Geert Wilders

Tony Barber

Until a week ago, it looked as if the far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, might become the largest Dutch political party in the European parliament after the May 22-25 elections to the EU assembly.

But that was before Mr Wilders offended large sections of Dutch opinion, and provoked high-level resignations from the PVV, by making incendiary, xenophobic remarks at a political rally. His party, once top of the opinion polls, is falling back as a result. Read more

Tony Barber

Geert Wilders (Michel Porro/Getty Images)

Beneath his populist rhetoric neither Geert Wilders, nor most supporters of his far-right Freedom Party, nor the vast majority of Dutch voters seriously entertain the notion that the Netherlands will leave the European Union. But in election campaigns it is the rhetoric that counts.

The election in question is the May 22-25 vote, in the Netherlands and the European Union’s other 27 member-states, for the European Parliament. Like other anti-EU, anti-euro, anti-establishment parties in countries such as France and the UK, the Dutch Freedom Party is riding the tide of popular disenchantment with mainstream politics and EU institutions.

Wilders is after the protest vote, and he will get it – just like Marine Le Pen’s National Front and the UK Independence Party of Nigel Farage. All three movements have an excellent chance of topping the polls or at least upsetting the political apple cart in their respective countries. Read more

Mark Rutte. Photo Reuters

By Matthew Steinglass in Amsterdam

Wednesday’s Dutch election overturned myriad assumptions, as voters turned en masse towards the two large centrist parties that have backed eurozone rescue measures and abandoned the fringe anti-European parties that had been expected to win big.

Rather than punishing Liberal prime minister Mark Rutte for signing up to bailout packages for Greece and Spain and to the European emergency fund, right-wing voters re-elected him with 27 per cent of the vote, by far the party’s largest share ever. Read more

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