As Europe faces more political tension as a result of the ongoing migrant crisis, radical Islamic terror attacks, and the oligarchic bureaucracy of the European Union, conservative populist parties continue to win the support of the electorate in various nations on the continent. Next month, a pivotal parliamentary election will take place in the Netherlands. As of February 2nd, the Dutch Party For Freedom (PVV), led by the controversial Geert Wilders is leading in the polls. Pro-European Union incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is in second place. If Wilder's party wins, it will be another blow to the establishment bureaucrats of the European Union. However, even if the PVV wins the largest number of seats in the parliament, they will likely have to rule in a coalition to pass legislation, which no other parties have agreed to do. The circumstances surrounding the election are filled with a litany of issues, and the next month will have Europe and the rest of the world's eyes focused on the words of those leading the parties vying for power.
To say that Geert Wilders has been a controversial figure in Dutch politics would be an understatement. He has garnered both large amounts of support and condemnation for his unhinged comments about Islam. Wilders has called for a muslim immigration ban, outlawing the koran, as well as a ban on the building of mosques in the Netherlands. He has claimed that Islam is not a religion, but an ideology and claims that he has no hatred for Muslims, but the ideology of Islam itself. Wilders has received travel ban by the UK (which was later overturned), and has even had an Islamic hit (fatwa) put on his head by al-Qaeda for his comments. The latter issue has resorted to him relying on bodyguards at all public outings. He has even had to go on trial for many of his comments for supposedly breaking hate speech laws in the Netherlands.
In addition to their distaste towards anything Islamic, his party's platform includes, among others: support for economic liberalism and free market policies with a conservative program towards immigration and culture. It seeks to cut taxes, favors decentralization and limiting government subsidies. It is also sharply Eurosceptic and Wilders has pledged that if his party comes to power, it will leave the European Union, abandon the Euro currency, and leave the borderless Schengen Area adopted by most European nations.
Despite all his controversial comments and positions, Geert Wilders has been gaining, not losing, support in the Netherlands and abroad. This is largely to do the growing climate of conservative populism in many European nations as a result of negative effects of the refugee crisis and distaste towards European Union over-regulation and interference in the internal affairs of member states. His party, as of early February is leading in the polls. With just a month away from the March 15th elections, the PVV doesn't seem to be going anywhere but up in its popularity and support. That said, what makes Wilders' party more appealing to Dutch citizens than other than right leaning parties is the PVV appeals to social liberals. The party advocates for the support and protection of women's rights, the LGBT community, and the Jewish community in the Netherlands. Additionally, his party advocates of drug legalization. These platforms appeal to social liberals in the nation in a way that other conservative parties do not. The PVV has been able to convince many Dutch citizens that their tolerant liberal society is under threat by Islam, and that these groups which the PVV vows to protect is in danger if the Islamic population becomes more prominent in the nation. The party has also managed to garner support for its anti-European Union views.
As the election gets closer and polls show the PVV winning, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his VVD party are made desperate attempt to reach out to voters on the right. Echoing similar moves by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Rutte, in an attempt to win over some of Wilder's supporters and catch on to the anti-immigration bandwagon, made a statement stating: “If you reject our country fundamentally, I’d rather see you go. Act normal or leave.” In this 11th hour attempt to gain some traction in opinion polling, Rutte and his VVD party have done little to change the situation. At this point, like many other centrist and establishment politicians, Rutte has not tapped into the recent conservative populist surge out of fear of being targeted as a bigot. He may gain a little more support from this statement, but it’s too little, too late.
Wilders' PVV party may not win the majority of seats in parliament, due to the immense amount of parties competing, but it will most likely have the most seats after this election, forcing other conservative and center-right parties to work with them on national issues. With Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the Italian Referendum last December, and the Hungarian Referendum last October, conservative populist movements are on the rise. A PVV win will continue the lurch to the right that Europe is taking, which could very likely lead to the eventual demise of the European Union.