Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte can celebrate victory over the openly racist Freedom Party, but it was achieved in part by adopting its policies. His ruling coalition had already passed laws to limit face-covering clothing in schools, public transport, health care and government facilities. Rutte’s own party now wants further limits on such clothing in public, an increase in the minimum residency period for naturalization and tougher rules on people seeking Dutch citizenship.
A leading Dutch legal body concluded that the manifestos of the five leading parties before the election were “openly discriminatory” and contrary to the constitution. Some of the late swing to Rutte can be explained by his hypocritical posturing in favour of ‘liberal values’ against authoritarian Turkey, when he barred a minister of Erdogan’s government from entering the country. This may have garnered Rutte a few votes, but it also directly helped the Turkish President cement his religious-nationalist base and rail against the west.
In the election itself, the Freedom Party actually increased its vote, moving up to second place. The Labour Party collapsed, losing 29 seats, punished for joining a coalition it promised not to, which cut thousands of public sector jobs and support for chronically ill people and abolished student grants. As the welfare state is decimated, it’s unsurprising Wilders’ ‘Dutch first’ welfare chauvinism appeals to some.
Labour’s decline also reflects broader problems in the workers’ movement. Fewer than 20% of the workforce are in trade unions and social mobilisations are at a very low level.
Amid the race to the bottom in demonising migrants, one ray of light was the 14 seats achieved by the progressive and tolerant Green Left, ten more than before. Whether such positive signs are enough to stem the rightwing tide remains to be seen.