EU relieved by Dutch centre-right win
By Eszter Zalan
EU leaders congratulated Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and voters for striking a blow against nationalism and populism at the ballot box on Wednesday (15 March).
Rutte himself set the tone by declaring after the exit polls projected his win that after Brexit and after Donald Trump's election as US president the Dutch result was a rejection of "the wrong kind of populism".
He did not comment on what the right kind of populism might be.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called Rutte on Wednesday night and also praised the "vote against extremists”, after the far-right and eurosceptic party of Geert Wilders came in second according to early projections.
Italy's premier Paolo Gentiloni said on Twitter: "No #Nexit. The anti-EU right wing has lost an election in the Netherlands. Let's commit together to change and revive the Union!”.
Nexit refers to the Netherland's possible exit from the EU.
Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel also said on Twitter that "populism didn't pay off”.
France's president Francois Hollande said: “I warmly congratulate @markrutte for his clear victory against extremism.”
Emmanuel Macron, a French centrist politician who is running against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen in April’s presidential election, said: "The Netherlands shows us that the breakthrough of the far-right is not inevitable and that European progressives are growing in strength."
Pierre Moscovici, France's EU commissioner, noted that "the Netherlands is showing the way to a European beginning and democratic awakening".
Rutte himself used a soccer analogy for European politics.
He called the Dutch elections the quarterfinals in the EU’s fight against nationalism. He said the French elections would be the semifinals, ahead of the final in German elections in September.
Germany chancellor Angela Merkel's response to his win was characteristically subdued.
"I look forward to further good cooperation as friends, neighbours, Europeans,” Merkel told Rutte by phone according to her spokesman.
Le Pen, as well as British anti-EU politician Nigel Farage, who are normally quick to speak on Twitter, have kept quiet for now.
Meanwhile, Rutte himself took an increasingly tough line on immigration in his campaign to try to beat Wilders.
Turkey also weighed in on Thursday, with its foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, saying there is no difference between Dutch liberals and "fascist" Wilders.
Turkey and the Netherlands has been entrenched in a diplomatic row after the Netherlands did not allow Turkish ministers to hold referendum campaign rallies in Rotterdam. Turkey has called the Netherlands a Nazi country, while Rutte's handling of the issue apparently helped him in the polls.