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What the election of a far-right party in the Netherlands means for Europe

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Political party in the Netherlands, led by a far-right anti-Muslim candidate, won the most seats in Dutch parliament in this week's elections. The success of Geert Wilders may be one more example of populist candidates who have won support across Europe. Sanne van Oosten is a political scientist at the University of Oxford - joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

SANNE VAN OOSTEN: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Why do you think Geert Wilders' party won so many votes?

VAN OOSTEN: There's multiple reasons for this, and I think the most important reason is that he is the strongest supporter of Israel in Dutch parliament. When he was young, he traveled to Israel, and it's really shaped his ideas. And there's been a lot of pro-Palestinian protests over the last couple of weeks, sit ins, demonstrations. And that's made particularly the electorate of Geert Wilders very angry.

SIMON: What about the immigration issue? What are the concerns that many voters in the Netherlands have about immigration that led so many to support Geert Wilders' party?

VAN OOSTEN: Yeah. So immigration has been an issue for voters for a long time. There are refugees in the Netherlands. There are labor migrants. And in the last year there's been a lot more immigration to the Netherlands because of the war in Ukraine. Refugees from Ukraine are generally very much liked. People want to help them. They get very different treatment than refugees from, say, Syria. It's an in-group/out-group problem. You can also say it's because there aren't enough jobs, or more relevantly right now, there aren't enough houses. So housing is a big issue. And people say, well, I mean, I don't - I can't find a house. My kids can't find a house. Why do these immigrants just get houses? - which isn't really exactly what's going on. People haven't been building enough houses in the last couple of years, which is why people can't find houses.

But there's also a more norm-based explanation to this. For years and years, politicians in the Netherlands have had a homonationalist (ph) agenda. In 2002, there was a Dutch politician called Pim Fortuyn. He would really say things like, I'm against Muslims because they are against gay people. He himself was gay. And Geert Wilders really took over this agenda and really saw how well it worked. The Netherlands is very proud of being the first country in the world to allow same sex marriage. So by saying, oh, they are threatening our liberal - sexual liberal values, that can be seen as a very civil way of putting Muslims in a bad light.

SIMON: The Netherlands has been known for advances in climate policies in recent years. Would a Wilders-led party reverse that?

VAN OOSTEN: Yeah, that's very well possible. The last climate minister put a lot of climate policies in place, and Geert Wilders' party program is full of - no more money to climate policies. We like meat, and we don't want to stop eating meat. We want to drive our cars. And we really don't want to support climate crazies, as he likes to call them.

SIMON: Geert Wilders has said he wants to take the Netherlands out of the European Union. Is that possible?

VAN OOSTEN: I don't know whether that's possible or whether that will actually happen. But Cameron promised to hold a Brexit referendum in 2013. Wilders has been calling for an exit long before that. In June of 2005, there was a referendum for the European Constitution in the Netherlands, and he ran the no campaign for that referendum.

SIMON: Why?

VAN OOSTEN: I mean, he's been the leader of Euroscepticism. I think it really fits his nationalist agenda. They don't like immigrants coming in, but they also don't like other powers or other countries telling us what to do. They also don't like change. And the world is becoming more globalized, and it's very typical for a populist, radical right party to resist against globalization.

SIMON: Is it correct to see the rise of Geert Wilders' party in these elections as being, I guess, on the same level as the gains other right-wing populist parties have made? I mean, it occurs to me, as you talk to us, to have a pro-gay rights agenda wouldn't fit anybody's identification of a pro-right party in most places.

VAN OOSTEN: Yeah, yeah. I think the Netherlands is a little bit unique in that, but it's also really been spreading. So even the AfD in Germany has mentioned gay rights. Le Pen in France also is taking on this homonationalist agenda. And what Geert Wilders is also doing - he's also taking on a femonationalist (ph) agenda, and that's a very well-known agenda also in the U.S. I mean, at the times of the war in Afghanistan, a lot of the justification for that was to save women and just to help women's rights. Geert Wilders also does that. He also says, I'm standing up for women's rights. And it's really used strategically because he doesn't care about gender equality, but he does care about it if he can strategically instrumentalize it against Muslims. So I think that he was elected mostly because of his anti-Muslim hate propagated through politics of racist scapegoating. I mean, this is something that he particularly does, but this has also been visible throughout Europe for decades already.

SIMON: Sanne van Oosten is a political scientist at the University of Oxford. Thank you so much for being with us.

VAN OOSTEN: You're welcome.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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