Dutch Election Could Set Stage for Europe’s Far Right

by Justin Salhani –

The anti-immigrant, anti-EU parties have grown, but upcoming elections could still reject them.

The Freedom Party’s Geert Wilders

The Dutch elections, scheduled to take place on March 15, have been described as Europe’s bellwether for a reason. The results could predict how successful right wing populist parties will be in other upcoming European elections.

The Freedom Party’s Geert Wilders, noted for his rabidly anti-Muslim and anti-immigration policies, led polls since summer 2015, according to the Guardian; but support for Wilders has dropped substantially in recent weeks, possibly down to a drop in public appearances allowing other parties to make up ground. Wilders has lived under police protection for 10 years and stopped appearing in public after an alleged security leak late last month.

Incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who heads up a liberal-led government, has spoken optimistically regarding his chances of remaining in power. However, Bloomberg reported five parties are in contention to take first place.

What happens in the Dutch elections could influence later elections in other parts of Europe.

After the Netherlands, France will take to the polls on April 23 for the first round of voting. The second round will be a runoff between the top two vote getters from the first round. Marine Le Pen, leader of the nativist Front National party, is expected to make the second round of voting. Both Le Pen and Wilders have made public their support for U.S. President Donald Trump. Wilders appeared at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer, while Le Pen was seen at Trump Tower shortly before the president’s inauguration (though she denied meeting with anyone from Trump’s team).

Germany also has an election in October of this year, though their local right-wing nativist group, the AfD is not expected to perform as well as Le Pen or Wilders.

Much of the fight put up by these parties is over membership in the European Union. Last year, the United Kingdom voted to leave after being prompted by right-wing and anti-immigrant politicians like Nigel Farage — who has since served as an occasional adviser to Trump.

The reasons for exiting the EU are often tied to immigration and can spill over into subtle, or even overt, instances of racism. Farage, for example, has drawn controversy for using overtly racist language unapologetically.

‘There’s no need to worry about the nigger vote,” Farage reportedly said in 1997, according to the Guardian. “The nig-nogs will never vote for us.’”

It’s no coincidence that Wilders has also been convicted of racial discrimination, while Le Pen has gone to court over inciting racial hatred. Both spout vehemently anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Their radical views have largely isolated them from mainstream politics. Until recently, Le Pen’s party — particularly under her overtly racist father — was regularly rejected at the polls. Le Pen has since softened her image in an attempt to become more politically palatable. Political observers still predictthat no matter who Le Pen faces in the second round, she is likely to galvanize the opposition and lose.

Wilders may also find power hard to come by in the Netherlands. Rutte holds a low opinion of his populist opponent and recently said in a televised debate that “under no condition, irrespective of the outcome” would he work with Wilders — making it harder for the right-wing populist to form a governing coalition even if his party does win the most votes.

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress