Shifting tides in European politics: the rise of the ‘Dutch Trump’

By Jessica BROBALD – Managing Director | Brussels, European Union

As the European Elections loom just a few months away, the result of the recent elections in the Netherlands sent shockwaves across the European Union.
Despite optimistic developments in Poland, it is evident that no EU Member State is immune to the rising tide of nationalism and extremist ideologies – not even those historically seen as progressive bastions of democracy.

A shock victory for the far-right

In a striking turn of events, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) clinched 37 seats out of 150 in the Dutch Lower House, garnering 23% of the vote. This surge propels the party to the forefront of Dutch politics for the first time, surpassing both the liberal VVD and the nascent Labour-Green Alliance led by former European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. This shift toward populism raises pressing questions: what are the implications of this political landscape change for the EU, especially in the context of the forthcoming elections? And more importantly, what does this mean for the future of European unity and policy-making?

Tapping into voters’ fears

Geert Wilders’ recent electoral success in the Netherlands is largely attributed to his party’s focus on four critical issues: migration, social inequalities, housing, and healthcare. These topics have gained immense significance against the backdrop of the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, which have triggered substantial migration flows into Europe. This influx has exerted considerable pressure on EU democracies, challenging them to accommodate these new arrivals with housing and support amidst soaring energy prices and growing hardships faced by their own citizens in maintaining their living standards. In this complex scenario, the ruling VVD party appears to have lost traction with voters. Similarly, Frans Timmermans’ emphasis on environmental concerns, while significant, has seemingly failed to strike a chord with the Dutch electorate. Unless traditional parties are able to respond to their citizens’ immediate concerns, this trend could be reproduced in the upcoming EU elections.

Election victory sparks coalition chaos

The unfolding political landscape in the Netherlands, with the PVV’s recent triumph, has set the stage for complex coalition negotiations. While the PVV, under Geert Wilders, eagerly anticipates leading the government, the path to forming a viable coalition remains challenging. Prospective partners include the centre-right New Social Contract (NSC) and the conservative farmers’ party, BBB. However, even with these alliances, Wilders would need additional support, potentially from the liberal VVD, to secure a majority. Should these efforts falter, Frans Timmermans’ Labour-Green Alliance might seize the opportunity to form a government. Yet, this would require the collaboration of four or five partners, a scenario which would be prone to internal divisions and subject to constant scrutiny from the PVV. This political fragility could trigger yet another round of snap elections, further destabilising the Dutch political arena.

A new member of the European populist leaders’ club

On a broader European scale, the rise of Wilders could alter the power dynamics in the European Council. Joining forces with other populist leaders like Slovakia’s Fico, Italy’s Meloni, and Hungary’s Orban, Wilders’ potential influence in the Council could reshape the EU’s stance on critical issues. Key policies under threat include reduced aid to Ukraine, opposition to increasing the EU budget, and a harder line in handling the migration crisis. Moreover, the PVV’s climate-sceptical agenda could undermine the Netherlands’ commitment to the Green Deal and weaken the EU’s position in global climate negotiations.

Shaking up the traditional balance of power in the European Parliament

As the European Elections draw near, the recent Dutch elections reveal a challenging landscape for traditional and progressive narratives alike and confirm the loss of traction of traditional political groups. Post-European elections, attention may need to shift to the right of the EPP (the centre-right political group that currently holds a majority in the European Parliament) to monitor how populist groups reorganise, potentially forming new political groups and impacting the potential coalitions in the Parliament.

Practically speaking, if this trend continues, we could see a significant increase in leadership roles, speaking opportunities, and rapporteur positions on key issues being allocated to Eurosceptic and populist members in the Parliament, which could undermine EU ambitions and stall progress on key legislative files. However, the full extent of these changes will only become clear next year, making it a critical period to observe for future EU policymaking dynamics.

The European Elections will be more than a litmus test for political trends; they will be a decisive factor in shaping the trajectory of the European Union in an increasingly complex and dynamic world.