Saturday, June 15, 2024

What the Dutch right-wing election surge tells us as Europe heads to the polls

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The Netherlands far-right PVV Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders speaks to the media representatives following the European Parliament elections provisional results in The Hague on June 6, 2024. 

Emiel Muijderman | Afp | Getty Images

Sweeping gains for Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration party on Thursday are expected to foretell a wider shift to the right in this week’s European elections.

The Netherlands was the first country to vote for the next European Parliament, with EU-wide results due late Sunday.

The latest Dutch exit polls give the left-wing Labour and Green parties a slight lead, with a combined total of eight out of 31 available seats in the European Parliament. Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) was close behind with seven seats — a stark turnaround from zero seats in 2019’s result.

The result is subject to final confirmation, and the exit poll has an error margin of roughly one seat.

The PVV’s surge points to shifting political sentiment in the Netherlands, and across the EU more broadly, with issues such as immigration, agricultural rights and financial contributions to the bloc of increasing concern.

Han ten Broeke, director of political affairs at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said there was no doubt who had won Thursday’s vote: “It must be Geert Wilders, by far.”

“At the end of the day, it is also a continuation of what we saw back in 2023 in the national election, where Geert Wilders came out on top,” he told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro on Friday.

Dorien Rookmaker, a Dutch member of the European Parliament’s right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Group, agreed, noting that the far-right had established a stronghold in the increasingly polarised country.

“The far-right is the ultimate winner and this is quite clear,” she said.

A ‘precursor” to the European Parliament result

Geert Wilders scores 'clear cut' victory in Dutch EU election, analyst says

According to ten Broeke, the Dutch outcome is an indicator of Sunday’s wider election result.

“The victory of Geert Wilders yesterday was very clear cut, and it’s a precursor, I think, to what is going to happen in the next couple of days, when we see European elections in various member states. The radical right is supposed to win a great victory,” he said.

The latest opinion polls suggest big wins for the ECR, which includes Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Poland’s Law and Justice.

The radical right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which features French politician Marine Le Pen’s France’s Rassemblement National and the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, is also expected to score significant gains.

I think the move to the right was a long way coming … People are in insecure times. I think the system is moving a bit too slow for people.

While this is unlikely to tip the balance of power out of the hands of the centrist coalition, it could make it harder to form a majority when voting on critical issues such as Ukraine, defense and the bloc’s green agenda.

Ahead of Thursday’s result, Dutch voters in Utrecht, a city roughly an hour outside the capital Amsterdam, told CNBC that the shift mirrored wider discontent with the existing political landscape.

“I think the move to the right was a long way coming,” one voter told CNBC. “We’ve been, kind of, left-leaning in the Netherlands for a long time compared to other countries. I think people are in insecure times. I think the system is moving a bit too slow for people, and they feel like more concrete solutions are easier.”

Another noted that Wilders’ nationalist party has been able to “mobilize” voters in a way other parties have not.

“A lot of people weren’t really happy. And that they are not happy is understandable because there’s a lack of houses, there is poverty, the trust in the government has really gotten low,” they said.

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