Going Dutch? What Wilders' Loss Means For Europe
Yesterday, European leaders breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Dutch elections delivered a decisive defeat to the far right candidate, Geert Wilders, and his Dutch Freedom Party (PVV). The victory of Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, with the majority of seats in the Dutch Parliament, drew accolades and congratulations and has been hailed as an emerging bulwark against the right wing populism that seemed inexorable after the UK referendum in June and the US elections in November.
The Dutch results are encouraging not only as a repudiation of the incendiary language of Wilders, but as a proactive move towards the Green Left party, a pro-Europe and pro-environment party headed by 30-year-old Jesse Klaver. Indeed by all indications the Dutch results are a promising sign that one of the oldest and most integrated members of the EU is firmly committed to maintaining the system and its role therein.
However, the Dutch election results come with some important lessons that the rest of Europe would do well to consider as it enters the most challenging cycle since that steel and coal union was developed in the early 1950’s. Dutch voters may have rejected Geert Wilders and his explicitly xenophobic rhetoric, but they did so in favor of a center-right party that courted them heavily, and borrowed generously from their more extreme cousins. The center-right government of Mark Rutte moved further to the right rather than bringing Wilders and his PVV toward the center, and his VVD party plays its own brand of identity politics.
Indeed Rutte himself penned an open letter to the country wherein he stated that those who did not agree with the values of the country and ‘refuse to adapt’ should leave. Rutte has positioned himself as the candidate of ‘common sense,' and against Wilders’s vitriolic messages to ban the Koran, shut down mosques and close the Dutch borders to any Muslims or refugees, he certainly seems that way. So while it will undeniably comfort leaders and Europhiles around the continent that Geert Wilders has been neutralized in these elections and that his particular brand of identity politics has been marginalized, it would be a mistake to think that inclusion has triumphed and diversity reigned supreme. While the VVD will form a coalition government with leftist parties (notably the GreenLeft, the D66 and other parties that defend animal rights, elderly citizens, and immigrants), they will do so in a climate where tensions still run high.