Going into today’s election in the Netherlands, the big story was Geert Wilders. Wilders, a far-right, anti-Islam figure who lives under 24/7 police protection, ran for prime minister as head of the Party for Freedom, or PVV, which he founded in 2006. The PVV has had a major impact during its short lifespan: As the Washington Post explained, “It was the third-most-popular party in the Netherlands after the 2010 election, and it agreed to support the minority government. It remained the third-largest party after the 2012 election, although it did not support the government. Polls have suggested that it could win the largest share of votes in this year’s election.” Polls also suggested a tight race for PM between Wilders and current prime minister Mark Rutte, of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD.
But based on the first round of exit polling, the election was a setback for Wilders and the PVV. The AP reports that “Wilders had an unexpectedly poor showing … finishing far behind Prime Minister Mark Rutte.” Things weren’t much better for the PVV at the parliamentary level: “The main exit poll showed Rutte controlling 31 seats, and three parties each winning 19 — the pro-EU center party D66, the Christian Democrat CDA, and the Party for Freedom of anti-Islam nationalist Geert Wilders.”
This will be welcome news for anyone in favor of a strong EU, opposed to anti-Muslim policies, or both. Wilders, after all, has built a reputation as one of the most virulent anti-Muslim politicians in Europe. The BBC’s 2010 article “In quotes: Geert Wilders” gives a sense of the sort of politician he is, and the sorts of beliefs he would have brought to his role as PM of the Netherlands. “Islam is not a religion, it’s an ideology, the ideology of a retarded culture,” he said at one point. “I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture, ideology. Not with Muslim people.” On another occasion, he explained that “the Koran is a fascist book which incites violence. That is why this book, just like [Adolf Hitler’s] Mein Kampf, must be banned.” In fact, Wilders has expressed a desire to “ban all Islamic symbols, mosques, and the Koran from the country,” as the Independent put it.
Not surprisingly, there are links between Wilders and Steve Bannon, the head of the Trump administration’s “counter-jihad” wing — the group of people, including Sebastian Gorka, who believe Islam is a threat to the world and buy into some of the more overheated conspiracy theories about it. When Bannon was executive editor at Breitbart, the site regularly ran opinion pieces by Wilders — “Let’s Lock the Door to Islam” should give you an idea of their flavor. More broadly, there’s ideological affinity between Bannon and Wilders stemming from their mutual dislike for the EU; another one of Wilders’s Breitbart columns was headlined “Britain Is the Brexit Pioneer and Others Will Follow.” Bannon has exhibited a desire to help spread far-right, anti-EU nationalism across the European continent, and having Wilders as PM of an important EU state would have helped toward that goal.
Now, as the Washington Post pointed out a few days ago, this election is about a lot more than just Wilders: The Netherlands has an increasingly complicated and fragmented political system, and it’s becoming harder and harder to form governments. The country’s far-right elements, meanwhile, aren’t going anywhere, and will remain an influential force. But still, Wilders’s defeat will bring a sigh of relief from the many people worried about the current trajectory of the EU.
That’s why some people are already celebrating on Twitter: