LONDON, Dec 4 (IPS) – The Netherlands is the latest country to shift to the right amid the global cost of living crisis. In the November elections, far-right populist Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) came out on top. A die-hard Islamophobe who calls for the Koran to be banned could be the next prime minister.
Change – what kind?
Change was always on the agenda – the only question was what kind. Since 2010, outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte has built government coalitions after four elections – no small feat given the highly fragmented politics in which many parties sit.
Rutte even bounced back from his resignation in 2021 following a scandal over false accusations of massive fraud against child benefit claimants, eventually coming first in the elections. But his last government split when other parties rejected his proposal to tighten restrictions on the right of asylum seekers to be joined by family members. Rutte announced that he would not run again.
Suddenly, the election took on a new face. Rutte’s party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), had a new leader, Dilan Ye?ilgöz, who arrived in the Netherlands as a child refugee and hoped to become the country’s first female prime minister. The New Social Contract (NSC) party, founded in August, sought to capitalize on anger over government scandals and for a time led the polls. On the center-left, the Green and Labor parties joined forces (PvdA-GL) under the leadership of former European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.
But it was Wilders who capitalized. The result suggests that multiple government scandals and the high cost of living have not only shaken confidence in the parties involved, but also in politics in general. This generated a protest vote in favor of Wilders.
Another important factor was the campaign’s strong focus on immigration – and not just from Wilders. The NSC and VVD also called for stricter limits for asylum seekers. But all this played into Wilders’ hands. Evidence suggests that when election campaigns focus on immigration, people are tempted to support the party that has been drumming up the longest, rather than those seen as seizing on the issue opportunistically.
The Dutch elections are the latest to indicate larger trends. The first is a widespread rejection of incumbents in an era of high costs of living. Time and again, ruling parties are punished for their financial woes and citizens are more willing to try alternatives. In the Netherlands, all four parties in the outgoing government have lost support.
There is also a longer-term trend in Europe whereby right-wing populist and nationalist parties are increasing their electoral respectability over the years. Tipping points may occur after years of efforts to normalize the position of parties once considered extremist. The Dutch result came after far-right parties took over the government in Italy, won elections in Switzerland, joined the governing coalition in Finland, supported the government in Sweden and gained support in France and in Germany.
In many European countries, far-right politicians have tilted the political center toward them. Established parties have adopted their narrative, most often promising tough migration policies. This has two effects: far-right parties succeed without needing to conquer power, because they influence policies, but it also increases their chances of success, since it allows them to fight for elections in their strongest territory. strong.
Wilders is not a newcomer. He first entered parliament in 1998 before breaking away from the VVD to form his own party on the issue of Turkey’s potential membership in the European Union (EU). The PVV came third in the 2010, 2012 and 2021 elections, and second in 2017. In 2010, after receiving more than 15% of the vote, the PVV agreed to support Rutte’s first government.
Today, this long normalization campaign seems to have borne fruit. Wilders continued to offer simplistic solutions to complex problems, and they resonate with people who don’t see their lives improving. Migrants and the country’s racial and religious minorities are the scapegoats, blamed for real problems such as high prices, shortages of affordable housing, and poor education and health care.
Bad news about the climate
This result also bodes bad news for the climate.
The Netherlands is home to two distinct trends. One of them is an increasingly active climate movement that insists that the government end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, with this demand communicated through nonviolent direct action. Activists repeatedly blocked a main highway and Dutch authorities responded with an escalating crackdown. When around 25,000 people took part in an action on September 9, police used water cannons and arrested some 2,400 people. Undeterred, tens of thousands of people marched in Amsterdam in November to demand climate action.
On the other side is the farmers’ lobby. The Netherlands is an agricultural powerhouse, but the industry is responsible for nearly half of the country’s emissions of nitrogen, a greenhouse gas and air pollutant. A 2019 Supreme Court ruling ordered that emissions be reduced, which would lead to a reduction in livestock numbers. In response, farmers have staged disruptive protests, including erecting roadblocks, although compared to climate protesters, relatively few have been arrested.
Farmers’ protests were given electoral voice in 2019 through the formation of the Citizen-Farmer Movement (BBB), which calls for an end to emissions reductions. It came in first in the March provincial election, making it the largest party in the Senate, the second chamber of Parliament.
Wilders is clearly not on the side of the climate movement. He has promised to remove environmental regulations, downplay international agreements and increase oil and gas extraction.
What awaits us?
Months of negotiations will determine who will be the next prime minister. Wilders says he wants the job, and convention dictates that the largest party should provide the prime ministership, even if it is not certain to win. Negotiations didn’t get off to the best start: Wilders appointed a so-called “scout” to talk to various party leaders, but the one he appointed quickly had to resign amid allegations of fraud.
A right-wing coalition seems most likely. BBB is the most enthusiastic potential partner and NSC has indicated it may be willing to join a coalition. The VVD has ruled out being part of a government, saying it would only support confidence and spending votes but that this could be a negotiating tactic.
As prime minister, Wilders could disappoint his supporters. He should probably rein in his usual bluster. Coalition partners would insist that its most extreme policies be abandoned, including any attempt to force the Netherlands out of the EU. Either way, some plans would likely be unconstitutional, violating guarantees of religious freedom.
Beyond that, the current trend could be cyclical. It is more difficult to position oneself as a protest outsider once power has been won and seemingly simple solutions have failed, although, as Donald Trump has shown, it is not impossible. But it may be significant that one of the few recent setbacks for right-wing populist and nationalist parties occurred in Poland, where many voters saw the Law and Justice party as the political establishment and blamed it for the high cost of living . The wheel can turn.
The problem is that a lot of damage is done during a period of regression: to the rights of minorities and excluded groups, with political rhetoric invariably normalizing hatred and violence, and to civil liberties, which are always under attack. There is also the risk that a shrinking window for action on climate will be missed.
It can’t just be a matter of waiting for this time to pass. Civil society and progressive forces must propose ideas that respond to citizens’ current anxieties and frustrations, based on a discourse that a better future for some does not come at the expense of the rights of others.
André Firmin is editor-in-chief of CIVICUS, co-director and editor for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society report.
© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service