European Elections Special

A step too far

The disappointing result for Geert Wilders’ far right reflects Dutch attitudes about Europe.

In the Dutch European Parliament (EP) election, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) fell short of its 2009 success. One reason for this is that some mainstream parties have chosen a more Eurocritical profile, though a far more moderate one than Wilders’ call to ditch the EU altogether. Another key factor is the PVV’s recent venture into outright racist rhetoric, which was one controversy too much for some supporters. In the EP, Wilders is too extreme for UKIP and too liberal for Jobbik, causing fierce competition for coalition partners between the Eurosceptics.

Has Wilders gone too far?

The PVV’s main themes are Islam, immigration and the EU. Since the party’s split from the liberal VVD in 2003, it has established itself as a staunch defender of the welfare state, standing up against budget cuts and pension age increases. In 2005, it campaigned against the proposed EU constitution – successfully, as the constitution was rejected by a wide margin. In 2010, the PVV supported a newly-formed right-wing minority, only to bring it down in 2012 by opposing further cuts.

Wilders calls Islam a “totalitarian ideology”, advocates banning burkas, minarets and the Quran, and wants to end mass immigration. Recently, his rhetoric began to attack Turks and Moroccans more directly, most controversially leading his supporters with a chant of ‘fewer Moroccans’. For many, including for some PVV MPs who resigned, this was a step too far.

Dutch Eurocritical, but not for exit

The rise of the PVV, which explicitly advocated a complete withdrawal from the European Union for the first time in 2012, brought talk of “unprecedented” Euroscepticism among the Dutch. However, while many Dutch are unsatisfied with the current arrangement and with the directional thrust of the EU, few truly wish to leave the EU; the Eurobarometer survey has consistently shown majority support for continued EU membership. While for some Eurosceptics, the PVV remained the only party standing up to Brussels, many were drawn by some more mainstream parties that had toned down their support for European integration.

The coalition-forming puzzle

Last year, the PVV, along with France’s Front National (FN), the Austrian FPÖ, the Italian Lega Nord and the Flemish Vlaams Belang, has prepared to form a new group under the name European Alliance for Freedom (EAF). From this base, they are currently trying to form a new EP group, which requires 25 elected EP members from seven different member states.

What’s perhaps most interesting is who won’t be in this group. Overtly neo-fascist and anti-Semitic parties (Hungary’s Jobbik, Germany’s NPD) will not be admitted. They are particularly unpalatable to the PVV, which, having no anti-Semitic roots, also defends such Dutch policies as gay marriage and decriminalization of soft drugs. On the other hand, parties including UKIP and the Danish People’s Party have refused to join the EAF, seeing EAF parties as bigoted and too extreme.

EAF’s last chance

Despite facing a tough battle against the EAF, UKIP has found enough allies to preserve its Eurosceptic group, Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), with new members including Italy’s Five-Star Movement and a defecting member from the Front National. The EAF, now almost certainly joined by the Polish Congress of the New Right, still needs a member from one more party. Now that the EFD is secure, its options are severely limited. The formation of this third Eurosceptic group may well be down to the sole MEP from the Bulgarian National Movement. If he doesn’t join the EAF, some EAF members might find their way into the EFD, but the FN and PVV will almost certainly find themselves shut out once again.

This article is part of a cooperation with IFAIR.

Read more in this debate: Paula Diehl, Christina Schori-Liang.


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