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The Netherlands’ turn to the radical right

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Picture: X ( / geertwilderspvv – The PVV party of far-right politician Geert Wilders’ clinched a historic victory in parliamentary elections and may form government, the writer says. Wilders cabinet is expected to bring in a tougher line against immigration and discriminatory rules against Muslim and migrant workers’ communities, racial discrimination and the infamous etnische profileren (ethnic profiling), the writer says.

By Iván Orosa Paleo

The Freedom Party (PVV) of xenophobic leader Geert Wilders has won a resounding victory in the November 22 parliamentary elections in the Netherlands. With 37 seats out of a total of 150 in the lower house (Tweede Kamer) of the country’s bicameral parliament, Geert Wilders has made his party the leading political force and the favourite to attempt the formation of the next government.

In second place, the coalition of social democrats and left-wing environmentalists, GroenLinks/PvdA, led by former European Commission vice-president and Green Deal responsible Frans Timmermans, won 25 seats. The right-wing liberals of the VVD, Mark Rutte’s outgoing 13-year long PM party, won 24 seats. In fourth place, the new centre-right New Social Contract (NSC) of Pieter Omtzigt (former CDA MP, Christian Democrats) storms the parliament with 20 seats.

A few clues can help to understand this unprecedented, but not too surprising, outcome.

First, the early fall of the Rutte IV government, which was triggered by the issue of the so-called ‘asylum crisis’: the disaster of the management of refugee centres and the inability to humanely accommodate a growing number of people fleeing war zones. In a bid to improve his election result, Prime Minister Rutte dissolved the government coalition and launched a campaign centred on a tough talk of restricting immigration. Alas for his follower, Turkish-born ex-minister of justice and current VVD party leader, Dilan Yeşilgöz, no one has a tougher discourse against immigration than Geert Wilders. Wilders is a veteran politician who has built his career around the slogan “Dutch people first”, anti-Muslim hatred and his stance against EU policies.

Secondly, deteriorating living and material conditions for the majority of the population made bestaanszekerheid (life security) one of the key issues in this election. The working class in the Netherlands is suffering from the effects of an enduring economic and social crisis, the result of 13 years of austerity-driven, liberal-conservative governments.

The number of people living in poverty (800,000) has increased, people face higher housing, health and energy costs, as well as a general increase in the cost of basic commodities in recent years. More and more workers in the Netherlands are unable to make ends meet, forcing thousands to resort to voedselbanken, free food distribution centres for people in a situation of poverty.

In this context, Geert Wilders successfully managed to link the economic crisis with migration. His proposal to favour the Dutch over the “privileges” enjoyed by asylum seekers or “foreign workers” (gastarbeiders), to invest public resources in increasing retirement pensions or reducing spending on environmental policy, has resonated with large sections of the poorest population, hit by the crisis, and facing their daily situation and their future with increasing insecurity.

Thirdly, the shortage of land in the country is a real problem affecting access to housing and is linked to the environmental crisis caused by the excess of nitrogen in agricultural land – the so-called stikstof crisis.

The housing crisis affects the population as a whole, forced to spend an increasing percentage of its income on housing. On the other hand, the conventional farming sector has engaged in a permanent mobilisation for two years over what they see as a vital threat to their livelihoods.

The Rutte government had been planning to close farms to bring nitrogen levels in line with EU requirements. This move generated widespread unrest in the sector and was the key to the massive electoral success of the BBB (Boeren Burger Beweging, Citizens’ Farmers’ Movement, agrarian populist right) in the March 2023 provincial elections, winning in all 12 provinces of the country, an unprecedented event.

Now that the results are official, the difficult negotiations to form a government begin. In the last five legislatures, the exclusion of the PVV by the other political forces from any government formation has been a matter of consensus. This time, that will not be easy. On the other hand, while the VVD and BBB are expected to be inclined to reach an agreement with Wilders, the big unknown is the position that Pieter Omtzigt and his NSC will take. In the coming weeks, these four parties are expected to conduct negotiations to form a government, which would form a solid majority of 86 MPs.

If negotiations fail, the PvdA/GroenLinks could try to attract VVD and NSC, but they would need a fourth party, which could be the left-liberals of D66. It is not uncommon for negotiations to last weeks or months, with several parties managing to form a more or less stable government alliance.

What can we expect from a possible Wilders cabinet? A tougher line against immigration and discriminatory rules against Muslim and migrant workers’ communities, greater orientation of public policies according to criteria of racial discrimination and origin of people living in the country – the infamous etnische profileren – drastic reduction or elimination of investment in policies to combat the climate crisis, increased public spending on security, greater tension in the relationship with the European Union in the political and regulatory sphere and unrestricted alignment with Nato policy, as well as unrestricted support for the State of Israel in its policy of occupation and genocide against the Palestinian people.

Internationally, it is necessary to analyse the outcome of the Dutch elections in the context of the deepening crisis of capitalism and the advance of conservative forces and right-wing populism in increasingly radical forms. The exclusionary, populist, racist right is now capable of reaching ever greater heights of institutional power in Europe. This fact must stimulate the mobilisation and political organisation of the popular classes around unity actions to defend the interests of the working class, regardless of their origin, holding international solidarity high.

So far, in the Netherlands, the response of popular and left organisations, as well as the Muslim communities in the country, has not been long in coming.

At a time when solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people has millions of people mobilised throughout the country on a daily basis, rallies have already been held to reject the possible new Wilders government, and a calendar of mobilisations and united actions is being planned to propose active resistance to the regressive, discriminatory and anti-popular policies of the possible new government.

Iván Orosa Paleo researches social movements, local government and cultural industries. He is affiliated with the University of Groningen. He is an author for Peoples Dispatch.

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch