Shock far-Right victory in Dutch elections sparks EU challenge and global concern

In a stunning turn of events, far-right firebrand Geert Wilders secured victory in the Dutch elections, vowing to lead the next government and potentially reshaping Europe’s political landscape. Wilders, known for his anti-EU stance and controversial views, won 37 seats, doubling his party’s representation. The outcome poses a direct challenge to the European Union, as Wilders promises a binding referendum on EU membership and rallies against key policies. The world watches closely, especially with the potential return of Donald Trump. Wilders’ success hinges on coalition-building, while his victory mirrors a broader trend of rising far-right support across Europe.

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Dutch Far-Right Leader Wilders Scores Shock Election Victory

By Cagan Koc and Diederik Baazil

Far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders won the Dutch elections and said he plans to lead the country’s next government, in a shock result that will resound across Europe.

The frontrunner Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius conceded defeat after a late surge in the final days of the campaign catapulted Wilders’s anti-EU party past his mainstream rivals. Wilders’s Freedom Party won 37 seats, according to a preliminary count, more than doubling his representation from the previous parliament and giving him 12 more than his closest rival. 

Only once in recent Dutch history has the leader of the biggest party not become prime minister. Market reaction in the wake of the results was muted as traders took stock of the fact that coalition arrangements may take a long time to negotiate. 

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), speaks at an election night party in The Hague, Netherlands, on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. Far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders won the Dutch elections and said he plans to lead the country’s next government, after a late surge in the final days of the campaign catapulted his anti-EU party past his mainstream rivals. Photographer: Peter Boer/Bloomberg

Wilders’s victory presents a challenge to the European Union project in one of the bloc’s six founding members as the world braces for the potential return of Donald Trump after next year’s US election. Wilders has promised voters a binding referendum on leaving the EU and railed against a range of the bloc’s policies on issues like climate change and immigration. 

“The hope of the Dutch people is that they will get their country back,” Wilders said after an exit poll published by state broadcaster NOS.

Wilders’s prospects of leading the next government will hinge on his ability to forge alliances with rivals more to the center. In his post-election speech, Wilders called for a coalition that would include the liberal VVD, until recently helmed by outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte, which has indicated that it might be prepared to govern alongside him. “I am willing to compromise in talks with other parties,” he said.

The AEX index of the 25 largest stocks listed on the Euronext Amsterdam little changed in morning trading. Chip gear maker ASML Holding NV slipped 1% while ING Groep NV was down 1.2% at 11 a.m. in Amsterdam. Dutch bonds were underperforming German peers by one basis point. 

“We will be in for months of intense negotiations and it’s very hard to predict how this will exactly pan out,” said Peter van der Welle, a multi-asset strategist at Robeco. 

A surge in the number of refugees since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the spiraling cost of food and energy, has fueled support for far-right groups across the European continent. Germany’s Alternative for Deutschland now has more support than any of the parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition, while Giorgia Meloni came from nowhere to take power last year in Italy.

The Dutch election campaign highlighted how immigration has polarized voter opinion and driven support toward Wilders, for whom the topic has been a core issue for decades. The 60-year-old is known for his anti-Islamic views and has lived under police protection since 2004 on account of death threats. 

The Left alliance formed from the Green Left and Labor parties and led by former European Union Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans scored 25 seats, becoming the second strongest party before Rutte’s VVD. A new party formed by lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt will get 20 seats, according to the preliminary result. 

PVV party and Geert Wilders supporters react to an exit poll in Scheveningen, Netherlands. Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was quick to congratulate him on his victory. The outspoken Brussels-critic held a phone call with Wilders on Wednesday night, wishing him “success and perseverance for the upcoming political negotiations,” spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said in a post on X. 

Wilders and his team hugged and cheered as the result was announced and sang along to the Rocky theme tune Eye of the Tiger. Reporters who watched his campaign team celebrate at a crowded bar in Scheveningen near The Hague did so from behind security glass. 

“It’s customary that the biggest and winning party takes the lead in the formation process” said Stefan Couperus, an associate professor of political science at Groningen University. “He could become the leader of the new government.”

Read more: 🔒 Simon Kuper: The Dutch are piloting a saner European political ‘right’ wing

Wilders benefited from a strong showing in the campaign’s final election debates — and from the refusal of Rutte’s successor as party leader, Yesilgoz-Zegerius, to rule out working with him. The VVD leader, whose party scored 24 seats, signaled before the election that she might go into coalition with Wilders although, after the exit polls dropped, she cast doubt on whether her rival would be able to secure the votes he needs to govern. 

