Far-right populist Geert Wilderswants to be the Netherlands’ next prime minister and would focus his efforts on curbing immigration, he said following a landmark election winthat will have repercussions in the Netherlands and Europe.
A fan of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Hungary’s eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the vocally anti-Islam, anti-EU Wilders has also vowed to slash Dutch payments to the European Union and block the entrance of any new members, including Ukraine.
Though Wilders’ most radical ideas will be rejected by other parties he must work with in order to form a coalition government, fellow populists including Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the hard-right League Matteo Salvini welcomed his win as showing that “a new Europe is possible.”
Beating all predictions, Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) won 37 seats out of 150on Wednesday, well ahead of 25 for a joint Labour/Green ticket and 24 for the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Wilders told Dutch media on Thursday he wanted to be prime minister and that he was in favour of a referendum on whether the Netherlands should leave the EU.
“But the first thing is a significant restriction on asylum and immigration,” Wilders said. “We don’t do that for ourselves, we do that for all Dutch people who voted for us”.
While his party will claim almost a quarter of seats in parliament, Wilders needs mainstream parties to join him in a coalition to govern and will have to water down some of his views.
Notably, none of the parties Wilders could form a government with would be willing to leave the EU or violate Dutch constitutional guarantees on freedom of religion, but he said he was confident an agreement could be reached.
A coalition of the Freedom Party, VVD, and the NSC party of centrist lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt would have 81 seats combined, making it the most obvious combination. Coalition talks are expected to take months as both VVD and NSC leaders have expressed reservations about working with Wilders.
Wilders’ win sends a warning shot to mainstream parties across Europe ahead of the European Parliament elections next June, which will likely be fought on the same issues as the Dutch election: immigration, cost of living and climate change.
“We had it with the old politicians,” voter Herman Borcher said in the eastern town of Enschede, welcoming the election outcome.
“The Netherlands needed change,” voter Sabine Schoppen agreed, adding with a smile: “Rutte bye bye. Welcome Geert Wilders.”
Poland’s election last month, won by a grouping of pro-European parties against the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), shows not all countries in the region are veering to the right.
“The Netherlands are not France,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire quickly reacted, while acknowledging that the Dutch election showed “the fears that are emerging in Europe” over immigration and the economy.
But Wilders’ victory comes two months after the return to power of the equally anti-EU populist Robert Fico in Slovakia, who has pledged to halt military aid to Ukraine and cut immigration.
“The winds of change are here!,” Hungary’s Orban said.
Wilders has repeatedly said the Netherlands should stop providing arms to Ukraine, as he says the country needs the weapons to be able to defend itself. He is strongly pro-Israel.
Islamic and Moroccan organisations, and other rights groups, expressed concerns about Wilders’ victory. Muslims make up about 5% of the population.
“These election results are shocking for Dutch Muslims,” said Muhsin Koktas, of Dutch Muslim organisation CMO. “We have great concerns about the future of Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands.”
Amnesty International said: “Yesterday, human rights lost.”
All eyes will now turn to Wilders’ potential government partners who had expressed serious doubts about working with him during the campaign, but were now less outspoken after his win.
“We are available to govern,” NSC party’s Omtzigt said. “This is a difficult outcome. We will discuss on Thursday in what way we could best contribute.”
VVD leader Dilan Yesilgoz, who earlier this week said her party wouldn’t join a government led by Wilders, said it was now up to the winner to show he could get a majority.
On Friday, party leaders will meet to decide on an ‘explorer’, a political outsider who will hear from each party what possibilities they see and prefer in coalition talks.