Little to Celebrate in the Dutch Elections
It says something about the state of European politics that the Dutch election results are widely seen as cause for celebration. Geert Wilders -- a far-right populist who makes Donald Trump look like a cautious centrist -- did worse than expected. But he was by no means crushed, and the anger Wilders and his ilk are channeling is still there.
In due course Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be able to form a new coalition government. (These things take time in the Netherlands.) But his center-right party has lost seats and had to tack to the populist right to avoid a worse result. "Crushed" is the only word for what happened to Rutte's Labor coalition partner: It will have nine seats in the new 150-member parliament, down from 38. Wilders's PVV party increased its tally of seats from 15 to 20.
In a splintered parliamentary system with many small parties, it won't be hard to exclude the PVV from the new coalition government -- but this was no shattering defeat for the far-right.
And consider what it took to contain the threat. Rutte had to toughen his language (if not his policy) on immigration -- "behave normally or leave," he told migrants in a letter published in January in Dutch newspapers. Rutte's standing up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late in the campaign probably also helped his cause.
More encouraging is that the Netherlands, unlike the U.K., shows little interest in quitting the European Union. On the whole, strongly pro-EU parties did well in the election (often at Labor's expense), and Wilders's fervid opposition to the EU may actually have held him back. There's plenty of euroskepticism in the Netherlands, but it's mostly loyal dissent: The Dutch are in no hurry to follow the U.K. out.
Immigration remains the most troublesome issue. The Netherlands used to stand as a model for multiculturalism, but no longer. Like many other EU countries, the Netherlands has failed to assimilate its immigrants.
It can be argued that this is partly by design -- it's what multiculturalism means. If the sentiments driving far-right populism are to be defeated, however, assimilation will have to take precedence. Education, language training and housing policy must be recruited to the cause. Making it easier for migrants to find work -- the Dutch record on this is especially poor -- is crucial.
It's encouraging that Wilders didn't do better. But he and his allies aren't going away.
--Editors: Clive Crook, Therese Raphael, Michael Newman
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