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Dutch Elections: Wait a Minute (Before Opening the Champagne)

Europe

The victory of the incumbent prime minister’s Liberal Party in the Dutch general election has sparked sighs of relief across Europe. But it is way too early to celebrate.

Politicians and the general public across Europe are celebrating the outcome of the Dutch general election, which saw the Liberal Party (VVD) led by incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte win and Geert Wilders’ PVV (which for many months led in the polls) defeated. This result has been widely interpreted as the traditional parties’ ability to defeat rising populism and re-affirm The Netherlands’ determination (and, by extension that of core European countries) to remain in an open, free and liberal Union.

There are definitely positive aspects to be highlighted in the Dutch election result, such as the advancement of the pro-European Greens led by the young and charismatic Jesse Klaver and even openly anti-racists parties (such as DENK) fared well at the polls. At the same time, excessive celebrations seem premature.

Figure 1: The Liberals may be the leading party, but the populists came in second
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Source: Netherlands Electoral Council

In fact, there are several reasons for concern: 1) The Liberal party ended up in first position, but Wilders’ party came second and ahead of a number of traditional parties (Figure 1); 2) Rutte’s VVD lost more than 20% of its votes (-5%) and a very large number of seats, while the PVV gained on both counts (Figure 2); 3) the latest ally in the grand coalition government, the Labour Party, collapsed in terms of votes and seats, resulting in further fragmentation of Dutch parliamentary representation; 4) Rutte will have to form an alliance with at least other two parties (CDA and D66) only to lead a minority coalition government, which will have to find other support in parliament to pass important legislation. Should this result in parliamentary paralysis, it will be easy for Wilders to point a finger at the mistakes and inefficiencies of traditional parties; 5) Rutte only emerged victorious after the very tough exchange with Turkish President Erdogan (who labelled Dutch politicians as Nazis), following Wilders’ example and instigations.

Figure 2: The Labour party virtually disappeared and Rutte will have hard time forming a (minority) government
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Source: Netherlands Electoral Council

Unfortunately, the Dutch elections seem to confirm an established trend involving the reinforcement of populist parties and their ability to condition the policies and positions of mainstream parties. This does not bode well for the upcoming French elections. As suggested in our recent analysis, this 2016-17 electoral cycle is unlikely to be the one in which the European Union collapses. However, the 2021-22 electoral cycle could be, especially if traditional parties do not learn the lessons imparted by ongoing elections.