Netherlands’ Wilders Rises as Immigration Concerns Mount

The Freedom Party leader capitalizes on fears that immigration from Muslim countries is changing Dutch society.

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders speaks at a news conference in Brussels, June 16
Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders speaks at a news conference in Brussels, June 16 (European Parliament)

The Dutch Freedom Party recently placed first in a poll, overtaking the liberals of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Is the Netherlands taking a hard turn to the right?

Not exactly.

The nationalist party led by Geert Wilders is at 29 out of 150 seats in Maurice de Hond’s weekly poll, or around 20 percent support.

That is up from the fifteen seats it has in now and would improve on its record election performance of 24 seats in 2010.

The ruling Labor and liberal parties, by contrast, are at a combined 29 seats in the same survey, down from a majority of 76.

Borders

The poll comes less than a week after the left-right coalition defended its spending plans for the next year. Wilders dominated the debate in parliament with a tirade against the Netherlands’ immigration policy, arguing that a majority of voters agree with him that the borders should be closed.

De Hond earlier found that 68 percent of Dutch voters are in favor of reinstating border checks inside the European Union’s free-travel Schengen Area.

Record numbers of asylum seekers are arriving in Europe this year from the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa. Many countries, like the Netherlands, are wary of a European Commission proposal to distribute migrants proportionately across the 28-nation bloc.

Wilders has accused the other parties of committing “cultural suicide” by admitting refugees from Syria’s civil war and advocates leaving the EU altogether to bring back passport controls and call a halt to what he describes as the “Islamization” of Dutch society.

Worries

For most Dutch voters, the Freedom Party leader goes too far. But those who worry about the influx of non-Western immigrants and the effect this will have on Dutch society have nowhere else to turn.

Most parties have distanced themselves from Wilders’ rhetoric with one Labor parliamentarian saying he sounded like a fascist.

Rutte disagreed, arguing that it’s not racist to worry about immigration.

More than 10 percent of the Netherlands’ population is foreign-born. Around 5 percent is of Moroccan or Turkish descent and Muslim.

Government statistics show that first-generation immigrants are far more likely to be on welfare than natives. Their descents, especially among the Dutch Moroccan population, turn up disproportionately in crime figures. 65 percent of young Dutch Moroccans has been a suspect in a crime at least at one point in their lives. A third has been arrested five times or more. Dutch Moroccans are four times more likely to be convicted of a crime than native Dutch.

Values

Surveys also reveal that most Dutch Muslims do not share the country’s otherwise liberal attitudes toward gender equality and homosexuality.

Wilders capitalizes on fears that Muslims will make the Netherlands poorer and less free.

Unlike nationalists elsewhere in Europe, he is a cultural liberal and advocate of gay and women’s rights.

Volatility

Wilders has never got the support of more than one in five Dutch voters.

It is worth pointing out that De Hond’s surveys are volatile. The more reliable Ipsos poll gives Wilders 22 seats. It had his party at 27 in January, when Greeks voted the anti-austerity Syriza party into office and the Euroskeptic leader called for a Dutch exit from the euro. Since April, his party has hovered north of twenty seats in Ipsos’ surveys.

The same company has Labor at fourteen and Rutte’s liberals at 29: the exact same number of seats they started out with this year.

The Socialist Party, which is also mildly Euroskeptic, doesn’t seem to benefit from left-wing voters’ disaffection with Labor. Rather the centrist and pro-European liberal Democrats, who have thirteen seats, are up in the polls. De Hond gives them seventeen seats; Ipsos 23. The party calls for closer European integration and a liberal immigration policy.

The Christian Democrats, who supported Rutte’s first government from 2010 to 2012, are the only party other than Wilders’ that rightwingers can turn to. They are up from thirteen to eighteen seats in the Ipsos poll. But their immigration policy is basically the same as the government’s.

Ruled out

The Freedom Party backed Rutte’s first administration, which tightened the Netherlands’ immigration laws. The informal three-party coalition broke down when Wilders refused to vote for deeper spending cuts in 2012.

The Christian Democrats paid a heavy price for governing with the support of a party many of their voters regarded as xenophobic. They are unlikely to ever work with Wilders again.

With the exception of the liberals and small parties on the right, all have ruled out governing with the nationalists. Even if Wilders were to win a plurality in the next election — due in 2017 — he probably could not find a majority to govern.