Dutch conservatives, architects of the rise of the far right (2024)

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  • Netherlands

News analysis

Jean-Pierre Stroobants Brussels, correspondent

Backed by three right-wing and center-right parties, populist Geert Wilders' far-right People's Party for Freedom should soon be at the helm of the Netherlands. His allies are betting that he will soon be forced to abandon his radical ideas.

Published on May 28, 2024, at 12:30 am (Paris), updated on May 28, 2024, at 7:29 am 4 min read Lire en français

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Dutch conservatives, architects of the rise of the far right (1)

If the negotiations still underway are successful, this will be a first in Northern Europe: The Netherlands will soon be governed by a far-right group, the People's Party for Freedom (PVV), led by the populist Geert Wilders, and supported by three right-wing and center-right parties who have joined forces with him to negotiate a government agreement largely inspired by his radical ideas. They are banking on the fact that, now that he is legitimized, having become the central player in the political game since the November parliamentary elections and confronted with the reality of power, the former troublemaker will soon be forced to abandon his diatribes against the elites, the "bitter left" and foreigners (Muslims in particular).

It's a dangerous gamble, and one that Mark Rutte, the resigning Liberal prime minister, had given up on. In 2012, he had experimented for 18 months with the formula of a minority Conservative government supported, à la carte, by the populist. His conclusion was clear: "Never again." Back in 2002, his People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) had attempted an alliance with the Pim Fortuyn List, one of Wilders' inspirers. It only lasted 87 days.

Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius, the resigned Minister of Justice who succeeded Rutte at the head of the liberal party, has not learned her lesson. By raising the possibility of collaboration with the far-right leader in 2023, she legitimized him. Insisting on the theme of migration, she convinced part of the electorate that voting for the PVV was no longer pointless, and encouraged her own party to take a step backwards.

Although she later gave the impression of backtracking, the liberal leader concluded a lengthy negotiation with Wilders and his ally Caroline van der Plas of the agrarian BBB party. On May 15, six months of discussions culminated in a program focusing on migration, the environment, the relationship with the European Union (EU) and a sharp reduction in development aid.

Pretentious moderation

The fourth party in the future coalition, the New Social Contract (NSC), led by dissident Christian Democrat Pieter Omtzigt, has also made a cautious commitment to the adventure. But it endorsed its program, apparently satisfied with having won the vague promise of a different way of governing the country, the guarantee that the Constitution would be respected and the Nexit, long advocated by Wilders, abandoned.

The right and center-right justified their unprecedented alliance with the far right by a concern not to contribute to the rise of its ideas. Instead, it said it focused on these factors: pragmatism ("We have to solve the country's problems"), a desire to respect 23.5% of the electorate (the PVV's score in the parliamentary elections), the development of an extra-parliamentary government that should allow parties to distance themselves from it if necessary, and a guarantee that Wilders would not himself lead the coalition.

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Dutch conservatives, architects of the rise of the far right (2024)
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