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Geert Wilders’s coalition will disappoint the Right

Happy families? Credit: Getty

May 17, 2024 - 2:30pm

“We are writing history,” said Dutch Right-wing leader Geert Wilders, announcing the new Dutch coalition yesterday. “The PVV [Party for Freedom], my own party, is coming into government, into the centre of power and we are enormously proud of this. At a stroke, we go from being the biggest opposition party to the biggest party of government.”

An experimental Right-wing coalition, for the first time including this radical party in the heart of power, has provoked mixed reactions in the Netherlands — until recently one of the world’s most outward-looking economies.

After winning the largest share of MPs in a shock last-minute swing last November, largely on an “asylum stop” ticket, Wilders bagged 37 of 150 MPs and the first right to attempt a coalition. But it has been a bumpy six-month process to form an uneasy accord with the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the pro-reform New Social Contract (NSC), and the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB).

Three of the four parties have never before been part of government. For the past decade, after his disastrous confidence-and-supply role in a 2010 administration and increasingly inflammatory rhetoric, Wilders was formally excluded as a potential partner by the major Dutch parties.

He still has a criminal record for insulting Dutch Moroccans as a group, while his manifesto contained unconstitutional pledges to ban Islamic schools, mosques and the Qur’an, and hold a referendum on leaving the EU. To achieve any kind of government, Wilders promised to respect the constitution, said he would put his anti-Islam views “on ice”, and symbolically withdrew three law proposals which had effectively been shelved anyway. But this is no ordinary administration, even in a country used to a “polder” model to bridge differences.

The price of cooperation, demanded by Pieter Omtzigt’s NSC, is a new kind of technocratic government. Half of the ministers will be recruited from business. The four party leaders will sit in parliament, heading their own parties. What’s more, although the convention is for the largest parliamentary party’s leader to become prime minister, Wilders did not succeed in winning enough cross-party confidence to take the role. The yet-to-be-announced PM will instead be an appointment.

The agreement reads like a strange hotchpotch of initiatives — many of them already government policy. Like a Jackson Pollock-inspired collective, the four parties have each dripped pledges on the page, and it’s clear who wrote each one. The BBB wants to free farmers from European pollution legislation so they can “earn their crust”. Omtzigt’s pledges for more representative parliament, better scrutiny and more separation from the judiciary read like an academic essay. The VVD has slipped in pro-business measures to reduce taxes and regulation. And Wilders is behind the “strongest ever” asylum policy.

Many PVV voters and farmers seem pleased with the agreement, which promises a two-year “asylum crisis law” with a stop on application processes, “more rudimentary” asylum accommodation, and stronger expulsion measures, plus the reversal of a law to spread applicants across the country and remove refugee priority rights for social housing. Others praised a rule to return 80 mph speed limits to the roads and halve health compulsory excess costs from 2027.

But Wilders’s voters could be disappointed. The theme throughout the coalition is that the government will have to ask Europe for permission — for example, for an opt-out on the migration pact, permission to declare this crisis law, or to change rules around nature and nitrogen-compound pollution from farms and transport. “Brussels will see you coming,” said former EU heavyweight Frans Timmermans, now head of the GreenLeft-Labour alliance. “Honestly, it is not going to happen.”

Wilders is the longest-serving MP in the Netherlands, a highly-skilled strategist capable of communicating in simple terms with a large voting public. It was easy for his populist rhetoric to hook a quarter of a Dutch population disaffected after unpopular Covid lockdowns and a series of government scandals, not to mention suffering a housing and cost-of-living crisis.

His problem may well be that the public skills which make him a consummate opposition politician — sniping from social media, stand-up performances to put down his rivals, using the police service to complain about political enemies — are simply not the tools of a diplomat who must build cross-party alliances. You can’t run a government without them: three-quarters of voters did not vote for Wilders, and this coalition has no Senate majority.

Although he has three convenient partners to blame, Wilders’s true effectiveness as a politician is now on trial. “The Netherlands will be safer, and the sun will shine again,” he said on Thursday morning. “The Netherlands will be ours again.”

