Far-right turn: On Geert Wilders’ win in the Netherlands

The rising tide of ethno-nationalist politics in Europe is worrying

The victory of Geert Wilders, a far-right, anti-Islam populist, in the parliamentary elections has put the Netherlands, long seen as one of the most socially liberal countries in Europe, at a crossroads. According to the preliminary results, Mr. Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) has emerged as the single largest party with 37 seats in the 150-member lower house. The Labour-Green coalition won 25 seats, while the incumbent People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) secured 24. While the PVV is far from the 76 seats needed for a majority, its formidable performance (it won three more seats than what the VVD won in the last elections) puts Mr. Wilders in a position to start coalition talks and on a potential path towards becoming the country’s first far-right Prime Minister. Over the years, Mr. Wilders has built an image of himself as one of the most radical far-right populists in Europe. He has called for “de-Islamising” the Netherlands, shutting down mosques, banning the Koran, and closing the borders to migrants from Muslim-majority countries. He made the influx of migrants a strong political issue during the campaign, which appears to have helped him deal the greatest blow to the political establishment.

The PVV’s victory is neither surprising nor isolated. Mr. Wilders, a member of the House of Representative since 1998, split from the conservative VVD in 2004 to form the PVV. Since then, he has been pushing his brand of populism in Dutch politics. In the past, the VVD, led by outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, avoided tying up with the PVV because of the latter’s controversial views. But by grabbing the highest number of seats in the House, the PVV has now placed itself at the centre of Dutch politics. It is not certain whether Mr. Wilders will be able to put together a governing coalition. But even if he is kept out of power, the leader of the largest party in Parliament cannot be ignored. His rise is in line with the rise of far-right parties and populists across Europe. In France, Marine Le Pen finished a close second in the 2022 presidential elections. In Italy, a party with neo-fascist origins is in power. In Germany, the AfD, which has neo-Nazi roots, is the second most popular party. This should be a wake-up call for the establishment parties in the West. The far-right is using the immigration and the cost-of-living crises to mobilise the public under its exclusive, ethno-nationalist brand of politics, while the political centre is struggling to hold. Establishment parties should have a clear economic agenda and political vision to arrest the rising tide of far-right politics, which echoes Europe’s dangerous and not-so-distant past.