The spectre haunting all of Europe — of a far-right, nativist nationalism — appears to have been stemmed in the Netherlands. Here, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal, centre-right VVD has emerged as the single largest party, pushing the xenophobic, anti-EU Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party to second place.
The Dutch election result is, of course, a welcome development for a liberal, integrated idea of Europe especially as it comes just before the French elections and the German elections later this year. However, assuming that Rutte’s victory will have a domino effect across the continent is premature.
The Freedom Party has come in second, but it has gained three seats in the legislature. Wilders, like Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and the AfD (Alternative for Germany), has helped mainstream fringe far-right ideas. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit have also given a greater political legitimacy to nativist populism. The centre has held its ground in the Netherlands, but only just. In France, repeated attacks — from the Charlie Hebdo attack to the Christmas killings in Nice — have strengthened the anti-Muslim, anti-migrant discourse. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been amongst the most vocal defenders of liberal ideas. While this has cemented her position globally, her stand on accepting refugees from West Asia has cost her political points at home.
Rutte’s victory is proof of the fact that the far right’s surge is neither inevitable nor unstoppable. The Netherlands’ poll-bound neighbours must take heart from it, but equally, be cautious of the portents from his rival’s growth.