On March 15th, 2017 the people of the Netherlands are electing a new House of Representatives. The elections will take place in the midst of a major diplomatic crisis between the Netherlands and Turkey. After the Dutch referendum on Ukraine, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President, observers tend to see the Dutch elections as a test case for the French presidential elections on April 23rd and May 7th, and the German federal elections on September 24th. Perhaps more than ever before the Dutch election will be closely monitored by the international press and it is hardly impossible to predict the outcome. (Featured Image © Christopher A. Dominic)
Unlike previous elections it is very unlikely that there will be a two-horse race between the leaders of the two biggest parties.1 The leader of the right-wing liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte envisaged a fierce battle with Geert Wilders, the leader and founder of the nationalist and anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV). Whilst the opinion polls are predicting a dramatic loss in seats for VVD’s coalition partner, the Labour Party (PvdA), also the Christian-Democratic Appeal (CDA), Green Left party and the social-liberal Democrats 66 (D66) are competing for the office of prime minister.2
In the face of the expected situation, it is very well possible that not the biggest party but the second-biggest party will take the lead in the formation of a new cabinet and deliver the prime minister. Almost all other parties have ruled out the possibility to form a coalition government with the PVV. This has much to do with Wilders’ views on Islam and the Dutch multicultural society.
Unlike previous elections it is very unlikely that there will be a two-horse race between the leaders of the two biggest parties.
On a party rally in The Hague in 2014 during the municipal elections where he asked the crowd if they wanted “more or fewer Moroccans”, after which it chanted “Fewer! Fewer!”. Wilders controversial response was: “Then we’ll fix it!” In a discussion on refugees Wilders also referred to the Dutch parliament as a “fake parliament” because the other parties supposedly did not represent the Dutch citizens.3
The Populist Wave in Europe
As mentioned before, the elections take place in a period in which populism is clearly on the rise in Europe and the United States of America (USA). In the year 2016 various events signalled increasing populism in the shape of a series of referendums. In April the Dutch voters rejected the Association Agreement of the European Union (EU) with Ukraine.4 In June the electorate of the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the EU, well-known by the name Brexit5 Furthermore, in a referendum in Hungary in October EU migrant quotas were rejected. Even though the turnout was too low to make the poll valid, the populist tendencies of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán were clear.6 Moreover, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential elections.
Wilders’ potential victory could be of enormous symbolic significance for like-minded movements in the rest of Europe.
Wilders has declared himself to be a staunch supporter of both Brexit, Orbán and Trump. From the European elections in 2014 onwards, Wilders has sought closer cooperation with other nationalist and populist movements, such as Front National (France), Alternative for Germany (Germany), Northern League (Italy) and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). In the wake of the inauguration of President Trump, the leaders of these parties met in Koblenz, Germany to present to the general public their “Europe of tomorrow.”7
The election in the Netherlands take place ahead of the French and German elections. Especially National Front’s presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is well-placed in the opinion polls. Wilders’ potential victory could be of enormous symbolic significance for like-minded movements in the rest of Europe. Beyond the peculiarities in each country, all parties that were represented in Koblenz share the same views on several issues. According to them, the Islam is the biggest threat to Europe, refugees should not be admitted and their countries should leave the EU as soon as possible.8
In the face of Wilders dominating the opinion polls, the VVD also hardened its stance on immigration and integration issues.
If Wilders will succeed in realising all of his plans, this would mean that the Netherlands will: eventually leave the EU, close all Islamic schools and mosques, a prohibition on the possession of Qurans, the closing of the Dutch borders, the cessasion of the acceptance of refugees and the cancelling of all development aid. Many of these plans are violating basic principles of human rights and international agreements.9
In the face of Wilders dominating the opinion polls, the VVD also hardened its stance on immigration and integration issues. Populist oneliners such as “act normal or leave the country” substituted Rutte’s usual conciliatory stance.10 Although also the VVD ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition with the PVV, it remains to be seen if the VVD will really keep this promise.
Just like Rutte’s increasing populist tendencies, even CDA leader Sybrand Buma started to get tougher on the afore-mentioned issues. In a move to defend the national identity of the Netherlands, he called for the singing of the national anthem at schools and the cessation of the possibility of having two passports.11 D66 and Green Left, as well as PvdA, the Socialist Party (SP) and the social Christian Union are usually very critical of the nationalist policies of Wilders.
The Diplomatic Crisis Between the Netherlands and Turkey
The Netherlands is currently on a course of collision with Turkey. Turkish ministers wanted to campaign within the Dutch-Turkish community in Rotterdam for a ‘yes’ in the referendum in Turkey, which is scheduled to take place in April 2017.12 Citing risks to public order and security, the Netherlands barred entry of the Turkish ministers of Foreign Affairs and Family Affairs. At the heat of the moment Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the Dutch “remnants of Nazism” and “fascists”.13 Erdogan even went as far as accusing the Netherlands of contributing to the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995 in Bosnia-Herzegovina.14
Perhaps Rutte will be rewarded for his firm stance on Erdogan’s threats and insults, although also Wilders can make a profit out of the conflict with Turkey.
In the diplomatic conflict with Turkey, Rutte (and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders and the Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb of Rotterdam, both members of the PvdA) demonstrated that he also dares to stand up against misbehaving protesters and Erdogan’s aggression. Perhaps Rutte will be rewarded for his firm stance on Erdogan’s threats and insults. However, Wilders already declared that the conflict was caused by the lack of loyalty to the Netherlands from the Dutch citizens of Turkish origin. In his view the multicultural society has failed, due to the soft policies of the incumbent government. In addition, he mentioned the fact that Rutte handled the crisis the way he handled it only because of the upcoming elections. That is to say, also Wilders can make a profit out of the conflict with Turkey.
The Impossibility of Predicting the Election Outcome
As mentioned before, it is hardly impossible to predict the outcome of the elections. Perhaps Rutte will indeed be rewarded for his copying of Wilders’ populist rhetoric and his handling of the diplomatic crisis with Turkey. Or will the other contenders, like CDA, D66 and Green Left, surprise the Netherlands and defeat both Wilders and Rutte? Nonetheless, it is still very well possible that Wilders will win the elections.
Even though a Prime Minister Wilders might not become a reality, also just a victory for Wilders would already present a terrible signal to the rest of the world.
Whether Rutte will continue his populist tone or not, a new coalition government is inevitable as the PvdA is likely to loose an enourmous amount of seats. Perhaps a coalition of of five or six parties will become a reality. It is likely that the other parties will do their best to keep the Wilders and his PVV out of the cabinet. Even though a Prime Minister Wilders might not become a reality, also just a victory for Wilders would already present a terrible signal to the rest of the world. In the face of the current international challenges, the Netherlands and the EU need a Dutch government that seeks cooperation rather than division.