UK

Why The Defeat Of 'Dutch Trump', Geert Wilders, Is Far From The End For Europe's Far-Right Populists

What the failure of Geert Wilders means for the rest of Europe.

18/03/2017 10:42 GMT

The defeat of the so-called ‘Dutch Trump’ in this week’s parliamentary election in the Netherlands was heralded as a sign that European far-right populists had failed in arguably their biggest electoral test.

Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) came a distant second to Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), who welcomed the result as a rejection of the “wrong kind of populism”. 

Yves Herman / Reuters
Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV Party came second in this week's election

Yet PVV raised its vote share to 13 percent with a four-seat increase on 2012 - a figure that exceeded some expectations.

And with upcoming elections in France and Germany, experts have told The Huffington Post UK that, despite Wilders’ defeat, the Dutch elections aren’t a sign of impending failure for the far-right.

Dr Daphne Halikiopoulou - University of Reading

I don’t think the result was surprising. The polls a while ago suggested Geert Wilders would be first, but as we came closer to the election there were quite a lot of polls that put him on second position, so this was expected.

If this is the best he can do - it’s not good enough

This was a poor result for Wilders because, given the momentum of populism in Europe at the moment, if this is the best he can do - it’s not good enough. He did come second and he did gain four seats. We need to be cautiously optimistic. It is not that the threat of populism has completely gone. 

Obviously, Wilders did increase his standing by a percentage and got four more seats. Yet, he did not increase it by as much as might have been expected, in the context of increasing populism.

There are two sides for every story - yes he didn’t win, but he did come second.

It is not that the threat of populism has completely gone.

I think that the French elections are going to be important - but the Dutch result gives us cautious optimism. Nonetheless, the successes in the Netherlands will now be used by Marine Le Pen and others.

Dr Ulrike M Vieten - Queen’s University Belfast

I think we can be slightly optimistic. The first positive signals were last year with the presidential election in Austria. It is not inevitable that the far-right populists will be successful in different countries.

Yet this week’s results also reflect the Dutch voting system. All the centre parties in the Netherlands said they wouldn’t enter into partnership with Wilders.

In addition, a newcomer from the Green left [led by the charismatic Jesse Klaver] taking into account the concerns of people around social welfare. There has been a shift in the agenda, from anti-immigrant to anti-Islam propaganda, to more talk of social welfare.

It is not inevitable that the far-right populists will be successful

In Germany, we are seeing the social issues becoming more prominent beyond the politics of fear to the everyday issues that matter to people. While the far-right party Alternative for Germany may reach around ten percent, for example, we are seeing growth of centre left parties like the Labour party there.

It’s important to take onboard that what we see now has a lot to do with electoral systems too. In France, they have a two-round election. In the second-round [where there will be a binary choice between two candidates] we will see people choose another candidate over [the French National leader Marine Le Pen].

BORIS HORVAT via Getty Images
French far-right Front National party candidate Marine Le Pen stands on stage this week
Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters
Geert Wilders stands in the middle of a line-up of European far-right leaders in January 2017
Axel Schmidt / Reuters
Anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Frauke Petry answers questions last week

We have seen a shift to far-right politics and discourses and things have become mainstream [that] we would never have thought about years ago. But in terms of representation and political parties there is a glimpse of hope but this is related to the strong electoral systems in these countries.

For example, Trump wouldn’t have made it to the White House with a voting system like those in the Netherlands, France or Spain. In America, the Electoral College was responsible for the outcome.

Dr Itay Lotem - University of Westminster

So does this mean Wilders is insignificant? Not quite. These results, in which his PVV increased its vote share, were the best he could have hoped for.

This way, he is not confronted with the expectations of forming a coalition with parties that had already ruled out cooperation with him. He can take up the mantle of the biggest opposition party and keep on being the same kind of provocateur. 

These results...were the best he could have hoped for.

More importantly, the PVV’s biggest impact is how it has contributed to the shift of the Dutch discourse to the right. If one of the reasons the VVD prevailed was fear of Wilders, the other was its ability to attract Islamophobic votes after the spat with Turkey last weekend.

Wilders can still portray himself as a true opposition from the right, while he watches as the Dutch public conversation increasingly accommodates his ideas.