Mark Rutte (full disclosure: I have had several encounters with Mr. Rutte at various events, notably the 2012 NATO conference in Chicago) has won the Netherlands 2017 elections. His center-right VVD Party has defeated gonzo nationalist leader Geert Wilders. Geert Wilders has been riding high in the recent wave of populist, anti-globalization nationalism sweeping across Europe. Many analysts assumed that just because Brexit happened and Donald Trump won the American presidency, Wilders must have been poised to win. But, it would seem that this was not to be.
As Reuters has reported, Wilders’ Right-wing party, Party for Freedom (PVV) was in a three-way tie with the Christian Democrats and the centrist Democrats. Not unlike the 1992 American presidential election which saw a three-way race between presumptive winner, President George H.W. Bush, upstart Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton, and feisty populist, Ross Perot, the battle between Rutte’s center-right VVD Party and Wilders’ party was not a straight-up battle between Rutte and Wilders. Had it been, it would have been far closer, I suspect. Although, it is important to note that Wilders is likely to continue being a staunch opposition leader against Rutte. In fact, Rutte’s victory is likely a temporary pause rather than a complete reversal of the nationalist wave sweeping through Europe.
Besides, keep in mind, that Rutte’s party actually lost 11 seats in the parliament. Since 2012, Rutte’s VVD Party has been losing overall in the Netherlands. So, while there is little doubt that nothing creates success like success, if I were Rutte and the members of other “mainstream” political parties throughout Europe, I would not be relieved.
Rutte’s win was a form of an October Surprise, as we refer to it in the U.S. The recent contretremps between Mark Rutte and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan gave Rutte and his VVD Party the perfect ammunition to post a last-minute electoral victory in the 2017 elections. You see, the Netherlands have been among some of the European states hardest hit by the ceaseless flow of Muslim immigration into Europe, thanks to the chaos savaging the Muslim world as well as the European Union’s open borders policy. The reason that Wilders has seen an upsurge in his popularity is because he has been so famously associated with anti-Islamic sentiments from the Dutch Right.
Yet, the spat earlier in the week between Rutte’s government and Erdogan’s overtly Islamist government in Turkey allowed for Rutte to triangulate some of that anti-Islamic sentiment among the Dutch voters that would have otherwise gone to Wilders and his party. It was a brilliant political maneuver on the part of Rutte and his VVD Party. It likely prevented a defeat at the hands of Wilders and the other two center-Left political parties vying for dominance in the Dutch elections.
However, this is not the end of either Geert Wilders or his party. As I noted above, Wilders’ political fortunes are still on the rise. While this has been a short-term setback for the Dutch Right-wing nationalists, it is not the end. They are slated to gain significant seats in parliament and, from that position, Wilders and his allies will chip away at the VVD’s ability to govern over the next few years. This is actually not unlike what’s going on in Germany with the Alternativ für Deutschland. While Angela Merkel’s center-Right Christian Democrats retain the majority, the AfD is slowly but surely gobbling up more and more seats, the longer that the refugee crisis and the European economic crisis continue, unabated.
Essentially, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The underlying trends that are driving European politics apart are not going away any time soon. Indeed, the Netherlands are on the front lines of the refugee crisis. Also, since the northern European countries are the prosperous states of the European Union (compared to their debt-laden southern friends), the Netherlands are among the states most affected by the economic failings of the EU’s southern periphery.
While it is certainly true that Wilders’ party has lost seats overall since 2010, the fact is that they have gained more since 2012. And, the situation in 2017 (and onward) will look drastically different to Dutch voters than it did in 2010, as the aforementioned economic and immigration crises get worse. As I have noted, decreasing fertility rates among the native born European populations (particularly in Western Europe) are the real drivers of all of this instability. And, considering that overall European social patterns remain unchanged, it is likely that things will continue to get worse on the continent.
If the real concern is European unification, I’d look less to the Netherlands and more to Germany. I understand that the conventional wisdom is to pay attention to France, but the real driver of the EU is Germany. Whichever way Germany goes over the next decade will determine where the rest of the EU goes. Indeed, if the AfD continues to slowly gain electoral victories, European disunion is increasingly likely.
As for France: Marine La Pen and the National Front Party are slated to win. François Fillon and the Republicans are damaged following the recent revelations of Fillon’s misdeeds. Furthermore, the French electoral system is a bit trickier than your average parliamentarian system. It will take a series of votes to determine the next French President, and the kind of backroom politicking that occurs in between those rounds of votes will be pivotal to determining France’s future.
In my final assessment: if one wants to credit Rutte’s victory to anyone in particular, they should probably credit it to Turkey. It is likely that had it not been for the row between the Netherlands and Turkey, Rutte’s victory would have been if not entirely negated, seriously diminished. Plus, the divided nature of Dutch politics implies that the deck was always stacked against Wilders having a decisive victory.
Western observers belonging to the globalist camp should not soothe themselves too quickly: things are going to get far more turbulent in Europe before they get better. And, with the Russian bear poking on the eastern periphery on top of everything else, don’t fool yourselves, European unity is a superficial relic. Much like the Hanseatic League of the Late Middle Ages, the EU is being challenged by rival centers of power, immigration, all the meanwhile its members are beginning to place their individual interests over the whole.
Rather than being the end of a momentary populist wave in Europe, Rutte’s electoral victory is the last gasp of the European establishment. It will be momentary and it will not stop the fundamental changes ripping Europe apart. If anything, this victory is going to complicate the European peoples’ attempts to save themselves.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees: European nationalism is only getting started. The EU is simply an entity that runs counter to the European historical experience.