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Geert Wilders’ win in Dutch election is a boon for Europe’s far right

The success of far-right leader Geert Wilders in Dutch elections on Wednesday is the latest triumph for nationalist, anti-establishment politicians who rail against liberal elites around the world.

His victory will pile pressure on the EU to find ways to reduce immigration and builds momentum for hard-right parties ahead of European parliament elections in June.

Wilders’ Freedom party is slated to win 37 seats, doubling its total, followed by a left-wing alliance of Labour and Greens led by the EU’s former climate chief Frans Timmermans with 25, and the Liberal VVD party with 23. The forecast by press agency ANP is based on 98 per cent of the votes counted.

Following recent opinion polls predicting Donald Trump could return as US president, the Dutch vote again showed a gulf in a developed economy between better-off city dwellers and rural voters worried about rising immigration and declining public services.

The Freedom party did best outside the cities, but also won narrowly in working-class Rotterdam and The Hague, gaining votes from the VVD.

Wilders, 60, who has been an MP since 1998 and lives under police protection for his anti-Muslim stance, said he would curtail an “asylum tsunami” and ensure “the Dutch get their country back”.

VVD leader Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius
VVD leader Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius said she did not think she would serve in a Wilders cabinet © Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

More than half of Dutch voters named asylum and migration as a key issue, according to surveys conducted by Ipsos on behalf of NOS and RTL Nieuws.

Annual net migration hit more than 220,000 last year in the densely populated country of 18mn. Rightwing politicians say new arrivals are exacerbating a housing shortage that has made homes unaffordable for young people and lower-income families.

Fellow far-right leaders in France and Italy seized on Wilders’ victory.

“It shows that more and more countries in the EU contest its functioning and want to take back control of immigration, which is considered by many as excessive and anarchic,” France’s Marine Le Pen said on Thursday.

“A new Europe is possible,” Italian League leader Matteo Salvini wrote on social media platform X, along with a picture of himself with Wilders. 

Wilders wants a referendum on leaving the EU, of which the Netherlands was a founder member, and has long pushed for a ban on the Koran and mosques. But he will have to compromise to govern.

Polling for the EU elections next year predicts big increases for hard-right parties, and losses for the Greens, Socialists and the centre right. French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said Wilders’ victory was the result of “many worries and fears” that had built up in Europe in recent years and that were feeding the rise of far-right parties across the continent.

“It’s very sad we have an anti-immigrant party on top,” said Elijah Vermeulen, a 20-year-old student and first time general election voter. “They blame all the problems in the country on immigrants — healthcare, housing, inflation.

“But the Labour party is by far the biggest among 18 to 34-year-olds. My hope is our generation will take over in the future.”

Wilders will have the first chance to find coalition partners to form a government that can muster a majority in the 150-seat lower house of parliament. It will be an uphill struggle but neither of the other big rightwing parties — the VVD and centre-right New Social Contract (NSC), which is expected to garner 20 seats — has ruled out working with him.

Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, leader of the VVD, said she did not think she would serve in a Wilders cabinet. “I said that I don’t see that happening because Wilders cannot form a majority.”

However, the woman who arrived as a child refugee from Turkey also wants to cut immigration. She said the country could not cope with the volume of arrivals. The election result, she said, was “about the concerns of people who haven’t been heard. If you keep ignoring them in politics, you’re going to get this.”

Pieter Omtzigt, a former Christian Democrat who founded NSC in August, said — without mentioning Wilders — that it would be “difficult” to form a coalition, and also stressed the importance of cutting immigration.

Wilders could count on the support of the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement, which is set to win seven parliamentary seats and has become the voice of farmers after huge protests in 2021, when the government wanted to shut many farms to reduce nitrate emissions to comply with a court ruling.

“We can’t be ignored,” Wilders said, calling on parties to “find agreement”.

Former Christian Democrat Pieter Omtzigt
Former Christian Democrat Pieter Omtzigt stressed the importance of reducing immigration © Benjamin Westhoff/Reuters

Michiel van Hulten, a former Dutch Labour politician, said that a “narrow victory would have made it easier to exclude Wilders from a new coalition on account of his anti-immigrant and anti-Islam stance.

“Now it’s much harder, especially if he continues to take the ‘constructive approach’ to forming a coalition he was credited with in the last week of the campaign,” van Hulten said.

Forming a government could still take many months, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte staying in a caretaker capacity.

Timmermans, a former EU commissioner and Dutch foreign minister, told activists at a rally in Amsterdam that “it is now time to defend democracy and the rule of law”.

However, his left-wing alliance would also find it hard to form a government, as its main ally, the progressive, liberal D66 group, lost heavily, declining to nine seats.

Many in the capital Amsterdam feel they are living in a different country from the rest of the Netherlands. The Labour-Green alliance won a third of the vote there, and the Freedom party 10 per cent, only just above pro-immigrant party Denk with 7 per cent.

Green supporter Myriam Corzilius summed up the mood: “We need a republic of Amsterdam — get out of the Netherlands.”

Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris and Amy Kazmin in Rome

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