At first glance, one has to wonder why elections in a small country of 16.8 million like Holland would matter. The reason is as one pundit once noted, Holland within the EU “punches above its weight.” Holland has been over the recent years a bulwark of the European Union and staunch defender of the EU. In some ways, especially when it comes to austerity measures as concerns their treatment of Greece, for example, they are more “German” than Germany.
In March, their entire lower house composed of 150 members is up for reelection. Watchers of international election results, especially those in France, will be watching even more closely this year and it all centers around the performance of the Party for Freedom (or PVV) led by Geert Wilders. They current have 12 seats in their lower chamber. However, if polling is any indication, they stand to gain additional seats and can actually be very instrumental in forging a new coalition government.
The PVV is perhaps most equivalent to Germany’s AfD far right political party. Unlike other parties in Holland, they openly advocate for assimilation into society by immigrants rather than embarking on or continuing a policy of multiculturalism. They have stated that Dutch society and culture is based on Judeo-Christian values and culture. Seeing the recent influx of Muslim immigrants in neighboring countries and the problems associated with it- especially their reluctance to assimilate- the PVV is denouncing future immigration from non-Western countries and accepting no refugees. They are also very vocal against the European Union and have considered breaking away from it, much as Britain voted to do this past June. Holland has been the main catalyst against admitting Turkey into the EU.
Many populist party leaders- and the PVV is clearly populist- have looked to Trump’s election in the United States as a sign of encouragement and hope for their political aspirations in Europe. A recent gathering of populist leaders from European parties of various nations held in Germany expressed that very sentiment. Wilders was present as was Marine Le Pen from France and Frauke Petrie of the AfD.
What the rest of Europe fears is a far right, Wilders-led government in Amsterdam. He openly advocates withdrawal from the EU. Considering that Holland is the world’s second largest net exporter of agricultural goods, relations with the rest of the EU are important since the EU is Holland’s biggest trading partner. Wilders suggests that individual trade agreements can be worked out rather than those with trading blocs.
Spurring the debate in Europe is the influx of Muslim immigrants and refugees. Holland took in 48,000 refugees last year adding to the 850,000 already present Muslims in the country making Muslims 6% of the Dutch population. Wilders has insisted that as long as the current Muslim population respects the laws and Dutch institutions and culture, there is nothing to fear; in other words, assimilate.
What most do not understand is that most Muslims enter Holland not by applying to Dutch authorities, but by gaming the system of visas and open borders adopted by the EU. For example, Holland has a large population of Muslims who hail from Morocco. These Moroccans entered Holland by applying to and being granted visas by Portugal. Once in Portugal, they can now travel freely to Holland. Wilders correctly notes that 80% of those who go to Syria to fight for ISIS with a Dutch passport are Moroccans. He notes that in a recent poll among the Dutch Muslim population, 80% of respondents expressed some understanding and respect for those who go to fight in Syria. And most importantly, Holland spends close to 7.5 billion euros annually on immigrant resettlement and other programs.
In Holland, Moroccans are the equivalent of Donald Trump’s Mexican rapists and criminals, but actually preceded Trump. In 2014 at a rally, Wilders asked the crowd whether they wanted more or less Moroccans. The crowd chanted “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” He responded that he would make it a goal. He was promptly sued for inciting discrimination against Moroccans, a suit the plaintiffs actually won (with no consequences against Wilders). But a curious thing happened in the aftermath much like curious developments in the US with Trump. Wilders’ popularity and standing in the polls increased.
What separates Wilders, whose party now stands to gain the most seats, from the other right wing populists in Europe is his acceptance of gay rights, feminism, and legalized drugs. It is highly unlikely that Wilders will become prime minister in a new coalition government; the more liberal parties are not going away. However, their enhanced number of seats will make it difficult for any prime minister to ignore his party’s agenda.
For Wilders, no incident more galvanized his stance than the assassination of popular filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. The effect that killing had on the psyche of the Dutch population remains the primary rallying cry against Muslims in Holland. As a result, free speech advocates found themselves on the same side as the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant-in-general Dutch. Even though he lost the discrimination lawsuit, many believe the lawsuit itself was ridiculous and an attempt to chill free speech.
In many ways, the Dutch elections will be a possible precursor to the important French elections in April and then the German Bundestag elections later this fall. If the suggested fails to happen and his party falter at the polls, it may be a stealth rejection of the politics of Trump himself. The parallels between the two are too important to overlook in terms of style and rhetoric. But like the wave of populism washing over Europe and beyond their shores, his popularity and political message may just be that multiculturalism has simply gone too far. In that respect, the voters got it right.