing populism in Europe. The Netherlands were the first country in the EU to seriously challenge the political union, with their right-wing tweeter-in-chief, Geert Wilders, stoking up popular gripes amongst the electorate.

But the standing PM has seen him off in a fairly resounding fashion. However, to do this, he had to shift to the right and adopt some policies to appease Wilders potential supporters.

Wilders won’t be going away, but at least a Nexit isn’t imminently on the cards. The only people who do well out of massive political instability are generally ne’er-do-wells.

As the Guardian reports:

With nearly 95% of votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right, liberal VVD was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, the national news agency ANP said.

Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to finish second, but a long way behind on 20 seats, just ahead of the Christian Democrat CDA and liberal-progressive D66, which both ended third with 19 seats…

After Britain’s shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the US, he added, the eyes of the world had been on the vote: “This was an evening when … the Netherlands said ‘Stop’ to the wrong sort of populism.”

Wilders, who had led the polls for the better part of two years and was at one stage credited with a 25% vote share before slumping to barely half that figure on polling day, said it was obvious he would have preferred to have been the largest party.

But he noted the VVD had lost eight seats while he had gained five, and promised to offer stiff resistance. “We are not a party that has lost,” he said. “We gained seats. That’s a result to be proud of … And Rutte is certainly not rid of me yet.”

Although he ended up with fewer seats than his highest previous total, in 2010, Wilders will not be too downhearted. Outside government he will not have to compromise and can continue to drag the terms, and tone, of Dutch politics on to his chosen territories of immigration and integration.

In the run-up the election, Rutte adopted some of Wilders’ anti-immigration rhetoric – including telling immigrants to respect Dutch norms and values or leave.

“Wilders did not want to enter government,” said André Krouwel, a political scientist at Amsterdam’s Free University. “What he wanted – and he’s pretty much already achieved it – is for the two mainstream rightwing parties … to say and do what he wants. In a sense, he had already won the elections.”

So he will be there, still, laughing maniacally like some Bond villain: you will not be “rid of me yet”! Ha ha ha ha haaa! Man, he even looks like a Bond villain.

Interestingly:

The big winners were the pro-European leftwing ecologists of GreenLeft, who leapt from four seats to 14 and could conceivably enter a ruling coalition. But the social democratic Labour party (PvdA), Rutte’s outgoing coalition partner, slumped from 38 seats to a historic low of nine.

Which looks like the left splintering into further left parties.

It seems, as well, that Holland’s harsh response to the Turkish issues that have been boiling away has also played into Rutte’s hands, and probably stolen him those potential Wilders voters.

But, as ever, ethnic and religious integration are still big issues to be solved:

The political commentator Roderick Veelo, however, cautioned against assuming the populist far-right challenge was over. “Rutte is still standing, but so too is social discontent about uncontrolled immigration, failed integration and the power of Brussels,” he said.

“That is not going away. The broad coalition that will govern this country soon must show responsibility and courage on these subjects and go to work with real solutions. Only when that happens will the populist revolt die a quiet death.”

EDIT

To give a bit more context, my Dutch skeptic friend Leon Korteweg attacks such media representation of Wilders (as, indeed, my piece perhaps does). The man gets undue attention and is appropriated too much importance, he claims, and this is giving him the oxygen of credibility. That said, he is a player in the political landscape, and has shaped policy, if only indirectly. Korteweg said on facebook:

On the Dutch elections.
Dear foreign friends, we’ve checked, and your press is unfortunately heavily focused on the rather irrelevant observation that Rutte (conservative Liberals) beat Wilders (radical right). That’s not the story. It’s is much more complicated.

Our political landscape is NOT like America with just two parties. It’s highly fragmented, never before have we had so many different parties in Parliament (150 seats in total, so 76 needed for a majority) who all got a substantial amount of seats. After every election, a coalition of often 3 parties is needed to form a majority government. The fewer parties, the more stable a coalition will be.

Everyone had clearly excluded the option of collaboration with Wilders, so even if he became the largest party with, say, 40 seats, he would still not get in power, let alone become our PM. The other parties would easily find a majority without him. It would be a meaningless symbolic victory that meant fuckall in practice. (He actually went from 15 to 20 seats, which means nothing). The fact that Rutte held on to 32 of his 41 seats is the real surprise, which actually matters.

Now, more importantly, the Labour Party had a *crushing* defeat (38 to 9 seats). Their cooperation with Rutte in the past 4 years was punished severely, even though they co-ruled quite reasonably. Although this meant large gains (+22 seats) for the green parties (GreenLeft, the ‘half-green’ progressive liberal Democrats 66, and Party for Animals, the first two of which are also fiercely pro-EU (<3)), they don’t fill Labour’s gap. The Netherlands have shifted somewhat to the political right. A progressive/left coalition will be hard to form now…

The Christian Democrats have made a comeback with a nationalist/populist campaign (13 to 19 seats), and will determine which government we’ll get. They will likely prefer a centre-right coalition with Rutte, D66 and GreenLeft. GreenLeft, led by the ‘Justin Trudeau’-like Jesse Klaver with an ambitious plan to counter climate change and social inequality, will probably get in power for first time in history (!). They will try hard to exclude Rutte’s conservative Liberals (who care little about the environment and inequality, and focus heavily on economic growth) with whatever is left of Labour, the Socialist Party and perhaps a smaller party like the somewhat progressive ChristianUnion or the Party for Animals. The problem is that this will require many different parties and thus result in an unstable coalition government, and more importantly the Christian Democrats really don’t want it, the progressive liberal D66 would rather cooperate with Rutte’s conservative liberals than with the Socialist Party, and especially Labour wants to recover from their heavy defeat in the opposition.

There. That’s the story. Never mind freaking Wilders.

[Context: Leon Korteweg (1990) has studied history in Nijmegen. He is teamleader of the Dutch language team of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia, and also works for the skeptical podcast Kritisch Denken (Critical Thinking) of Russells Theepot. He specializes in religion (including creationism), nationalism, pseudohistory, and argumentation theory.]

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...