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The Netherland's 'Right Wing Revolution': all just hype?

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

Peter Brukx, GWU (George Washington University)

The global right-wing movement has reached the Netherlands according to popular commentators. In the Dutch provincial elections the Eurosceptic party, Forum for Democracy (FvD), became the largest in the Senate, earning 13 of the 75 seats. Whilst the Senate arguably plays a more peripheral role in Dutch politics than the House of Representatives, or the Tweede Kamer (the House is responsible for formulating legislation, with the Senate merely reserving the right to approve or reject it), the FvD’s leader, Thierry Baudet, lauded the victory as a fundamental shift in Dutch politics; in favour of his largely anti-immigration, Green-skeptic, and pro-Russian agenda. However, this is no fundamental shift in Dutch politics at all: for, at least in two key domains, the ‘right wing revolution’ has been either overstated or misrepresented.

First, the results of the provincial elections in reality compel Prime Minister Mark Rutte to move his center-right coalition to the left, in order to accommodate the Green Party or the Labour Party (PvdA) in passing legislation. Indeed, the Green Party’s representation more than doubled, gaining five seats for a total of nine. And whilst the PvdA didn’t fare quite as well - losing a seat to bring their total to seven - the FvD’s gains will nevertheless still not be enough to necessitate Rutte reaching out to the far-right; in this respect he’s already tried and failed. Instead, it seems Rutte must look to the center-left to broaden support, evidenced in his landmark pledge before the election that the Netherlands would look to reduce its CO2 emissions by 49% (from 1990 levels) by 2030, a rather explicit appeal to the Greens.

Second, the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic platform has been a fairly consistent thread in Dutch politics for nearly two decades; with the FvD merely being the latest exemplar of it. In fact, the FvD’s surge came predominantly at the expense of another right-wing party, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV), which earned five seats this year; down four from a 2015 high-water mark of nine. Baudet, known to make arcane literary references and (albeit error-filled) speeches in Latin, is often perceived to be a more cultivated, quick-witted Wilders: appealing to young, and better educated male voters. Wilders himself dominated Netherlands’ right-wing discourse from 2006 to 2019. He founded the PVV in 2006 with the explicit aim of “limiting the growth of Muslim numbers” and gradually rose to national prominence, culminating in a second place finish in the Netherland’s 2017 general elections. And even before Baudet and Wilders, there was Pim Fortuyn; assassinated for his anti-Islamic rhetoric days before the 2002 general elections. Fortuyn’s assassination propelled his party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), to a second place finish in the 2002 elections, but without its original leader, they declined in power before finally dissolving in 2008. These parties have routinely won around 10-20% of the vote, with the LPF achieving 17% in 2002, the PVV 13.1% in 2017, and the FvD 14.5% in 2019.

What’s arguably differed in Baudet, has been his ability to capture impressive media coverage (something atypical of right-wingers in the Netherlands), perhaps in part because of his elite background, but also due to his outmoded yet comprehensive philosophical justifications for policy prescriptions. This more ‘polished’ style, particularly compared to Wilders, deems him a greater threat to the Dutch political establishment in the eyes of commentators and pundits alike. Yet it seems these fears are unfounded. The provincial vote showed the FvD only marginally expanding beyond the PVV’s voter base, certainly not the “right wing revolution” declared by many media outlets.

Ultimately then, Baudet and the FvD are just the Dutch right wing’s shiny new plaything. Voters have tired of Wilders and gravitated towards Baudet, who likely gained additional impetus via exploitation of the fear surrounding Utrecht’s shooting three days prior. As aforementioned, the FvD only has 13 seats in a 75 seat body and will not be forming part of the coalition government. Pointing to the provincial elections as a ‘fundamental shift’ in Dutch politics is therefore insincere: ignoring recent history and the proper realities of how its coalition-based system works.

Cover photograph: Reuters

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