21 October 2016
Following the Brexit vote, Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right PVV party in the Netherlands, has said that it is time for 'Nexit'. Credit: Irishtimes
Following the Brexit vote, Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right PVV party in the Netherlands, has said that it is time for 'Nexit'. Credit: Irishtimes

Why the 2017 Dutch election will be watched very closely

The rise of extreme right-wing political parties has become unstoppable in Europe, not only in big powers such as Britain and France but also in smaller countries like the Netherlands.

For example, the extreme rightist party PVV quickly rose to prominence in the Netherlands since it was founded in 2005. In a parliamentary election in 2010, the PVV gained 24 seats, making it the third largest political party in the country. In 2012, it lost a few seats but remained the number three party.

Thanks to the European refugee crisis that broke out last year, the popularity of the anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic PVV has soared, and it is now a very popular political party in the Netherlands. It is believed that if the country was to hold a general election right now, the PVV could win as many as 41 seats out of a total of 150.

Xenophobic sentiment has been gaining ground in Dutch society in recent years. The influx of Syrian refugees since last year and the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium, France and Germany have prompted nationalists to step up their rhetoric, including on the issue of “imported terrorism”. A recent poll showed that 80 percent of the Dutch people are convinced that many Islamic terrorists posing as refugees have already infiltrated into Europe.

And many Dutch people are also deeply frustrated with the EU’s inability to deal with the refugee crisis. All these factors have added together and resulted in a surge in public support for the PVV.
In fact after the British voted to leave the EU, many Dutch believe their country should also hold a referendum to decide whether they should remain in the EU, a supranational union they believe is taking away their autonomy bit by bit. As Geert Wilders, chairman of the PVV has put it, after the Brexit vote, now’s the time for a “Nexit”.

The next general election of the Netherlands is scheduled for March 2017. The whole of Europe will be watching the outcome. If the PVV becomes the majority party, it is almost certain that it will launch a referendum on the issue of nation’s membership of the EU. Once that happens, it will put the unity of the EU another rigorous test.

If the Dutch people also vote to leave the EU, it will not only have far-reaching implications for the Dutch themselves, but also for the British. It is because by that time Britain would no longer be alone in negotiating with Brussels its terms for leaving the EU, and the whole exit negotiation could turn into a square-off between the EU and a Euroskeptic coalition.

As such, both the British government and the British people will definitely keep a close eye on the results of the Dutch election next year.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 3.

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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