Vox populi, vox dei … or not

3 min read

November 2023.

Geert Wilders and his “far-right” Partijd voor de Vrijheid (PVV) party won the snap Dutch general elections, gaining 23.5 percent of the votes in the second most fragmented political landscape of Europe (Belgium still wins). With that they won 37 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, becoming the largest party for the first time.

The results sent shockwaves across Europe.

It was declared to be a “political earthquake” or to be “one of the biggest political upsets in Dutch politics since World War II”; and was followed by dire statements about “the far-right’s ascendancy in Europe”.

The second-next party didn’t lose a moment to declare the results as existential threats, “now the time has come for us to defend democracy”, party leader Frans Timmermans hurried to sound the alarm bells.

Some experts blamed “mainstreaming”, accusing centre-right parties of taking over the far-right’s rhetoric and programmatic talking points on immigration. But those experts mixed up the cause and the effect.

“Mainstreaming” was not the cause behind the voters’ decisions.

“Mainstreaming” happened exactly because voters started to show that they are disappointed with how the political elites handled certain situations and turned to alternative forces in their search for listening ears. (And when the “centre-right” realized the change, it started a desperate scramble to regain some of the losses.)

This is why the PVV won and all four parties of the incumbent coalition government suffered losses. To quote Geert Wilders, “The voter has spoken, and he has said, we are sick of it, we are sick of it”.

Fast forward six months.

After lengthy bickering, the Netherlands finally has a new government.

At least is on the right track to have it.

On May 15, late in the afternoon, Geert Wilders was finally able to announce that the four parties (Wilders’ own PPV, caretaker PM Rutte’s VVD, the NSC and BBB) negotiating to form a new cabinet have reached a deal. Together, they’ll have a 88-strong presence in the House of Representatives, thus will have a comfortable majority.

They managed to find a common ground in all the issues they’ll face as a government (even on such divisive ones as immigration), a proof that on many questions, their policies are not that far from each other. In fact, Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius (VVD) went so far to declare that “there was a positive atmosphere even as the negotiations continued for longer periods”.

The only question to answer is the name of the future prime minister. It became clear months before that the greatest obstacle between PVV and its government is Geert Wilders himself. (He was forced to forfeit his claim to the position of prime minister to get the other parties to the negotiating table.)

Ignore the fact that almost one in every four Dutch voters vouched for him and the PVV.

Two out of the leaders of the other three parties found it impossible to work together under his leadership (only fellow “radical” Caroline van der Plas backed his bid). Thus, instead of allowing the winner of the elections to take the post he won, they rather agreed to steer clear from the prime ministerial post, as well.

An “unjust step” as Wilders said, “In the end, no matter how much it hurts, and how unfair I think it is, and how constitutionally wrong it is, I made the decision not to choose my own position”.

So will happen that the new political leader of the country won’t be the head of any of the parties forming the government. Even more novelty will be the “extra-parliamentary” status of the new cabinet. At least, if the previous rumors/statements about the composition of the new government will be true (a thing yet to be seen), the country will have a “good, balanced mix of ministers from inside and outside politics”.

For now, this seems to be the greatest deviation from the voters’ wishes, who clearly opted for a right-wing government.

As a small consolation for those voters, the new coalition might follow the policies represented by PVV. At least they promised to try to opt out of EU migration rules. (Something even Wilders admitted might be a difficult step and might take years and will ensure several clashes with Brussels.)

The 26-page coalition plan (dubbed Hope, Courage and Pride) aims for “the strictest-ever asylum regime”, stronger border controls and harsher rules for asylum seekers, also promising to curb back on labour migration and limit admittance of foreign students to Dutch universities.

While existing plans to combat climate change will be continued (including paying for the climate change fund established in 2023), the new coalition has promised concessions to farmers, who bore most of the burden of the “green transition” and has expressed their disapproval via Europe-wide protests.

Developments probably welcomed by many as there are no protests reported from the streets of Amsterdam or The Hague in fear of the country “veering too much to the right”.

As the plan is, at this moment, exactly only that, a plan, it is yet to be seen, what the new government (if and when it will start to work) will manage to fulfil of those promises or to what extent those will be “watered-down” so politicians can continue “business as usual”.

And it is also to be seen, whether the voters’ voice will be followed after the European parliamentary elections or the ruling elites will try to maintain the status quo.

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