Home » Wilders’ Win Sends Shudders Through Europe
Brussels Europe European Union Featured Global News News World News

Wilders’ Win Sends Shudders Through Europe

GOEDEMORGEN from The Hague, where last night I attended the election party of outgoing VVD Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his wannabe successor Dilan Yeşilgöz. No one was in a partying mood, however, as the first exit polls came through, showing a big surprise victory for far-right candidate Geert Wilders, and an unexpectedly poor showing for the center-right VVD.

Messenger didn’t fit the message: Yeşilgöz, a charismatic self-confessed workaholic, could have focused on economic opportunities, cost of living or housing — but decided to make the campaign all about cutting migration, even though she was herself born in Ankara. The anti-immigrant voters, perhaps unsurprisingly, decided to go for the real anti-immigrant: Wilders.


EUROPE BEWILDERED: With almost all votes counted, the anti-Islam, Euroskeptic Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) is on track to win 37 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament — more than doubling its 2021 election showing. That’s a significantly stronger result than polls ahead of the election suggested.

The other numbers: Frans Timmermans’ Labour-Green alliance is projected to secure 25 seats, and the VVD 24.

Wilders pulls off epic upset: “It is a historic result for the Netherlands, a country in which a populist radical right party never before gained more than 20 percent of the vote,” Sarah de Lange, a politics professor at the University of Amsterdam, told Playbook.

On the ground: Just under an hour after the first exit poll dropped, Yeşilgöz came on stage to speak to her flabbergasted VVD colleagues, admitting the result was disappointing.“I think there are big lessons for politicians in this. People were not listened to enough,” she said. She ended her short speech by thanking her team and supporters, and left the stage to Dua Lipa’s Dance the Night Away — followed by Avicii’s Wake Me Up (when it’s all over).

Meanwhile, at Wilders’ party: The result was a big shock for PVV officials, too. Their party venue was only booked three days ago, after an unexpected surge in the polls. “We are going to make sure that Dutch voters will be put first again,” Wilders told his cheering supporters, vowing to stop what he called an “asylum tsunami.”

Defending democracy: Timmermans began his speech by asking his audience to hold each other tight, because “in the Netherlands we never let go of anyone,” and called for people to “make a fist against exclusion.” He admitted he was disappointed by the outcome, and “also our own result.” Timmermans added: “Now is the time when we are going to defend democracy.”

SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW? It’s still far from clear whether Wilders will be able to form a governing coalition.

Not keen: Pieter Omtzigt, whose newly formed NSC party is projected to win 20 seats, previously ruled out joining forces with Wilders, saying his anti-Islam policies go against freedoms of expression and religion that are enshrined in the Dutch constitution.

VVD unclear: In a move that she now probably regrets, the VVD’s Yeşilgöz opened the door to coalition talks with Wilders — back when polls suggested she would emerge as PM. On Tuesday, as support for Wilders appeared to surge, Yeşilgöz said she would not join a coalition with the PVV leader as PM.

But but but: “Despite NSC saying that it won’t cooperate with the PVV and the VVD that it won’t accept Wilders as prime minister, the landslide victory is already making them reconsider,” de Lange said. “Currently, they are signaling that they are willing to work with him if he is willing to respect the constitution, for example when it comes to freedom of religion.”

The alternative: If VVD and NSC refuse to back Wilders, Timmermans, whose alliance scored well and came second, could lead a centrist coalition.

REPERCUSSIONS FOR EUROPE: If Wilders gets a seat at the European Council, he could imperil the EU’s backing for Ukraine (he has said he wants to stop military support for Kyiv) and capsize efforts to reform the Union.

On the other hand: Timmermans would be a strong and experienced voice at the EUCO table in favor of further EU integration.

Warning for the EU election: “Few populist radical right parties in Western Europe have come first in the elections,” de Lange told Playbook. “And the PVV is among the most radical of the populist radical right parties with respect to its stances, such as zero immigration, or a ban of the Quran and mosques.”

Warning for other center-right parties: Before the election, Yeşilgöz “legitimized Wilders by making immigration a key issue in the campaign,” and opening the door to a coalition with him, de Lange argued. That’s come back to bite the party.

Bellwether alert: The Netherlands has often been a bellwether for European trends. Next to migration, Dutch voters were concerned about the cost of living and housing — issues that resonate across Europe and could be key in the EU election next year.


RENEW LEADER WARNS PRO-EUROPEANS COULD LOSE MAJORITY IN EU PARLIAMENT: Centrist parties risk losing an “absolute pro-European majority” in next year’s election, Stéphane Séjourné, the leader of liberal Renew Europe group, warned in an interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, just ahead of the Dutch election. “Will we be dependent on a blocking minority from the far right?” he asked.

Ungovernable: If the center-right EPP, center-left Socialists & Democrats, Greens and Renew jointly take less than 50 percent of the seats, “there is a risk that Europe will be ungovernable,” at just the time when EU unity is needed more than ever, “when all is geared toward international problems: Russia, China and the U.S. with the possibility of a Trump comeback,” Séjourné said.

And there’s a particular risk for Renew: The most recent poll in France shows President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party at a meager 19 percent compared to Marine Le Pen’s National Rally at 28 percent. That could mean a shrinking Renew group at the EU level, where French Renaissance MEPs make up the biggest delegation.

Séjourné is seeking to reassure his allies: He showed his team the polls from the same time ahead of the last election five years ago, he tells us. The party was on around 16 percent — it ended up with 22.41 percent.

But there’s another risk: Officials tell Playbook that if Renew fares badly in France, some of its members might leave to join a bigger group in the European Parliament. But Séjourné said he was confident, with “a reservoir” of parties in the group that are expected to do well in the next election, such as Poland’s Polska 2050. The Renew leader has embarked on a tour of European capitals and sees himself limiting the damage by retaining 90 or 100 MEPs, “maybe even more.”

Why it matters: At stake is Renew’s “pivotal” position in the Parliament, or, in Séjourné’s words, that of “king-maker.”

And who will lead the Renaissance list? His allies often cite Séjourné as the inevitable candidate, but question whether he wants to. “By definition, I want to lead the battle for the European elections,” he told my Playbook Paris colleagues.

SUPPORT FOR DEFENSE COMMISSIONER GROWS: Séjourné also joined calls for the next College of Commissioners to have a dedicated defense chief. “Now that the issue of defense has become important at the European level, I’m in favor of having a European commissioner in charge,” he said.

And a Parliament committee: Séjourné said the Parliament should in parallel create “a real defense committee that can rely on experts and have the capacity to sit in camera to bring in military experts, as we do in national committees.” His call follows similar remarks by Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren earlier this month. In September, a Parliament internal document also pitched a fully fledged defense committee in the next term. Our Pro Defense colleagues have the details.

Source: Politico