Dutch elections: “Nexit” won’t happen but the Netherlands are more divided than ever

18 March 2017
VoxEurop

While Geert Wilders may have lost the election, the ideas of the xenophobic dyed-blonde populist can still be found in the language of the victors – starting with Mark Rutte's liberals. And Rutte is going to face difficulties in establishing a coalition government.

On Thursday morning, Dutch and international media welcomed the election results in the Netherlands. After Brexit and Trump, there was finally a victory 'against populism'. The landslide for Wilders didn't happen. The national-populist's anti-European mayonnaise failed to stick. Above all, Wilders' defeat was helped by his absence from public debates, and a lack of organised meetings and visits. Primarily focusing on social media, his campaign strategy failed to pay off.

Nevertheless, on closer inspection, the situation is far from resolved. After nearly seven years as Prime Minister, Mark Rutte has succeeded in holding only 33 seats (of 150). He has been severely punished by his electorate – his government lost almost 50% of the vote.

This is clearly a defeat, but since his party, the VVD, remains the largest in parliament, Rutte can claim it as a victory. The poor showing of the outgoing government may be something of a surprise. The country is not doing all that badly, one could even say very well, compared to France. There is very little unemployment (5%), the weekly work hours are the shortest in the world (29 hours), wealth is rather fairly distributed, prisons are closing due to lack of criminals, and the Dutch are among the happiest populations in the world.

“We've prevented a victory for the wrong kind of populism”, Rutte has claimed, implying that his own brand of politics is a better form of populism. And he's not wrong. Throughout the campaign, the VVD and the CDA (Christian-Democrats) incorporated so much of Wilders' language that they've become the proponents of a kind of “light” populism. And then there's the entry of the FvD, a more intellectual—though also more virulent—version, lead by the historian and polemicist Thierry Baudet, which won two seats.

The most remarkable aspect of this election is no doubt the excellent turnout for two distinctly pro-European parties – the Greens and the D66 (social-liberals). Above all, the leader of the Greens, the charismatic thirty year-old Jesse Klaver (nicknamed “The Jessiah”, in reference to the Messiah), conducted a faultless campaign. With 14 seats, he has succeeded in quadrupling the presence of his party, making it more popular than ever in its history.

The D66 (19 seats), with its optimistic language and global outlook, obtained it's ninth consecutive victory, and is almost assured of a place in the new government. Undoubtedly it was the large cities that voted for these two parties. It is quite clear now that, contrary to some received ideas, the Dutch are nowhere near wanting to leave the EU. “Nexit”, the Dutch exit from the EU threatened by Wilders, will not happen any time soon.

As is usual in countries where coalitions are the norm, the political landscape is extremely fragmented. Rutte will have to choose his partners from among thirteen parties that will hold seats in the new Assembly. Today, he will take the first step in forming a government – a period of 'reconnaissance'. After that, there will be a period for information, and finally the formation of a government. Rutte fears that that the negotiations will be extremely complicated and “that they will go on much longer than last time”.

In 2012, Rutte needed almost two months to form a government with the social-democrats. At the time, the two parties held an overall majority between them. Now, the situation is different. Rutte will have to join with at least two parties: the CDA and the D66, each of which obtained 19 seats. But that won't be enough to form a majority. They'll need at least five more seats.

With Wilders' PVV categorically excluded, there remain a few options: the Greens with 14 seats, or, much less likely, the Orthodox Christians or the Party For The Animals. After the annihilation of the PvdA (the social-democrats), all the parties are aware of the dangers in forming a government with Rutte. A Green-Liberal alliance seems the most likely outcome. Meanwhile, populism is far from defeated, and the Netherlands seems more divided than ever.

This article is published in association with Internazionale.

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