What a far-right surge in the Netherlands means for Europe

A solid bloc of Eurosceptic parties in power is cause for concern.

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The Netherlands is yet another European state to have swung to the right after the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) won the largest number of seats in the national elections on Wednesday.

After Victor Orban’s long-standing reign in Hungary, far-right Giorgia Meloni took the lead in Italy, and Robert Fico’s pro-Putin party won Slovakia’s election, there is now a solid bloc of Eurosceptic leaning parties in power in Europe.

While each party has their agenda and they certainly do not hold monolithic views, the resurgence of the democratically-elected far-right in Europe is reason for concern.

Contentious issue of migration

To understand what drove Dutch voters to the Freedom Party, one only has to look at what brought the last Rutte-led government down. After 13 years, Mark Rutte resigned as prime minister and VVD party leader and subsequently brought the government down over discussions on how to reduce migration.

To understand what drove Dutch voters to the Freedom Party, one only has to look at what brought the last Rutte-led government down.

Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has consistently had the same message on migration since leaving the VVD in 2006 to found his party. This has gone hand-in-hand with his inflammatory anti-Islam rhetoric and a strong anti-EU sentiment having advocated for a so-called ‘Nexit’ since 2016.

Until this election campaign, the other main parties had vowed not to work with the Freedom Party because of Wilder’s outspoken views. In a parliament which requires 76 seats to obtain a majority and therefore cross-party coalitions to achieve this, the VVD made a critical error during this election campaign. It changed position and considered working with the Freedom Party. For voters, this signalled the Freedom Party’s newfound legitimacy in the political landscape and any votes for the Freedom Party were no longer lost.

Possibilities for coalition

As the largest party, the Freedom Party now has the right to begin exploring options to form a government. The VVD has changed its position and said it will not govern as part of a coalition, but may still prop up a right-wing cabinet on a case-by-case basis. This makes a majority coalition government unlikely.

Coalition formation often takes a long time in the Netherlands, and it will not be different with this election.

Newcomer centre-right New Social Contract, NSC, became the fourth largest party, and together with the right-wing Farmer’s Party, the BBB, the Freedom Party could look at forming a minority coalition. As the BBB is the largest party in the Senate, adding them to the coalition would make it easier to pass legislation in the Senate at least. Coalition formation often takes a long time in the Netherlands, and it will not be different with this election.

Since 2012, Dutch governments have consisted of coalitions across the political spectrum. Now, there is a possibility the Netherlands might have a right-wing bloc as a government – a formation the majority of voters support.

In coalitions which brought together left and right-wing parties, they had to seek compromise across significant political divides such as migration, housing and healthcare to form a government. Ultimately, these were consensus-building exercises representing a majority of Dutch voters. The last time a right-wing bloc held government, the first Rutte Cabinet, it fell after two years because the Freedom Party withdrew its support.

If – and it remains an ‘if’ at this stage – the Netherlands will again have a right-wing bloc as a government, it is bad news for Europe and Dutch engagement abroad generally. As the gaps in policy positions between these four parties on issues like migration are much smaller than with left-wing parties, there might be less likelihood of internal fighting and government collapse over this particular subject. The Freedom Party, NSC and BBB are also united in their Euroscepticism.

The alliance of the Green Party and the Labour Party – which went on the ballot as a joint party led by former European Commissioner Frans Timmermans – increased their combined share of seats. As the largest opposition party, together with the liberal party D66, their role will be even more important.

Impact on Dutch support for Ukraine

Regardless of who will actually become the next Dutch prime minister, a majority of seats for the Freedom Party is bad news for Ukraine. The Freedom Party wants to halt military and financial support for Ukraine. It does not support the EU’s sanctions on Russia. EU accession – the EU’s main security guarantee for Ukraine – is rejected by both the PVV and the NSC.

Regardless of who will actually become the next Dutch prime minister, a majority of seats for the Freedom Party is bad news for Ukraine.

This matters, because maintaining support for Ukraine will be going into a crunch period and ensuring the EU continues to provide this will be a pivotal election outcome. US support for Ukraine might wane. There is the possibility of a Republican return to the White House in next year’s US elections, and their rhetoric has been to reduce or end support for Ukraine.

Negotiations over US support for Ukraine cont.

Even if the Democrats were to hold onto the presidency, negotiations over the latest support package for Ukraine and the threat of a government shutdown show this is becoming increasingly contentious, particularly in the context of American support for Israel at the time.

The votes for the Freedom Party in the Netherlands signal the continuation of the far-right gaining a foothold in European politics, and will further endanger the EU’s unified position vis-a-vis Ukraine. There are further national elections in EU member states in 2024, as well as the European Parliamentary elections.

Already, four EU member states have right-wing parties in power. It will become increasingly difficult to negotiate support packages for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia among member states, and pass these through the European Parliament. The longer-term prospect of Ukrainian accession to the EU may also be at risk.

The EU has overtaken the US and is currently the largest military and financial supporter to Ukraine. The outcome of the Dutch elections may soon change this.