As the Dutch Election results poured in, liberals cheered as the controversial far-right candidate, Geert Wilders, was forced into second place. Many have since regarded that the brief frenzy of populism that took hold in 2016, is surely coming to an end.
They are wrong.
While Wilders was unable to win the election, his party, the PVV, did make substantial gains and are now the largest party in the House of Representatives. Considering the party was founded less than two decades ago, the significance of this achievement cannot be understated.
It is firstly worth remembering that the Dutch are a naturally liberal people. The Amsterdam culture sweeps much of the country, so a far-right populist leader is unlikely to be as popular as Nigel Farage in the UK.
But it would be deeply simplistic to suggest that because on this occasion, populism ran out in second place, that the movement flowing through European politics is at an end. The sentiment of anti-immigration rhetoric of Wilders’s campaign forced Prime Minister Mark Rutte to shift his policy towards the right. Furthermore, the eurosceptic fire that Wilders has stoked will continue to burn.
As the EU continues in crisis, is the possibility of ‘Nexit’ on the cards? Personally, I prefer ‘Netherend’.
As the French and German elections draw closer, there is still much to play for as far as the populists are concerned. Although her poll numbers are stagnant, Marine Le Pen still has the chance at the French Presidency.
If she were to win, a stanchly anti-european politician, the possibility of a French exit from the EU, at the least from the Eurozone, could become a reality. Even if she only makes it to the run off, likely facing off to Emmanuel Macron, the fact that a far-right candidate has reached that stage demonstrates the transformation of the European political conversation.
Those who still believe that voting for populism is merely a ‘protest’ are misunderstanding the electorate. Of course, it is a rejection against the status quo, especially the left-wing culture that has governed much of Europe, but the idea of the populist vote extends beyond this.
There is a genuine belief among some voters that these ideas, such as Marine Le Pen’s Hijab Ban, or even Trump’s travel restrictions, are the correct policies going forward. If the wave of populism is to die, Europe’s politicians must awaken from their trance. They have sleepwalked through governing over the last decade, the electorate are giving a noisy awakening.
As the European Union prepares for the year that could determine its survival, one is reminded of an infamous quote from war time.
“It’ll all be over by Christmas.”