Netherland’s Populist Rise & Fall

By: Jessica Baker


Over the course of the last few years, there has been what many have seen as a surprising uprising of the far right across the world. To name just a few examples, Brexit (the United Kingdom voting to exit the European Union) occurred when no one thought it would. President Donald Trump was elected when all polls and pundits said that it would not happen. And, prior to March 15 of this year, everyone thought there could be another repeat in the Netherlands with the election of Geert Wilders.

On March 15, 2017, the Netherlands held their election. The Netherlands already had a conservative Prime Minster with Mark Rutte, but he faced a tough competitor from the far right Geert Wilders.[1] Wilders belongs to the Party for Freedom (PVV), which “has risen to become one of the country’s most popular by pushing a strongly anti-immigration and anti-Islam platform, while also criticizing the Netherlands’ membership in the European Union.”[2] Sounds relatively familiar to the platform that Brexit supporters declared, doesn’t it? For the Netherlands, and the rest of the European Union for that matter, Geert Wilders was not the typical candidate; he has had many anti-Islam tirades that have actually landed him in court, and he has argued that the country should shut down all mosques within the country and prevent any further immigration.[3] However, none of this was enough to dissuade his followers, and he quickly gained momentum leading up to the election.[4] The Netherlands, like many other countries in the European Union, had increasing polarization based on their views for both austerity and immigration issues.[5] Leading up to the elections, many thought that Geert Wilders would continue the populist movement that had swept across much of Europe and the United States, but center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte won out, with some suggesting that this could be the end of the far right momentum.[6]

Populism Elections Around the World

The question now that a center-right candidate beat the populist-nationalist candidate is what does this mean for the long term? Has the anti-establishment, anti-European Union, anti-Islam and immigration movement finally begun to waiver? This question is impossible to answer, but an examination of the Netherlands election could provide some insight. Prior to the election, there was the same sentiment that United Kingdom and the United States expressed prior to their own elections, but the outcome came out the other way. Some experts argue that the timing of the Netherlands election led to the opposite result of that of the US and the UK. Because Washington DC was experiencing some serious turmoil immediately following President Trump’s inauguration, some experts are suggesting that that led to Geert Wilders losing his momentum.[7]


Ultimately, however, although Wilders did not come out on top, he still received well over one million votes and the pro-nationalist, far right sentiment still exists. Moving forward, there have been calls for the European Union to find a way to respond to the changing sentiment. One expert said that while the sentiment may not have won out this election, Geert Wilder’s popularity, as well as that of other far-right leaders send a clear message to the European Union that reforms are necessary if it is to maintain its authority and organization.[8]

Turning to Future European Union Elections

While the Netherland’s elections to did not follow the recent trend of the pro-nationalist, far-right party winning the election, there still appears to be sentiment suggesting that many Europeans still hold these beliefs and will vote accordingly. Within the next month, France will hold its own election, while Germany will vote in September on a new leader. There is no indication of how, if at all, the Netherland’s election will impact those country’s elections. However, as the impact and the consequences play out of the election of the far right Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, and now the Netherlands’ reelection of their center-right Prime Minister, these elections are sure to have a roll in how future European Union elections end.


[1] Dutch Elections: Populism on the Rise?, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN, available at

[2] Dutch Elections and the Future of the EU, Council on Foreign Relations, available at

[3] Dutch Elections: Populism on the Rise?, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN, available at

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Dutch Election: end of the domino effect?, Euro News, available at

[7] Dutch Elections: Populism on the Rise?, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN, available at

[8] Dutch Elections and the Future of the EU, Council on Foreign Relations, available at