24th Mar 2018


Netherlands’ Wilders not riding Trump’s coattails

  • Wilders' prediction that the Trump political spirit would jump the Atlantic will soon be put to the test. (Photo: European Parliament)

When Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, Dutch nationalist party leader Geert Wilders hailed it as the beginning of an illiberal reaction that would inspire like-minded movements on the Atlantic's other shore.

But it doesn’t seem to be happening in his home country.

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The national broadcaster NOS averaged the polls for the election in March and found that support for Wilders’ Freedom Party has fallen since the end of last year, from a high of 21 percent to 18 percent.

The party, which proposes to take the Netherlands out of the European Union and stop immigration from non-Western countries, could still become the single-largest. But the difference with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD is now only a few seats.

If this trend continues, Rutte could come out on top, although he is likely anyway to remain in power at the head of a coalition of parties in the centre.

Get to know Trump

A survey suggests that Wilders may have made a mistake by tying himself to Trump. It shows that only one in two Freedom Party voters have a positive opinion of the American president. A quarter are undecided, while another quarter regard Trump negatively.

It’s unusual for so many Freedom Party supporters to disagree with their leader on an issue. They normally applaud whatever Wilders says or does by 80 to 90 percent margins.

What’s changed from a few months ago is that Trump has made good on his campaign promises.

He tried to ban immigrants and travellers from seven Muslim countries, a discriminatory policy that appears to have gone too far even for Dutch nativists.

Trump’s critical comments about Germany, a major trading partner for the Netherlands and a country the Dutch generally respect, have been widely reported in Dutch media. As have his sceptical comments about NATO and positive remarks about Russia’s Vladimir Putin. None of this has gone over well with Dutch voters.

Other European nationalist movements may benefit from flirting with Putin’s anti-American, family-values conservatism, but he is not well-regarded in the secular Netherlands. Even reactionary Freedom Party voters by and large support gay rights while Russia is blamed for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over southeastern Ukraine in 2014, which killed 193 Dutch passengers.

Wilders knows this and he has kept his distance from Putin, but it’s beginning to dawn on voters that all his friends — Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, Frauke Petry in Germany — seem to admire the Russian leader.

Where to go?

So far Freedom Party voters are not flocking to Rutte, who is closest to Wilders on immigration and security policy but also supports EU membership and free trade. His liberal party is stable at 16-17 percent support.

That is down from 26 percent in the last election, but largely unchanged from when the liberals formed a coalition government with their Labor Party rivals in late 2012. Many right-wing voters have yet to forgive them for this perceived betrayal.

Wilders got 10 percent support in 2012, but he also polled better in the months leading up to that election.

It seems some voters express their dissatisfaction with the established parties by telling pollsters they’ll support the Freedom Party only to think better of it in the voting booth.

The question now is: where will they go?

Nick Ottens is a political analyst from the Netherlands and editor of the Atlantic Sentinel.

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