In the first post-Brexit test of nationalist fervor sweeping across Europe, voters in the Netherlands have decided not to follow Britain out of the European Union – at least not at this time.
The center-right, pro-EU incumbent Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, will maintain power following Wednesday’s election, with nationalist firebrand Geert Wilders coming up short of victory after leading in the polls for months.
“The Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said no to the wrong kind of populism,” Rutte said in his victory speech. But Wilders was giving little ground, tweeting that “Rutte is far away from rid of me!!”
While the hard-line nationalism of Wilders was rejected by the voters, his party at least gained four seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament. As big a story – if not bigger – is that the leftist Labor party took a beating – losing all but nine of their current 38 seats in the legislature.
It is also noteworthy that Wilders brand of nationalism/populism is not the equivalent of Donald Trump. Like many of its European neighbors, the Netherlands’ immigrant population is growing considerably faster than in the US, and Wilders called not just for withdrawal from the EU, but for measures far more severe than any proposed by Trump, including the banning of the Koran and the closing of Mosques. In a recent debate, Wilders called the prophet Mohammed a pedophile.
And while the European establishment breathes a sigh of relief and inevitably touts this as a repudiation of the anti-immigrant nationalist movement across their continent, there is a significant difference between this Dutch election and Brexit. This was a full parliamentary election, while Brexit was a single-issue referendum. Whether that is a distinction without a difference remains to be seen.
France and Germany are the next targets in what Bill Clinton termed the “pan-nationalist” movement among those seeking to break ties with the EU. Both powerful countries hold elections in the months ahead, and French nationalist leader Marine LePen has been gaining strength since Brexit was passed and Donald Trump was elected president. Whether this result has a cascading effect on those countries and others in Europe will be much debated as those elections approach.