Europe could soon have a new far-right prime minister.
Geert Wilders could become the next leader of the Netherlands after a historic election victory on Wednesday.
His Freedom Party won 37 seats in the country’s 150-seat legislature, the largest single bloc, far ahead of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative People’s Party (24 seats) and the left-wing Labor-Labour coalition. Greens (25 seats).
Wilders is historically opposed to immigration and is skeptical of the European Union’s influence on national decision-making.
“We will ensure that the Netherlands once again stands with the Dutch people. We will limit the tsunami of asylum and migration. People will have more money in their wallets again,” he said at a recent campaign rally.
“The Party for Freedom has scored points in Dutch and European elections in the past, but has never managed to win any. … His recent landslide victory constitutes a decisive turning point,” George Tzogopoulos, a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, told Al Jazeera.
What does Wilders represent?
Anti-Islam and anti-EU rhetoric have historically been key elements of Wilders’ agenda. This proved too marginal for Dutch public opinion when he became spokesperson for the People’s Party in 2002 and was removed from office.
Anti-Muslim sentiment grew in the country after the assassination of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004. His film Submission depicted Islam as a religion encouraging violence against women. The attacker, Mohammed Bouyeri, was a second-generation Dutch Moroccan. The Guardian newspaper called the incident “a murder that shattered the Netherlands’ liberal dream.”
Wilders formed a new party that year and renamed it the Party for Freedom (VVD) in 2006. He has since argued that the Netherlands should revoke Syrians’ permits and ban the Quran.
“His party’s program says that migration has weakened the Netherlands,” Angeliki Dimitriadi, who heads the migration program at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, told Al Jazeera.
Why did the Dutch support him now?
Energy inflation resulting from the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian oil appears to have been a major factor.
“(Wilders) combined this (anti-immigration) political strategy by also appealing to voters disenchanted with rising costs and high prices,” Tzogopoulos said. “In doing so, he criticized Dutch military support for Ukraine, while condemning the Russian invasion. »
“What seems to have played a role is Wilders’ appropriation of the migration issue, which set the tone of the debate,” Dimitriadi said. “This has led center-right parties to adopt more conservative approaches to migration and asylum in a bid to counter the PVV. »
This strategy clearly produced the “opposite result”, she said, “but beyond migration, the party’s agenda regarding the housing crisis and the rising cost of living also appears to have played a role. a role “.
What happens next in the Netherlands?
Wilders needs to find coalition partners who together would represent the majority of seats in the legislature, so he can win a vote of confidence to form a government.
If these developments occur, he would be the first European far-right leader to head a government since Italy’s Georgia Meloni came to power.
This power could temper his policy.
Meloni, also a Eurosceptic and anti-immigration politician, allayed fears of disrupting the European political scene by continuing her predecessors’ unwavering support for Ukraine.
Tzogopoulos believes that this moderation has already started for Wilders.
“(Wilders) had toned down his approach towards Muslims during the pre-election campaign. The example of Georgia Meloni in Italy demonstrates that politicians theoretically presented as right-wingers can easily abandon extremism on several issues as soon as they are elected.
“Of course, there are also other different cases, like that of (Prime Minister Viktor) Orban in Hungary.”
Dimitriadi believes Wilders is emblematic of a broader shift to the right – one that could create alliances and harden positions.
“There is a clear shift to the right and a failure of the left to answer the big questions in a way that is compelling to voters,” she told Al Jazeera.
“There is also an already conservative approach to migration and asylum at the European level… It is likely that the shift to the right on migration and asylum will continue,” predicts Dimitriadi.
What does this mean for Europe?
Authoritarian, anti-immigrant, anti-globalist, Eurosceptic and populist parties, which had been marginal in Europe, began to flourish after the global financial crisis of 2008 and received new impetus with the increase in refugee arrivals in 2015 Today, high inflation is giving them new impetus.
They started as junior coalition partners but are clearly on the move, now leading governments in Italy and perhaps soon in the Netherlands.
Wilders’ Party for Freedom became the Netherlands’ third party in the 2010 elections and supported Rutte’s coalition government for two years.
In 2017, it became the second largest party in the country.
Where else has the far right emerged in Europe?
Fidesz has been in power in Hungary since 2010 and the Law and Justice Party in Poland since 2015, in part thanks to a shared agenda of suppressing free speech and judicial subversion – something that is now getting them into trouble. They supported each other to resist EU countermeasures.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) won seats in a series of state legislatures starting in 2014 and received 12.6% of the vote to enter the federal parliament in 2017. It has since outpaced the Democrats- center-right Christians in the former East Germany. Last month, he won his highest vote share ever in what was once West Germany after winning 18.4 percent of the vote in Hesse, the state where Frankfurt is located, ranking second behind the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Co-founder Alice Weidel said: “The AfD is no longer an Eastern phenomenon but has become a major party throughout Germany. So we arrived.
In Finland, the True Finns received 17.7% of the vote in 2015 and governed as coalition partners for two years. In Britain, UKIP exerted extraordinary magnetism on the Conservative electorate, culminating in the July 2016 referendum to leave the EU.
Austria’s Freedom Party received 26% of the vote in 2017 and governed as a junior coalition partner for two years.
In France, it was Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and not the incumbent Socialists that challenged front-runner Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 presidential election runoff. It needed 34 percent of the vote to become the main party of opposition. Last year, Le Pen increased her share of the popular vote in the runoff to 41.45 percent, suggesting she will again be a leading presidential candidate.
In Italy, the Northern League obtained 17.4% of the votes in 2018, becoming the third force on the national scene.
Giorgia Meloni won the September 2022 elections at the head of a right-wing coalition made up of her Brothers of Italy party, with neofascist roots; Matteo Salvini’s Northern League; and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
The Slovak Smer party won 23 percent of the vote on September 30. Its leader, Robert Fico, spoke out against sanctions against Russia. A week after the election, Fico said his country would immediately stop providing additional military aid to Ukraine.
But there are also signs of a backlash against authoritarianism.
In Poland, the conservative ruling Law and Justice party and its allies failed to win a majority of seats in the October 15 election, making it likely that the united opposition will succeed it.