The Dutch General Election of March 2017 marked the victory of Mark Rutte’s VVD, and more importantly, it represented a notable rejection of Geert Wilders and his populist, nationalist, Eurosceptic PVV. Despite opinion polls having the PVV leading on occasion even by 10 points, Wilders lost the election by 8.2% and will not be a part of the future Dutch government.
Wilders didn’t get as many votes as you’d think
Aside from garnering only 13% of the vote, the PVV is ideologically incapable of forming an alliance even with the closes right-wing parties that have entered the Dutch parliament. The seat proportion doesn’t help them either.
Wilders will claim that the result is good for the PVV because it gained seats compared to 2012 (a gain of 5, 20 now compared to 15 then). This is another classic example of bending the truth; the PVV had 24 seats in 2010 when it also recorded its highest seat gain ever (a gain of 15).
As we can see, distribution-wise, all Eurosceptic parties got less than one-fifth of the seats in parliament. However, the Right-Left division is stark, and with the PVV ruled out of any coalitions, some parties will have to cross the aisle.
A rightwing VVD-CDA-D66-CU coalition would give Rutte a 50.6% majority, however, the government that would result would have a frail majority, so other alliance possibilities are also considered. The only thing certain right now is that the PVV will not feature in a future coalition.
The desire to keep the PVV outside government is actually creating cross-aisle attempts at unity, recently, Rutte’s VVD started negotiations with the GroenLinks to form a VVD-CDA-D66-GroenLinks government. This would give Rutte a more comfortable 54% majority.
The Right created today’s brand of populism. In order to tame it, it needs to make a few deals with the devil
The populism we’ve seen in Europe over the last decade is marked by splinter parties successfully taking over the fringe voters of rightwing parties. They start as one issue parties (opposed to immigrants or certain religions) and quickly build up on people’s anger. They then develop their “platform” to include a series of other populist measures taken from both the left and right and thus create a snowball effect, in which they challenge the existing establishment. See UKIP’s rise in Britain, FN in France, M5S in Italy, the PVV, AfD and many others.
There are only two ways parties can dispel this effect: one is by quietly appropriating the behavior of the extremist parties, but maintaining a rather moderate platform. This is where the VVD succeeded, and the best quote is that of Rutte himself when de declared “Good populism” won. The second option consists of waiting, and being lucky enough for the extremist party to fall in its own ideological trap: becoming too extreme.
The Turkish affair. How Rutte moved faster on an issue dear to the PVV
Rutte capitalized strategically on the patriotic sentiment of right wing voters in the Netherlands: he opposed a foreign power, specifically, Turkey. President Erdogan’s attempts to send ministers to lobby for his upcoming referendum were struck down by Rutte, which brought the VVD immense political capital. The fact that Erdogan isn’t exactly a popular figure in Western Europe also helped Rutte stay away from appearing as excessive or too damning in his actions.
This move left Wilders looking like a dog who barks a lot and doesn’t have too much of a bite. It reassured many voters who wanted to move further to the right that the current party can hold its ground to a certain extent. Such risky and conflictual developments may not be the best solution, but they prove that we live in a world defined by having to choose more and more often between the lesser of two evils.
A bad omen for the Front National?
The elections in the Netherlands were described as the “quarterfinals” for nationalist populism. The “semifinals” are to be held in France, where the Emanuel Macron and his En March! Party still hold a comfortable lead over Marine Le Pen’s FN. The next month will show if rightwing populism will record its second European defeat this year, and the “finals” in Germany might turn out to be the icing on the cake.