27th Feb 2024

Wilders faces tough road to power, despite election triumph

  • A PVV-led government is expected to try to push a radically-conservative agenda — especially since its prospective coalition partners tend to have similar frugal and conservative inclinations (Photo: European Parliament)
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The resignation of Gom van Strien, the 'coalition scout' of the populist Dutch leader Geert Wilders on Monday (27 November), illustrates the challenges Wilders' PVV party faces in forming a government.

Van Strien was appointed last Friday to explore possible governing coalitions after the PVV's shock victory in the Dutch election, but he resigned after less than three days on the job due to allegations of fraud and embezzlement.

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"This is a feature of Wilders and the people that he brings together. A lot of his political fellow travellers tend to attract a certain amount of scandals. He isn't able to attract a stable cadre of reliable people," said Rem Korteweg, a senior researcher at the Clingendael Institute.

This lack of experienced, dependable politicians will create structural problems for a PVV-led government, Korteweg predicts.

The PVV's personnel problems came on top of another big setback in the coalition negotiations, when on Friday the VVD, the centre-right party of outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte, ruled out governing alongside Wilders.

Dilan Yesilgöz, the new leader of the liberal-conservative VVD, did keep the option open of providing the PVV with ad hoc parliamentary support.

Wilders' troubles have already led some Dutch commentators to draw comparisons with the 2002 government formation, when the LPF, Wilder's ideological predecessor, entered into a short-lived coalition with the Christian Democrats and a very reluctant VVD.

After a mere three months, extreme infighting between inexperienced LPF ministers led to an infamous political breakdown and government collapse.

Wilders will need to compromise significantly on his far-right programme to entice the VVD and the newly-formed centrist party NSC to join his cabinet, argued Korteweg. "Especially since an alternative centrist coalition led by [Frans] Timmermans is still a possibility."

Similarly, Sam van der Staak from International IDEA said: "Potential coalition partners will prevent democratic backsliding like in Hungary or Poland. They will force Wilders to respect three red lines: respect for the rule of law, no NEXIT, and no support for Russia."

"Wilders will be more in the camp of [Italy's Georgia] Meloni and the Sweden Democrats instead of teaming up with Orban or Fico," Van der Staak said, speaking at an event in Brussels.

A PVV-led government is expected to try to push a radically-conservative agenda, especially since its prospective coalition partners tend to have similar frugal and conservative inclinations.

And the PVV fits well with a general European trend of previously rightwing eurosceptic parties attempting to influence the EU, according to van der Staak.

Wilders has decades of political experience. "He knows very well what the boundaries are," said Elizabeth Kuiper, associate director at the European Policy Institute.

The Dutch vote expressed a "politics of discontent" that can be observed more generally, said Kuiper, adding that many of the issues exploited by Wilders are highly relevant for the European elections in June, especially concerns about the impact of the climate policy and fears around migration.

"People clearly feel impacted by how our societies are in transition," said Kuiper. But parroting the rhetoric of the far-right can only backfire, she argued: "if you copy the far-right, people will vote for the original."

Many think that the Dutch elections do carry an important lesson for how not to fight the far-right: do not break the cordon sanitaire.

The electoral success of the PVV was partly attributable to blundering by the VVD, argued Korteweg. "First, they triggered the collapse of the government because of migration. If you don't own an issue, you risk creating opportunities for parties with more extreme views."

Additionally, the VVD attempts to normalise Wilders as a partner during the campaign backfired as well.

"Yesilgöz opened the door to working with Wilders. All of a sudden, a protest party became a realistic option for government," Korteweg said.

Author bio

Piet Ruig is a Brussels-based journalist who previously worked for the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO.


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