The Progressive Post

Do not normalise the extreme

05/12/2023

Geert Wilders’ win has caused a shockwave throughout the Netherlands. While many are still in bewilderment over what happened, action needs to be taken quickly to prevent democracy and the rule of law from eroding. Starting with putting an end to the normalisation of extreme ideas in our politics. 

It was a remarkable opinion poll that came out a few weeks before my fellow citizens went to the ballot. Of the voters of VVD – the centre-right party of Dilan Yeşilgöz and Prime Minister Mark Rutte – only 23 per cent had objections against a coalition with Wilders’ PVV party. Of those same voters, 61 per cent did not want cooperation with GroenLinks-PvdA, the alliance of the Greens and the Labour Party that participated with a joint list in these elections.

How do we explain this? For a large part, it is due to a change in strategy by the VVD. While the VVD has refused to cooperate with the PVV for over a decade – ever since Wilders pulled the plug on Rutte’s first government in 2012 – this changed last summer after the ruling coalition failed to reach an agreement on limiting the family reunification of asylum seekers. After the spokesperson on migration, MP Ruben Brekelmans, opened the door to the PVV in July by arguing that the party needed ‘to discuss’ cooperation with the PVV, Yeşilgöz threw it wide open a month later by stating the VVD would no longer exclude ‘the voters of the PVV’. Being asked about Wilders’ call for ‘less, less, less Moroccans’ – for which he was convicted in 2020 – she stated she wanted to ‘look ahead’.

The result is known. Since the moment the VVD made the PVV into a potential coalition partner, Wilders has climbed in the polls. People that felt in previous elections a vote for the PVV would be a lost vote, now no longer believed this was the case. And, as we all know by now, people rather vote for the original rather than for the copy if given the choice. 

Since I had the chance to vote for the first time – some twelve years ago – the discourse used by Dutch politicians has changed considerably. When Wilders in 2009 introduced the idea of a ‘headscarf tax’  – yes he really did – the outrage was huge. And rightfully so. The same goes for when he made his remarks about ‘less Moroccans’. However, slowly but steadily this has changed. 

Journalist Haro Kraak has used the striking example of the debate around housing. When a MP of the extreme-right FvD said in 2021 that Dutch citizens are being replaced by immigrants and therefore cannot find a house anymore, he was contradicted by a MP on the right side of the political spectrum. During this campaign two years later, it has become strikingly normal to say on national television that migrants are ‘taking your houses’. 

Surely, this is not a Dutch phenomenon. In Sweden, Spain and Italy, right-wing parties have chosen the path of cooperation with the far and extreme right. And everywhere in Europe, the arrival of nativism in politics has led politicians to blame foreigners – or any other group that qualifies as ‘the other’ – for problems in society. The question we as progressives need to ask ourselves is what we will do about it. And while the one answer to this complex problem does not exist, I want to share a few thoughts. 

First, and to some this may sound obvious, progressive parties must never govern with the far-right. As an obligation to citizens whose governments have voluntarily joined the union of common values that is the EU, we must never work with those that are willing to shrink the space of journalists or violate the rights of women and the LGBTI+ community in the name of ‘family values’. It is for this reason, Frans Timmermans, leader of GroenLinks-PvdA, has made instantly clear he will not cooperate with the far-right. 

Second, the outcome of the Dutch elections has made me even more convinced that progressive forces need to join forces. In a very fragmented political landscape, GroenLinks-PvdA has been among the few parliamentary groups that gained seats and now has become the second biggest in parliament. With the hovering consequences of a Wilders government, we need to extend our hand to other progressive political parties, as well as to unions, civil society organisations and others willing to protect those most vulnerable in society. 

Teaming up is not enough, however. While various experts agreed on the red-green alliance having the best plans for the middle class, it was still widely believed that GroenLinks-PvdA was out there to raise your bills. Together, therefore, we do not only need to come up with solutions that help citizens to get by in these challenging times, but also win the narrative around them. 

And third, and this is a task to all mainstream parties in Dutch politics, and indeed all over Europe, we need to stop the normalisation of extreme ideas in politics. While migration is a genuine concern of citizens that we must not underestimate, it should not legitimise politicians in just saying whatever comes to their mind. If it does happen, politicians of the traditional left and right should continuously call them out. No matter the occasion or how many times a phrase or term has been used. 

Although a government by Wilders is not yet a fact, as progressives in the Netherlands we have some tough years ahead. Especially to those that did not vote for us, we must do everything in our power to show that a different society is possible, with affordable housing, quality jobs and equal rights for all. It is distressing and comforting at the same time to realise that colleagues in Sweden, Italy or Finland have a similar battle ahead of them. More than ever, let us join forces to make sure the extreme does not become the new normal.

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com/Jeroen Meuwsen Fotografie

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