But with financial cutbacks ahead, concerns that the proposals will damage the investment climate and exacerbate skilled personnel shortages — leaving the field open for London to take back companies that fled for Amsterdam after Brexit — plus uneasy personal relations in the coalition, a big question remains. Namely: how long before the dark clouds loom?


Senay Boztas is a journalist living in Amsterdam.

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Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

The price of any coalition is some level of disappointment. It is an inevitable tradeoff of such a system like the Netherlands’. When an electoral majority is practically impossible to achieve, finding allies will involve compromises. One key is the principles on which the major party/leader will not budge. Which are those and which are areas where give and take is possible?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

That’s the problem with proportional representation. It leads to endless logjams

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Well, both the proportional system and FPTP have their advantages and disadvantages.
Indeed, coalition governments might result (and often do result) in unwieldy decision-making processes. On the other hand, such coaition governents might come up with solutions that are acceptable for a larger number of citizens.

Rob N
Rob N
1 month ago

And might also make it less likely to have seesaw policies as each new administration pretends to try to enact its policies.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Yes, I also found it strange that the author was so sure about the voters’ disappointment. In Europe, most people are accustomed to having coalition governments and are realistic enough about what could be achieved when a multi-party government is in power.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Coalitions are also good at exposing opportunistic liars like Nick Clegg who said he would “never“ support tuition fees.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

Geert Wilders’s coalition will disappoint the Right

But at least they are making an effort, unlike some political parties elsewhere who talk up their promises and downgrade their deliveries.

Michael Marron
Michael Marron
1 month ago

I wonder why this Turkish writer has articles in the Spectator and UnHerd rubbishing a government that is trying to restrict immigration (and Muslims).
Its a real puzzler.

Graham Bedford
Graham Bedford
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

2nd paragraph and “until recently one of the world’s most outward-looking economies” And there you have the first snipe

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael Marron

I would have thought it was obvious, because it is clear that the entire media and the entire political spectrum from George Galloway on the so-called left to Reform UK on the right support Islamisation in the UK. It is fascinating, if frightening, to watch the manner in which post-Brexit this transformation is being ever more openly pursued. Since the late 90s the current state ideology of multicultural communitarianism promotes this transformation.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 month ago

If the Dutch like being a poor and helpless minority in their own country, then they should not vote for Wilders or his ilk. If they don’t, then they should.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

That could be said equally of the British people, perhaps even more so.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago

European governments have little or no control of policy around immigration, asylum, “human rights” law, farming and the environment. These “competencies” have all been derogated to the EU and the ECHR. It doesn’t matter who you elect as long as you remain part of these bodies.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Once you have delegated authority to the ECHR – who can expand the legal scope of Human Rights law to whatever they (or their EU Commission friends) like – then every area is effectively an EU “competency”.

Philip Pickett
Philip Pickett
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

TGWL. Thank God We Left

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Philip Pickett

Because Britain was not in the Schengen Zone it had total control over migration from outside of the EU. The ECHR is not an EU institution and in any case its court has no power to enforce its judgements. Macron and others often ignore its judgements, particularly on migration and integration issues. In fact the UK quietly opted out of its clauses on Discrimination years ago. These clauses stood in the way of the UK elite’s desire to give special rights to minority ethno-religious “communities” and protected groups.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
1 month ago

Remember Brexit? The Dutch Blob is as big and as powerful as the British Blob. Moreover, country is ruled from Brussels. Hence the quote from that pathological liar Frans Timmermans. That man ate so much foie gras in Maison du Cygne you can serve him as a Christmas goose.

Graff von Frankenheim
Graff von Frankenheim
1 month ago

The coalition hasn’t even started and I am already disappointed. Like hundreds of thousands of Dutch people in recent years, I will most likely emigrate to a more sensible location. Denmark has a strict immigration and asylum policy for which they didn’t seek or need EU approval.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
30 days ago

The value of the euro/dollar is for all pretence and purposes worthless I’ve never seen less value for money. The persistent influx of low skilled migrants to Europe has pushed rents and property prices to unsustainable levels. Some of us win a lot of us suffer.