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  • Maddie Small

The 2023 Dutch General Election: An Uncertain Future for the Netherlands and the EU

Madelyn Small is a 2nd year Politics, Sociology and Eastern European Studies student with an interest in human rights, law, politics, international relations and diplomacy.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, at an election party in The Hague on Nov. 22, 2023. PHOTO: Yves Herman-Reuters.

Mark Rutte, former Dutch Prime Minister, announced his departure from politics after 13 years in office, plunging the Netherlands into an unexpected general election two years early. This past Wednesday (November 22), Dutch citizens went to the polls and to much surprise, Geert Wilders was crowned victor as the leader of the largest parliamentary party.

Wilders’ victory has sparked controversy and set off international headlines, however, he must first form a coalition to become Prime Minister, leaving the future of the Netherlands up in the air.

Who is Geert Wilders?

Dubbed ‘Dutch Trump’ - partly for his hairdo and partly for his controversial rhetoric - 60-year-old Geert Wilders has been a fixture in Dutch politics for decades.

He began his career in Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), but later founded his right-wing populist party in 2006, known as the Freedom Party (PVV).

Wilders has consistently preached extremist views and is under 24-hour security protection due to frequent threats to his life. He once said he could no longer imagine what it was like to walk along a street by himself.

In 2020, he was found guilty of insult charges for comments he made about Morrocan immigrants, but no penalty was imposed.

What has he promised?

Similar to Trump’s MAGA and Meloni’s “Italy and the Italians First”, Geert Wilders says he wants to put the Netherlands first; to "give the Netherlands back to the Dutch".

As written in his party’s election manifesto, Wilders thinks the Netherlands “has seriously weakened due to the ongoing asylum tsunami and mass immigration”. He plans to halt all grants of asylum and impose strict limits on immigration, such as the deportation of those with criminal offences.

Wilders has also called for a binding referendum on leaving the European Union and wants the Netherlands to withdraw from international climate obligations. He has also pledged to stop sending aid to Ukraine.

Wilders pushes extreme anti-Islamic views and has called for the shutting down of mosques and the ban of the Koran.

Nevertheless, he stated in his election-night speech that he is willing to compromise in order to secure a coalition agreement, so it remains unclear which of these policies he would be able to implement.

How did he win?

Surging the polls very late in the campaign, nobody expected Wilders to win. Few people considered him a serious candidate, but Dutch voters appear to be attracted to him for a mixture of reasons.

Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius, former PM Mark Rutte’s successor and leader of VVD, helped pave the way for Wilders’ victory when she said she would consider going into a coalition during her campaign. This softened Wilders’ extremist image and ensured Dutch voters viewed him as a viable candidate.

Along with this, Wilders toned down his anti-Islamic rhetoric and instead focused on immigration restrictions during his campaign. Over 40% of voters surveyed before the election believed that too much money was spent on the system of resettling asylum seekers in the country, as well as other financial costs associated with migration. He also promised to address the Dutch housing crisis and health service inadequacies, two issues on Dutch citizens’ minds.

Finally, during debates, he had a much more confident and polished performance compared to his rivals.

What does his victory mean?

Despite being the leader of the largest parliamentary party, Geert Wilders doesn’t have enough seats to form a government on his own. His party is projected to win 35 seats but needs 76 to secure a majority.

Even if he succeeds in forming a coalition and becomes Prime Minister, it is uncertain which of his policies can move forward and therefore, the implications of his leadership remain unclear. Nevertheless, the very prospect of ‘Nexit’ occurring is worrying many. What happens next in the Netherlands will be crucial in determining if the EU survives. As Orban, Hungary’s PM, proclaimed after seeing the election results: “The winds of change are here”.


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