Why is Wilders so popular in the Netherlands?

After the Brexit vote and Trump's election victory, observers have their eyes trained on Geert Wilders and his xenophobic PVV in the run-up to the Dutch parliamentary elections on March 15. For months the right-wing populist was ahead in the polls, but now Prime Minister Mark Rutte's right-wing liberal VVD has regained the lead. The press is eager to see how the Dutch will vote in this first key ballot in a year packed with important elections.

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De Morgen (BE) /

Social hardship fuelling popular anger

The harsh austerity measures of the past years are also responsible for Wilders' rise, De Morgen points out:

“Geert Wilders' success isn't just built on cultural fear or anger, but also on the feeling many Dutch people have that they are not sharing in the country's prosperity despite the current economic data. Rutte's government only has itself and its crisis policies to blame for such negative assessments. Just when the economy started to decline the Dutch state imposed particularly painful measures on the population. For many that led to years of economic hardship. Popular anger over these measures also goes a long way to explaining Wilders' popularity.”

Delfi (LT) /

Fear of immigration must be taken seriously

Only by taking the people's fears of immigration seriously can Wilders and his ilk be stopped, web portal Delfi stresses:

“Xenophobia cannot be justified, but xenophilia is no alternative. Many decent citizens have good reasons for wanting to remain among themselves and limit immigration. ... The elites live in rich neighbourhoods where the only refugees you see are servants or participants at some event. If Rutte and other EU politicians put themselves in the situation of the man on the street more often - and not just before election time - it would be possible to search more effectively for a solution and stop the advance of radical parties, hatred and racism.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Meaningless populism

The tendency of all the parties in the Netherlands to blame the EU for the country's problems has paved the way for Wilders' rise, El Mundo writes:

“This attitude is undermining support for the EU and - together with the widespread frustration with the traditional parties - provides an ideal breeding ground for Europhobic and populist formations. Wilders is waving this flag and channelling a large part of the population's discontent by using the immigrants, and above all Muslims, as scapegoats. And this strategy is enough for his purposes. Because in reality he doesn't have a coherent programme to offer. No one knows what he would do if he came to power. This is the triumph of empty populism.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Politics of rage

Although Wilders won't make it into government he has already changed the Netherlands, the Anglo-Dutch writer Ian Buruma writes in a guest commentary in La Repubblica:

“Like populists everywhere, Mr. Wilders promises to 'take our country back' and defend Dutch identity - from Islam, of course, but also from Brussels, the administrative capital of the European Union. ... Mr. Wilders, a former punk rocker whose maternal family is partly Indonesian, might seem an odd figure to purify the identity of a largely Protestant trading nation with a long tradition of allowing people of different faiths and persuasions to live in relative peace. But what he has in common with his followers is a seething rage against people he suspects of thinking they’re better than him.This may not be sufficient to make him prime minister, but the politics of fury have done plenty of damage already.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

Moderation after breaking taboos

Wilders exerts a major influence on the politics of his country even without winning the parliamentary elections, writes Göteborgs-Posten:

“Wilders is dangerous because other parties give him room to dominate those issues that are really important for many voters. The Netherlands has the same problems as other Western European countries. Although its economy is booming there is a large group of mainly older voters who are falling through the cracks. … The success of Wilders' party has prompted the established parties to criticise Islamist intolerance. The prime minister and leader of the VVD Mark Rutter wrote recently in an open letter that those who harass homosexuals or women in short skirts or call normal Dutch citizens racists should feel free to go somewhere else. Up to now evoking common behaviour like this had been taboo. … The Netherlands must address the problems, but with more wisdom and moderation than is evident in Wilders' brand of politics.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Dutch have grown used to Wilders' racism

With their coverage of Wilders foreign media are opening Dutch citizens' eyes to what he really represents, Volkskrant columnist Sheila Sitalsing comments:

“Perhaps the foreign media are even more obsessed by the big, blond leader than we ourselves with our Wilders mania. … Clearly the commentators haven't been paying attention to the last 15 years of Dutch politics. Only now are they waking up to the fact that a lot can be said about Muslims and migrants in Dutch politics. These are reporters who are hearing about Wilders' views for the first time and pretending to be shocked - which elicits only a weary smile from us. We have grown so used to his impudence, the violations of the constitution, the undisguised racism, the hatred and the smear campaigns that we only stop to listen when foreign reporters voice surprise at how far the limits have been stretched in the Netherlands' debate.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Don't just focus on Wilders

The Green member of parliament Jesse Klaver, the left-liberal Alexander Pechtold and the Christian Democrat Sybrand Buma have all done well in recent polls. But foreign media are only interested in spotlighting right-wing populist Geert Wilders, columnist Tom-Jan Meeus complains in NRC-Handelsblad:

“In simple campaign jargon one could say: Klaver is too naive, Pechtold too vague, and Buma too conservative. I personally think that these three in particular illustrate the beauty of our democracy. But media from all over the world come here to report on Wilders. And for months now the Dutch media have been telling us about angry citizens. The fact is, however, that these three candidates who keep chalking up points show us that rather than spreading anger the large majority of Dutch citizens want to remain constructive.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Europe at a crossroads

March 15 will set the trend in a year in which several EU member states are holding elections and the EU is fighting for survival, Hürriyet Daily News points out:

“The forthcoming national elections in the Netherlands on March 15 will be an early indicator of whether right-wing populism still continues to generate support across Europe. As the Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, is leading in polls, it dominates political debates in the Netherlands. ... The same can be observed in France, where far-right Marine Le Pen leads the polls for the upcoming presidential elections, albeit only for the first round. ... The choices of citizens of several member states in their national elections with their avarice toward European integration and its multiculturalism will not only decide the future shape of the EU, but also determine the role of Europe in the world. The outcome will no doubt have an impact on the future of the world, considering the two world wars we have witnessed so far were started essentially as European wars.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Nexit not an option

Although right-wing populist parties have been on the rise in the Netherlands for years it is unlikely that the country will leave the EU, Jutarnji list comments:

“The economy is running smoothly and unemployment is dropping, and for most people these trends are more important than populist slogans. The Dutch are aware of the problems in the country, the multi-ethnic tensions, but they aren't blaming everything on the Muslims as the populists would have them do. Yet the country, once the most liberal in the West, has changed. The integration of foreigners is slowing down and it's been a long time since a prime minister has been able to ride to work on a bike. Dutch society has had enough of the established politicians and this is why such uncertainty prevails shortly before the elections. But it won't come to a Nexit. The European Union can survive without Britain but not without the Netherlands.”