Has Europe’s far-Right wave Crested?

On Wednesday, a record 10 million Dutch voters (constituting over 80% of the electorate) headed to the polls to cast ballots in the country’s general election. While the nation’s trend of requiring coalition governments was certainly not broken (incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD Party won the election with only 33/150 seats), more noteworthy was the failure of Right-wing Populist Geert Wilders and his PVV party to achieve the electoral breakthrough polls had hinted was possible.

Indeed, despite having led polls by high single-digit margins as recently as two months ago, PVV trailed VVD by over 8 percentage points in the final count and scored only 20/150 seats. While such a result may have potentially been palatable to other, more mainstream Dutch political parties seeking to enter into a coalition, Wilders’s inflammatory remarks towards Muslims (such as calling Moroccans “scum”, and advocating a shutdown of all Mosques in the nation) make such an outcome highly unlikely. Rather, scoring a political triumph with a large mandate seemed to be the party’s only shot to enter government or plausibly spin Wednesday’s result as a win.

Leaders across Europe have welcomed Wilders’s defeat as a blow to his calls for a Dutch exit from the European Union and broadly as a strike against a growing far-Right movement that has spread across the continent. As Europe braces for major elections in France and Germany, Wilders’s defeat may come to be seen as continuing a pattern of sputtering within the nascent nationalist movements of the decade.

In December, Alexander Van der Bellen decisively defeated far-Right candidate Norbert Hofer for the Austrian presidency in a re-run of a runoff election. Across the Channel, the UK Independence Party (famed for its founder Nigel Farage’s strong campaigning in favor of “Brexit”) has struggled to capitalize on any momentum following last June’s referendum result. UKIP’s efforts to heavily target the Stoke-on-Central special election last month in the heartlands of British Labour, for example, proved a waste as they fell over ten percentage points short of gaining the seat and remain with only 1/650 seats in Parliament.

Looking forward, Right-wing parties seem likely to be beaten back in upcoming elections. In France, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen – who has campaigned on exiting the EU as well as limiting Muslim immigration – is in a pitched battle with Independent Emmanuel Macron in the first round of Presidential balloting set to occur in April. This represents a significant tightening of the race in the last few months where Le Pen held a nearly double digit lead on her closest rivals – at that time Macron as well as Republican candidate Francois Fillon. Worrisome for the National Front, however, is the French run-off electoral system in which polls show Le Pen due for a disastrous defeat in a one-on-one second round vote against Macron.

In Germany, columnists spilled ink throughout 2016 as the Right-wing AfD party continued to gain electoral ground in polling for September 2017 elections. However, in the first months of 2017, AfD’s polling surge has evaporated and been reversed (amid a rising Social Democratic Party helmed by newly elected leader Martin Schulz).

While support which populist parties across Europe have received is still substantial – and will certainly require mainstream political movements to pay increased attention to the interests of the voters who lined up to back nationalist politicians – fears of a far-Right frenzy setting the Continent ablaze seem premature.

The next few months will demonstrate whether or not the tide of nationalism across Europe abates, whether it strengthens, or – truthfully – will demonstrate whether the performance of parties in different European nations is unrelated and too contextual to gleam generalizations from. Until then, the future does not seem to be Populist facing.

Featured image from Metropolico.org

Venu Katta is a senior at the College of William and Mary and is the  Director of Public Relations at The Monitor Journal of International Relations. He may be reached atvrkatta@email.wm.edu         



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