Dutch Election 2017 – Populism versus Moderatism

Today at 18:00 the most important debate of the Dutch election will take place between Geert Wilders (PVV) and Mark Rutte (VVD), which will influence heavily the coming election. The outcome of the Dutch election on 15 March is watched by the world, not for importance on world affairs or the EU, but for the insight it gives on where Europe is standing in regard to populistic movements. Coming elections in Germany and France will truly have an impact on the European Union, even more than the British referendum which possibly leads to a Brexit.

Populist movements have gained momentum since the beginning of the new millennium. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders is expressing the populistic stance with his party PVV and major themes as stopping Islamic immigration and leaving the European Union, where Mark Rutte stands for a more moderate and balanced government.

Geert Wilders, in a way, is a protege of Pim Fortyun. The rise of Pim Fortuyn in 2002 is best to be understand from the perspective of fear for losing cultural identity. Since the sixties European countries have attracted immigrants for jobs the European people were not willing to fulfil. Integration projects have been set up in every European country hoping to support and assimilate the immigrated people into their respective cultures. The effects of these integration projects is questionable, for many immigrants don’t feel accepted and many Europeans see the efforts as a failure.

In 2001 Pim Fortuyn made himself very popular by stating these policies have failed and the EU (leftish) governments are responsible. Mostly because of unrealistic promises made by these governments about integration projects. Indeed, for years talking about failed immigration policies was a political topic that would made any politician persona non grata. In the Netherlands, all this changed with the political rise of Pim Fortuyn and his assassination in 2002. Failed immigration policies and mostly the denial of failure helped Pim Fortuyn amass political influence.

From a globalisation perspective, immigration and the forthcoming clashes of cultures are of paramount importance. As I explained myself, immigration is nothing new, only the recent surge in refugees is making immigration a very hot political topic. Not helping are the terroristic attacks in the name of allah. Events as 9/11, the Madrid 2004 and London 2005 bombings and the more recent attacks in Paris, Nice and Berlin only fuel populistic movements and made people feel more insecure about their security and identity. Couple this with economic uncertainty, failed immigration policies, millions of refugees crossing the Balkan and Mediterranean sea and you may start understand the electorate of Wilders (also the electorate of Donald Trump and Theresa May).

The election polls show a clash between the political parties VVD and PVV, followed by 5 average sized parties and 7 smaller parties (picture). There is indeed a relative big chance that Wilders will win the election, though this will be more because of the splintered Dutch political landscape than that there is an overwhelming majority for Wilders standpoints. At least last weekend events, in regard to the unauthorised visit of the Turkish minister Kaya, have made a moderate win more probable. Especially because of the strong Dutch government reaction, sending the Turkish minister back over the border. Election polls were more in favour of the PVV before these events, the momentum of the PVV seems to be stopped.

The splintered Dutch political landscape helps keep populism out of government, but the problems causing the rise of populism must be addressed. I cannot blame people for feelings of loss of security or identity, there is indeed reason to be worried, but more importantly is how we will react. Are we as ‘Dutchies’ falling for the same line of populistic reasoning which helped Theresa May and Donald Trump into power, or do we keep a more moderate view on world affairs?

Anyway, Wilders party will not rule, all the other political parties don’t want to cooperate with the PVV, forcing Geert Wilders again at the side lines of the political theatre. In my opinion, the most probable outcome is a coalition between the VVD, CDA and D66 with one or two smaller parties, depending how close the three bigger parties come to the necessary 76 parliament seats. For sure, moderatism will win!

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