Two things were already clear months before Dutch election day: the Netherlands would have a new prime minister and dozens of new parliamentarians. Forty sitting members of parliament, a quarter of the Tweede Kamer (lower house), and, even more striking, three of the four leaders of the outgoing conservative-led coalition had announced their departure from national politics. Ironically, in this sea of electoral change, it was the far-right mainstay, Geert Wilders, the soon-to-be longest-sitting MP, who would emerge the big winner.
How do we make sense of the political earthquake that has put Wilders and his PVV party in first place and how will it affect Dutch and European politics? The first, and most important, lesson is one that Dutch politicians in particular should have known, as it has happened over and over again in the past three decades in the Netherlands and throughout western Europe. If you make the elections about the issues of the far right, notably the “problem” of immigration, the far right wins. We saw this most recently in Sweden.
Another similarity with last year’s Swedish elections is that if you make elections about the far right’s suitability to govern, the far right wins. In the last week of the campaign, as the PVV made its shocking surge in the polls, article after article proclaimed the “milder tone” of Wilders, who had allegedly softened his “sharp edges”.
In fact, always witty, but rarely critical, the Dutch media even started to refer to him as Geert Milders. In reality, and as Wilders emphasised several times, there was no change in programme but one in strategy. He has not moderated his extreme positions about immigration or Islam, let alone rejected them. Rather, he has said that there are “bigger problems” than limiting immigration at the moment. [Continue reading…]