Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

Opinion

Rutte courted Wilders' voters, now he must deliver

  • The Dutch PM has shown it can win elections, but now he must put such a vision into action or else play right into Wilders’ hands (Photo: Reuters/Michael Kooren)

On 15 March, the Dutch voted in their parliamentary elections in favour of the ruling Liberal party and against their own version of the alt-right.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) won 33 seats compared to insurgent candidate Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party’s (PVV) 20 seats.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Although this triumph will act as a speed-bump for ethnic and economic nationalism, it is a temporary effect. The election was mostly about immigration, particularly of Muslims, and how to integrate them into Dutch society.

Now that they have won, centrist parties must learn that without incorporating some of the more legitimate and palatable concerns of voters concerned with immigration, they will be unable to maintain power.

During the lead up to the election, Rutte warned of the need to integrate ethnic non-Dutch people to ensure every citizen shared the same basic secular and liberal values.

Integration

Rutte said everyone needed to know that the Netherlands wasn’t for people who “litter,” “spit,” “attack gay people”, or “shout at women in short skirts.” All of this was declared in a full-page advertisement which said people should “act normal or go away.”

By doing this, the VVD was able to steal some of the PVV’s rhetoric and, in turn, some of their voters. While such language from an establishment leader rattled the liberal and centrist press, it worked well and was copied by other parties.

Finally, Rutte benefited from taking a firm stance on a visceral row with the Muslim-majority country, Turkey.

The problem facing centrists is how to stop nativist parties that thrive on marginalising others without alienating increasing numbers of nativist voters.

On one hand, many voters knew that Rutte’s tough domestic and international rhetoric was just that — rhetoric, meant to attract the less radical Wilders supporters.

Other than one legally dubious proposal to take away citizenship from anyone who joins a terrorist organisation, the VVD has few substantial plans to actually integrate immigrants or fight terror.

After all, many of the Dutch, including Rutte, are largely, and rightly, pro-immigrant and the Netherlands has not experienced a terror attack like France or Germany.

Dutch second

On the other hand, there is a small, but sizeable number of immigrants who feel Muslim or Turkish first, and Dutch second (if they feel Dutch at all) — even into the second and third generation. Part of this is due to historical discrimination and a lack of governmental support that has contributed to housing and wealth disparities.

A bigger factor is decades of failed multiculturalism that deliberately kept immigrants separate, instead of encouraging them to learn the Dutch language or Dutch values in addition to their own.

These roadblocks to building a healthy national community and identity have come at a high cost. For example, it is estimated that from 2012 to 2015, about 220 Dutch citizens or immigrants left to become Jihadist fighters in Syria and Iraq.

There are legitimate issues with immigration and integration, and centrists should seek to address them in a reasonable manner instead of ceding these issues to the alt-right.

Therefore, Rutte’s conservative pivot was the correct decision, but only if it is followed up by actions to improve integration of Muslim immigrants while reducing hostility towards them.

Immigration policies in the Netherlands are already fairly strict and focus on positive ways to help immigrants succeed economically and learn Dutch.

Among those initiatives are community-police and interfaith organisations, as well as an emphasis on tax and labour market reforms. The positive and inclusive aspects of those programs should be built upon.

Hollow promises

The danger here is that inaction makes Rutte’s campaign promises on immigration and integration ring hollow, which is exactly what Wilders wants.

Rutte should not forget that, although the VVD beat the PVV, they still lost five seats whereas the PVV gained eight. The PVV managed this despite Wilders being the only official party member and while operating on a shoestring budget.

Like Trump, Wilders’ tactics to steal the spotlight proved incredibly powerful. The election was close enough that 60 percent of the electorate were undecided until the vote.

Furthermore, about 60 percent of the Dutch parliament was split between 11 different parties, reflecting the shrinkage of centrist parties, on both the left and right. Wilders is defeated but not gone.

Politics is the art of the possible. Rutte’s move further to the right may seem unacceptably tough on liberals or libertarians.

Harsh rhetoric should rightly upset good sensibilities but they pale in comparison to Wilders’ own incoherent plan, which called for “preventative detention of radical Muslims,” forbidding “Islamic expressions which violate public order,” and banning all copies of the Koran and all mosques.

If the formula for success against far-right populists is to be optimistic, in favour of an inclusive but traditional national identity, and tough on immigration, then that is what centrist parties must do.

In the Netherlands, Rutte has shown that this approach can win elections, but now he must put such a vision into action or else play right into Wilders’ hands.

The VVD has begun that process, but it must finish it.

John Dale Grover is a member of Young Voices and a graduate student at George Mason University’s Conflict Analysis and Resolution Program.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU relieved by Dutch centre-right win

EU leaders breathe sigh of relief in phone calls and tweets after Dutch centre-right comes ahead of anti-EU party in "quarterfinal" elections.

Dutch group combats Wilders' rhetoric online

Volunteers have gone online for the past two weeks, in an attempt to persuade potential voters for the anti-EU and anti-Islam leader to vote someone else.

Rutte - from 'Mr No' to 'next Tusk'?

Make no mistake – Rutte, sometimes considered as a potential candidate to succeed Donald Tusk, is one of the toughest of the EU's current heads of state.

Will Romania be EU's Green Deal laggard?

Of the €30bn allocated to Romania under the EU recovery fund, just four percent is slated to go to renewable energy and energy-efficiency. Despite the pressing need to decarbonise Romania's heat and power sectors, this is not an investment priority.

Column

Muslims, Ramadan, and myths facing 'European civilisation'

Happy Ramadan? The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief warned the Human Rights Council last month that institutional suspicion of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to "epidemic proportions" worldwide.

News in Brief

  1. EU states make progress on Covid-19 'travel certificates'
  2. Michel pledges to protect von der Leyen's 'dignity' in future
  3. Libya frees UN-sanctioned human trafficker
  4. European court: jailed Turkish writer's rights violated
  5. EU set to miss 1m electric charging points by 2025 target
  6. Lavrov expects Iran nuclear deal to be saved
  7. France suspends flights from Brazil due to Covid variant
  8. Johnson & Johnson delays roll-out of vaccine in EU

Column

Why Germans understand the EU best

In Germany, there is commotion about a new book in which two journalists describe meetings held during the corona crisis between federal chancellor Angela Merkel, and the 16 prime ministers of its federal constituent states.

Why Iceland isn't the gender paradise you think

Iceland's international reputation masks two blunt realities that face the country's women - the disproportionate levels of gender-based violence that they experience, and a justice system that is frequently suspicious and hostile towards victims of this violence.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. Nato and US urge Russia to back off on Ukraine
  2. Future EU platform seeks to 'stay clean' of hate speech
  3. Denmark threatens Syria deportations amid EU concerns
  4. MEPs raise concerns on vaccine 'travel certificates'
  5. Will Romania be EU's Green Deal laggard?
  6. Muslims, Ramadan, and myths facing 'European civilisation'
  7. Europe & Africa - rebuilding the future
  8. How the pandemic became an EU goldmine for crime

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us