“I don’t see that happening because Mr. Wilders can’t form a majority,” she said. “However, the ball is now in Geert Wilders’ court.”

Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius at the VVD party event in The Hague, on Nov. 22. Photographer: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg

One cautionary precedent for Wilders came in Spain this month, where Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez clinched a surprise third term despite suffering defeat to his center-right rival in July’s election. Sanchez stitched together support from seven different parties to turn the electoral math in his favor after the two right-wing parties fell short of a majority. 

If Wilders does end up leading the next Dutch government, it would elevate a euroskeptic into the heart of one of the union’s stalwart members. He has called for the Netherlands to withdraw from its international climate obligations, and demanded a halt to aid to Ukraine. 

Under Rutte, the Netherlands pledged to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine next year and has been leading the European effort to train Ukrainian pilots.

Despite campaign pledges on banning the Koran and shutting down mosques, “Geert Wilders conveyed a more moderate message than in previous years,” said Couperus. “That seems to have worked electorally.” 

35!!!!!!
PVV GROOTSTE PARTIJ ❤️ pic.twitter.com/oMANVYvGjy

— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) November 22, 2023

Wilders has been a member of parliament for 25 years but only once taken part in government, between 2010 and 2012 when he had an arrangement to support Rutte’s first, minority coalition from outside. Rutte later ruled out working with him, after Wilders made comments insulting people of Moroccan descent for which he was censured by the courts.

It’s likely that the outgoing caretaker government led by Rutte could preside for a while, especially if Wilders struggles to make headway in the coalition-building process. At the last election, four parties were needed to broker a majority government and the negotiations took a record nine months. 

“The PVV cannot be ignored, and wants to work together with other parties, and that means that we and they have to step over their shadow,” Wilders said.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.


Far-Right Won the Dutch Election: Here’s What You Need to Know

By Cagan Koc

Geert Wilders was the surprise victor in Wednesday’s Dutch elections, after a late surge that catapulted his anti-EU party to a resounding victory over his mainstream rivals. 

As people in the Netherlands, and the rest of Europe, adjust to the shock, these are some of the key issues they’ll be considering:

Geert Wilders during an election night party in The Hague, Netherlands, on Nov. 22.

Who is Wilders?

The 60-year-old Wilders has been a fixture in Dutch politics for decades. He started his career as a member of former Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal group but broke away to serve as an independent lawmaker before setting up the anti-migrant Freedom Party, known as the PVV in Dutch.

He has been facing death threats because of his anti-Islamic views and has been under tight police protection since 2004. In 2020, a court found him guilty on insult charges for comments he made about Moroccan immigrants, but the judges imposed no penalty. 

He’s seen as the Dutch representative of the kind of populism championed by Donald Trump or Argentina’s newly elected president, Javier Milei

How did he win?

Few people considered Wilders a serious candidate at the outset of the campaign but Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius, Rutte’s successor at the head of the liberal group, handed him a lifeline by saying that she would consider serving in a coalition alongside the Freedom Party. 

Another early frontrunner, Pieter Omtzigt, lost ground after equivocating over whether he really wanted to be prime minister. 

Wilders on the other hand set out a more pragmatic line, softening some of his more controversial policies and telling voters he wanted to be part of the next administration. 

He then put on a strong showing in the final election debates, appearing more confident than his rivals. 

An election campaign poster for Wilders’s Freedom party along the Hofvijver lake in The Hague in November.

What has he promised?

One signature proposal is for a binding referendum on leaving the European Union. He also wants the Netherlands to withdraw from its international climate obligations and has called for a massive reduction in immigration. 

The Netherlands “has been seriously weakened due the ongoing asylum tsunami and mass immigration,” his party says in its election manifesto.

He has pledged to stop sending aid to Ukraine and called for a ban the Koran, and for shutting down mosques. 

But in his election-night speech he said he’s willing to compromise in order to secure a coalition agreement, so it’s not clear how many of those policies he would be able to implement. 

Can he really secure a coalition?

Wilders’s Freedom Party is projected to win 35 seats but he needs 76 to secure an outright majority. After the exit polls Wilders suggested a center-right coalition that would include outgoing premier Rutte’s former party, newly-launched center-right group New Social Contract and the Farmer Citizens’ Movement. 

Together those parties would have 86 seats. 

Before the election, Yesilgoz-Zegerius indicated that she might be prepared to govern alongside Wilders but she backtracked somewhat on election night. The farmers’ party said they want to be a part of the coalition talks.  

But there’s no guarantee Wilders will clinch the top job. In 1982, the Dutch Labor Party won the most seats, but its center-right rivals wound up at the head of the governing coalition. 

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© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.