The Progressive Post

Facing the Far-Right surge in the Netherlands

Member of the European Parliament for the PvdA (Dutch Labour Party) in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D). He is active in the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
05/12/2023

At 9:00 pm on 22 November, the Netherlands witnessed the announcement of the exit polls. Cheers erupted at the GroenLinks-PvdA gathering, as the party was projected to secure 25 seats. However, the mood changed within seconds of realising what this would mean for Geert Wilders’ far-right PVV (Party for Freedom). A shockwave swept through the crowd as the PVV was projected 35 seats, later corrected to 37. After 25 years of far-right populist rhetoric, party leader Geert Wilders finally won with 23,6 per cent of the vote. Was this outcome a surprise? Yes. Was it unforeseen? Not entirely.

Due to its electoral system, the Netherlands is used to a scattered political landscape, in which the Tweede Kamer – the House of Representatives or lower house of the Dutch parliament – usually consists of eight to ten parties spread across the spectrum. However, the Dutch political landscape has increasingly fragmented over the last decade due to dynamics around small political parties. This resulted in a Chamber consisting of 17 parties after the 2021 elections, and 20 groups after some party splits. In this scattered field, where right-wing parties have been dominating government since 2002, one of the few pathways for left-wing parties to create a counterweight is by joining forces. Throughout Europe, there’s a growing trend of pooling strengths as a strategy to combat extreme right-wing ideologies and populism.

The discussion surrounding the left-wing alliance in the Netherlands had been in the air for several years. However, it was only towards the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 that concrete steps were taken. As a result, the members of GroenLinks and PvdA decided to participate in last week’s early elections on a common list. The resignation of the fourth cabinet of Mark Rutte in July 2023, sparked by migration issues, thus accelerated the collaboration. A single candidate list and election manifesto were drawn up and Frans Timmermans was elected as party leader, uniting GroenLinks and PvdA in the fight for a hopeful future for our children and grandchildren on a liveable earth.

After 12 years of Rutte in power, there seemed to be momentum for a new political course in the Netherlands. In a country where right-wing parties had the initiative for years, a solid alliance between red and green forces could offer an attractive alternative, in which politics does not shy away from addressing massive challenges like the climate crisis, growing social inequality and institutional racism.

With a strong progressive message, GroenLinks-PvdA entered the election campaign. As before, the battle for voters was among a large number of other parties, but as the campaign progressed, it became increasingly clear which parties were the main contenders. The ‘big four’ – GroenLinks-PvdA, VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), NSC (New Social Contract) and PVV – took centre stage, dominating the campaign and debates. In the initial phase, the buzzword ‘bestaanzekerheid’ (livelihood security) prevailed in the campaign.

However, as the campaign progressed and the final days approached, the narrative began to change, with migration emerging as a dominant and contentious topic. This shift in focus played into the hands of the PVV, benefiting its agenda and allowing it to capitalise on its stance on migration policies. The PVV, led by Geert Wilders, has historically been known for its hard-line positions on immigration and its critique of multiculturalism. Although some journalists flagged that Wilders started to express himself a bit more carefully and softened his manifesto, his political advertisements were as hard as always, linking just about every other problem or crisis to the number of asylum requests and other forms of migration. However, other right-wing parties like the VDD and NSC appeared to pave the way for the PVV by not excluding the party and expressing their willingness to collaborate with Wilders and his party, possibly even in a coalition government. A classic and expensive mistake, giving in to the far-right rhetoric by partly buying into their narrative and thus mainstreaming far-right perspectives within the political discourse. Predictably, people then vote for the original. 

In the days leading up to the election, polls indicated a close race, with PVV, VVD and GroenLinks-PvdA fighting for the lead, while NSC experienced a setback. Yet, the final result stunned everyone: Dutch voters made PVV the biggest party, winning 37 seats, with our united left list in second place with 25 mandates. The far-right win somewhat overshadowed the remarkable accomplishment of Frans Timmermans and his team. The GroenLinks-PvdA combination secured a total of eight additional seats in parliament: solid gains by a progressive combination in a still fragmented landscape. Despite the prevailing shock following Wilders’ victory, GroenLinks-PvdA is determined to continue on this path of strengthened red-green-progressive collaboration, due to the conducted campaign, the mobilisation of people and the massive gains in membership of both parties. Wilders currently holds the initiative to form the government and is likely to eye for engaging in discussions with right-wing parties such as VVD, NSC and BBB (the Farmer-Citizens Movement). It is evident that our party will never enter a coalition with the PVV. The outcome of Wilders’ efforts to form a government remains uncertain. However, if successful, the ramifications for the Netherlands’ role within the EU will undoubtedly be substantial.

After this result, the task for the left-wing alliance is straightforward: we will stand by every single citizen of The Netherlands who now wonders: ‘do I belong here’? Yes, you do! ‘We will have your back’ as Frans Timmermans vowed hours after the election result. We will continue building our ‘united left’ alliance and we will work together with everyone for pragmatic solutions to real problems that voters of all parties have. Pragmatic, but principled regarding human rights, the rule of law and our democratic values. We will always stand up against those who fuel hate, exclude and discriminate, and we will call those who normalise and enable it to account. 

The voters of far-right parties do not necessarily and entirely adhere to the radical anti-Islam and exclusionist views of leaders like Wilders. We can overcome this victory of the merchants of fear. To bring real solutions that work and restore the confidence lost in society and between citizens and politicians, we need a broad alliance with a strong progressive voice both in The Netherlands and Europe. It is time to break through the far-right populist narrative. Not by adopting it, but by inspiring people, by really taking on the fight for progressive ideals, for democracy and for a liveable planet. We are ready.

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com/Alexandros Michailidis

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