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The Daily Telegraph (Section News) - 17 March 2017


The Dutch election result does not buck the rise of populism, but confirms it

None of this should provide too much comfort as the French presidential election approaches  

Analyis by Peter Foster, Europe editor, on location in Amsterdam

‘The outpouring of relief from the European political establishment that Geert Wilders did not come first in the Dutch general election is a clear measure of current anxiety levels among the continent’s ruling elite.  

The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the European Union institutions all rushed for their secure phone lines (and then Twitter) to congratulate Mark Rutte and the Dutch people for holding back the populist tide.  

They declared a victory for tolerance and optimism, but the reality for the European project is far messier, and the “victory” far more pyrrhic, than those celebrations would have you believe.  

To be sure Mr Wilders, an unabashed xenophobe who used the phrase “Moroccan scum” at one point in the campaign, had a disappointing night, but he still managed to secure 13 per cent of the vote. His Party for Freedom is now the second largest in the 150-seat Dutch parliament.  

Mr Rutte, bolstered by his recent handling of the diplomatic spat with Turkey, won just over 21 per cent of the vote, giving him 13 more seats than Mr Wilders. That is a clear win, yes, but by no means a rout – and certainly not the end of the populist advancement.  

This is particularly so when you consider that Mr Wilders does not represent the entirety of anti-immigration sentiment. Smaller parties like the Forum for Democracy, as well as the mainstream centre-right parties, all played the identity card to some degree.The anti-immigrant consensus on the Right of Dutch politics, represented by the three largest parties, commanded 45 per cent.  

None of this should provide too much comfort in Brussels and Berlin as the first round of the French presidential election approaches next month, with more than a quarter of French voters poised to vote for Marine Le Pen and her far-Right Front National.  

Which brings us to the wider point – populism is not going away in Europe, even if its talismans do not win the highest offices, as Donald Trump did. The major factors that drive populism – weak wage growth, high youth unemployment, growing immigration pressures, technological disruption – are here to stay.  

The Dutch election was yet another example of how establishment parties are losing their grip on power. These results do not buck the trend, they confirm it.