German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault both rushed early Thursday to offer their congratulations to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who held onto office even though he lost almost a fifth of his seats in parliament.
The move came after the far-right Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders, fell short in the Netherlands general election.
Even though his party won a handful more seats than in 2012, the result is a blow for Wilders, who had been leading polls for much of 2016.
Following last year’s shock Brexit vote, and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States presidential polls, the Dutch general elections are seen as a litmus test of the strength of far-right and populist parties ahead of other ballots in Europe this year. 50Plus leader Henk Krol, expected to win 10 seats, wrote in an opinion piece that Freedom Party voters shouldn’t be excluded beforehand, because “everyone will understand what impression that will leave and how the Freedom Party can grow stronger from this”.
Ahead of the vote, all the mainstream parties ruled out working with Wilders, who wants to close all mosques, ban the Quran and seal the Netherlands’ borders to asylum seekers and immigrants from Islamic countries.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the victory of Rutte’s party, saying: “It was a good day for democracy”. “Rutte is not rid of me yet!”
This was a poor result for Wilders because, given the momentum of populism in Europe at the moment, if this is the best he can do – it’s not good enough. The initial fear was that the British vote for “Brexit” and the American vote for Donald Trump would trigger a wave throughout Europe in the direction of far-right, anti-immigrant political parties.
PVV leader Geert Wilders thanked the people who voted for him on Twitter shortly after the result of the exit polls was revealed.
“But I’m afraid it’s going to be very fragmented and hard to form a government”, he told AFP.
Rutte will now be tasked with pulling together a coalition from among the 150 seats in the Dutch Parliament.
While a populist surge is still possible in the Dutch ballot, a host of other parties could also do well, leaving Dutch politics fragmented, the BBC reports.
With Wilders likely to end up the largest party in opposition, more clashes are also forecast, such as with rising young green-left star Jesse Klaver, whose GroenLinks party upped their seats from four to 14.
The results were seen as a setback for European populist movements that strengthened after a migrant crisis hit many countries.
Rutte and his ruling Liberal Party are among the 13 parties that hope to win seats and set the national agenda by either picking a leader outright or forming a coalition government.
But the takeaway for establishment governments across the European Union is a clear message: the electorate, in the Netherlands at least, still believes a form of liberal democracy trumps populist nationalist politics.
A few weeks before the French presidential elections, France breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday after the Dutch general election victory of the center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte. In the second-round [where there will be a binary choice between two candidates] we will see people choose another candidate over [the French National leader Marine Le Pen]. Instead they opted for one of the other, smaller parties.