It was the populist revolt that wasn’t: after months of favorable polling, the Netherlands’ Euroskeptic, anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders failed to deliver in the Dutch elections, paving the way for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centrist party to form a new coalition government. The Guardian:
With nearly 95% of votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right, liberal VVD was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, the national news agency ANP said.
Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to finish second, but a long way behind on 20 seats, just ahead of the Christian Democrat CDA and liberal-progressive D66, which both ended third with 19 seats.
“Our message to the Netherlands – that we will hold our course, and keep this country safe, stable and prosperous – got through,” Rutte told a cheering crowd of supporters at the VVD’s election night party.
After Britain’s shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential victory in the US, he added, the eyes of the world had been on the vote: “This was an evening when … the Netherlands said ‘Stop’ to the wrong sort of populism.”
Rutte is not the only one to seize on the election as a major victory against the forces of resurgent populism; European leaders from Angela Merkel to Jean-Claude Juncker are doing the same. But the symbolic significance of the election is likely to be greater than its practical impact. When the music ends and the winning parties find their seats in a new coalition, its ideological composition could look broadly similar to the previous Dutch government.
True, Rutte’s Labour coalition partners had a historically bad night, losing 29 seats and falling from second to eighth place overnight. But their left-leaning influence is likely to be replaced by smaller leftist parties that had a strong showing at Labour’s expense, like the pro-EU Democrats 66 and the Greens party, which made major gains by riding a wave of youth support. Meanwhile, the Christian Democratic Appeal, which tied for third, is likely to join VVD as the voice of the center-right in the coalition.
With Wilders excluded by previous agreement, then, the next coalition government will be more diffuse than the previous one, but its ideological balance could be much the same, with both center-left and center-right represented in a broadly pro-Europe government. Wilders’ influence on Dutch politics is not going away, but the status quo is holding for now. The unstoppable wave of nationalist populism predicted in the wake of Brexit and Trump may not be so unstoppable after all.