Last week, Western Europe sighed in relief. As the Dutch general elections neared on March 15th, there was a fear that right wing parties would gain significant power in parliament. Fortunately, Geert Wilders and his Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) lost the elections and failed to begin a populist trend across Europe.
As a response to the election results of Dutch parliament, prime minister Mark Rutte said in a statement: “Even after Brexit and the US election, this is the night we say ‘no’ to the wrong type of populism.” However, in some ways, there were more questions asked than answered in this election. On one side we could see this loss as huge victory since the nation did not follow the footsteps of the United States in choosing a populist leader. On the other side, one cannot help but notice that the PVV gained 13 percent of the votes in the election. For a party like the PVV (with such radical and distinctive beliefs on foreign policy and immigration) that is a large number, given that the overall population of the Netherlands is 17 million.
It is very easy to draw comparison to the recent events that took place in both the UK and the US, but bear in mind that elections are different in the Netherlands. This year, thirteen individual parties participated in the election and the most popular party needs to collaborate with at least three other parties to form a government. In that sense, a government led by Geert Wilders seemed unlikely.
People in more rural areas generally share Wilders’ ideals for a more ‘pure’ country
A lasting divide
Regardless of its unlikelihood, the movement Wilders generated over the past years should not be underestimated, since the people of the Netherlands are clearly divided in their opinions of the PVV. People in more rural areas, such as the countryside and places with a lower population density, generally share his ideals for a more ‘pure’ country. People who live in the big cities have a more liberal standpoint in terms of multiculturalism and immigration. It also in these cities that a majority of immigrants tend to live, exposing Dutch inhabitants to the different cultures living within and around them.
There are over 4 million people with a non-Dutch background. On top of that, in the Netherlands as a whole, 6 percent of its population practices Islam. That narrative alone explains the radicalism of the PVV and Geert Wilders. With that in mind, one also has to look at the underlying factor of the “new spring” for both populist and radical politicians. The terror that has risen in the form of ISIS and various other terrorist attacks throughout Europe in the last two years only benefits the populist and radical. Europe in general has become more polarized than ever before and it is visible in the Dutch elections. The Dutch labour party, Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) went from 38 to 9 mandates. A huge loss like that in a general election shows how people were not convinced of the PVV, yet equally disappointed in the government party PvdA.
The future of Europe
As both Germany and France are prominent pillars in the European Union and in the general political landscape, their elections are very big indicators of whether the rise of populism will ultimately lead to drastic political changes or be rebuffed by voters. It is easy to use the Dutch elections as an indicator, but religion and immigration play an even larger role in these countries than in the Netherlands. Speculation can only take us so far and ultimately, it is the people who will decide. An intriguing period awaits.