Freedom Party falls to fourth place in election

Exit polls in Netherlands confirms Wilders’s party is biggest loser

Far-right politician Geert Wilders: floundered in the wake of three solidly pro-Europe parties. Photograph: Michael Kooren

Far-right politician Geert Wilders: floundered in the wake of three solidly pro-Europe parties. Photograph: Michael Kooren

Sat, May 24, 2014, 01:00

Geert Wilders’s aim of positioning himself at the heart of a pan-European right-wing alliance lies in tatters this weekend after the Dutch electorate consigned his Freedom Party to fourth place in the European Parliament elections – with fewer seats than he started out with.

Mr Wilders had characterised this election as a turning point for anti-EU and anti-immigrant parties across Europe, convinced that more than five years of austerity had turned the political tide in their favour. But he was left floundering in the wake of three solidly pro-Europe parties.

“Sixty five per cent of the electorate stayed at home, so we cannot conclude from this result that the Netherlands has suddenly become more pro-Europe,” he maintained, after three separate exit polls confirmed him not as a mould-breaking winner but as the election’s biggest loser.

“We will carry on fighting, for national sovereignty, for less immigration and for less of Brussels”, he told supporters wearing shirts emblazoned with “Wilders Akbar”.

“And we will continue to work with partners across Europe who share our views.”

However, Andre Krouwel, one of the Netherlands’ leading political commentators, said the result would damage Mr Wilders’s prospects of forming an alliance on an equal footing with French National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

“His loyal followers didn’t show up. They weren’t interested. That makes it hard for him to portray himself as a victor.”

The results were supposed to remain “secret” until Sunday, but seconds after voting closed at 9pm on Thursday, the “definitive” exit poll by Ipsos for NOS TV showed the big winners were the centre-left D66 and the Christian Democrats, with 15.6 per cent and 15.2 per cent of the vote respectively.

Moments later, D66 leader Alexander Pechtold declared: “Everyone had the opportunity to choose today – and the Netherlands overwhelmingly chose Europe.”

Economic drag Prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party took third place with 12.3 per cent of the vote, up from 11.4 per cent in 2009, a good performance despite a sluggish economic recovery and anger at budget cuts across the public sector, including healthcare and education.

Just behind the Liberals came the Freedom Party, at 12.2 per cent, down substantially from 17 per cent in 2009, due to apathy about the poll and backlash against a rally last month at which Mr Wilders led anti-Moroccan chanting.

As a result, the Netherlands’ 26 seats in the new Strasbourg parliament will be distributed as follows: D66, four (previously three); Christian Democrats, four (five); Liberals, three (no change); Freedom Party, three (four in 2009, with another added after the Lisbon Treaty); Labour, three (no change); Socialists, three (one); Greens, two (three); and the fundamental Christian SGP, two (no change).

The 50-plus Party, opposed to austerity cuts on pensions and healthcare, is expected to take a seat, as is the Animal Rights Party. Turnout was 35 -37 per cent – pretty much on a par with 36.9 per cent in 2009.