Today marks a key day as a barometer of the future success of populism in Europe. In the first major European election of the post-Brexit, post-Trump era, the Dutch elections serve as a key insight into whether the increased nationalism of 2016 will continue into 2017.
Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) is hoping to cause an upset in the Netherlands and dethrone the incumbent Mark Rutte’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). The election has been set amidst a backdrop of anti-immigration rhetoric that has swept Europe in recent months. Mr Wilders was arguably the prototype for the style of campaign that both the pro-Brexit and Trump campaigns ran; a social media savvy populist who objected to immigration and talked about the dangers of Islam and encouraged nationalism, all mixed to create his own brand of euroscepticism.
Final prediction polls have shown a dip in support for Mr Wilders’ Freedom Party, with respondents seemingly appreciative of current Prime Minister Mr Rutte’s professional approach to governance when faced with a recent diplomatic incident.
In an added twist in the run up to the election, the Netherlands has been engaged in a diplomatic spat with Turkey over a perceived slight which resulted in Turkish President Recep Erdogan referring to the Dutch as ‘Nazi remnants’ after a rally in his support was cancelled by the Dutch authorities. Mr Rutte’s response was seen as an attempt to de-escalate the situation professionally, while Mr Wilders said he would have expelled Turkish diplomats, and tweeted that Turks who protested the decision to cancel the rally “have Dutch passports, but they don’t belong here”.
That will be no comfort to those hoping to see the slowing of the rise of the far right, however, with the reputation of prediction polls having taken a bashing following the seemingly unlikely runaway successes of Donald Trump and Brexit last year. The Dutch election marks the first real stress test of the European Union since then, and its leaders will be hoping it proves stronger than many believe it to be.