August 20, 2014
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The victory of Geert Wilders' far-right party in this week's elections in the Netherlands shows that politics in Europe, at both the national and European Union level, has fundamentally failed to overcome its contradictions.
Updated Nov. 28, 2023 at 6:15 p.m.
PARIS — For a long time, Geert Wilders, recognizable by his peroxide hair, was an eccentric, disconcerting and yet mostly marginal figure in Dutch politics. He was known for his public outbursts against Muslims, particularly Moroccans who are prevalent in the Netherlands, which once led to a court convicting him for the collective insulting of a nationality.
Consistently ranking third or fourth in poll results, this time he emerged as the leader in Wednesday's national elections. The shock is commensurate with his success: 37 seats out of 150, twice as many as in the previous legislature.
The recipe is the same everywhere: a robustly anti-immigration agenda that capitalizes on fears. Wilders' victory in the Netherlands reflects a prevailing trend across the continent, from Sweden to Portugal, Italy and France.
We must first see if Wilders manages to put together the coalition needed to govern. Already the first roadblock came this week with the loss of one of his top allies scouting for coalition partners from other parties: Gom van Strien, a senator in Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) was forced to resign from his role after accusations of fraud resurfaced in Dutch media.
Nonetheless, at least three lessons can be drawn from Wilders' far-right breakthrough in one of the founding countries of the European Union.
Firstly, traditional parties, both on the right and left, have failed to find the right tone and ideas on migration to counter the discourse of fear and closure propagated by the far-right. The right believes that mimicking the far-right will prevent its electorate from gravitating towards it; but in doing so, it opens the way for the views to go mainstream.
The Europe Union was the right place to address the issue.
Meanwhile, part of the left too has begun to seek refuge in the realm of discrimination. In Germany, a left-wing anti-immigration party has even emerged. When the far-right is confronted with the issue, as in Italy, it can't actually formulate a coherent response. The Europe Union was the right place to address the issue, but has not succeeded so far in overcoming national contradictions.
The second lesson is the failure of traditional parties to renew themselves, paving the way for extremes. The share of major parties has significantly diminished, with France and Italy being good examples. The result is the formation of baroque coalitions or unstable experiments. The far-right, on the other hand, lacks a track record — and can argue, as Giorgia Meloni did in Italy last year, that it has not yet been tested.
Rally against ''dictate of European Union'' with, from left to right: Gerolf Annemans, chairman of the Europe of Nations and Freedom EP group, leader of French National Rally Marine Le Pen, leader of Dutch Party for Freedom Geert Wilders and Czech extreme-right Freedom and Direct Democracy head Tomio Okamura
The third lesson concerns the state of Europe, and it is troubling. We are at a turning point in the world's balance of power, with wars and rivalries multiplying. We may soon see the return in the United States of Donald Trump, who will not be any more generous to the Europeans than during his first term.
The strategic logic would be to strengthen Europe to face this redefinition of global power dynamics. However, the confusion of opinions, the mediocrity of political ambitions, and manipulations of all kinds on social networks have the opposite effect. Nationalists advocate for national solutions when the challenges are of a different magnitude and scale.
We thought Europeans had been inoculated to disintegration after Brexit provided a live suicide playing out in the United Kingdom for everyone to see. Now, seven years later, the Dutch elect a proponent of "Nexit." This sets the tone for the upcoming European elections in June, which is now looking grimmer than ever.