Freedom Party given political cold shoulder over immigration tactics

Geert Wilders’s other problem ahead of polling day appears to be voter apathy

Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders on the campaign trail ahead of the European elections in Amsterdam. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/EPA

Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders on the campaign trail ahead of the European elections in Amsterdam. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/EPA


IT was extraordinary timing by the Dutch government last Thursday when it revealed – just one week from the European elections­– that the number of refugees arriving in the Netherlands has “surged” from about 1,000 a month in February and March to a current figure of 1,000 per week.

The result was an emergency debate in parliament on Friday, during which there was a brief moment of drama when Geert Wilders’s right-wing Freedom Party attempted to table a motion of no confidence in junior minister for justice Fred Teeven, who had disclosed the figures on television.

Despite accusing the minister of incompetence, declaring “an immigration disaster”, and calling for a severing of links with the EU and abandonment of the Schengen Agreement, the Freedom Party’s moment quickly passed. The motion attracted no support from the rest of the opposition.

Policy of isolation
It was the perfect practical example of how the informal blanket ban by all the other political parties on co-operating with Mr Wilders – a ban which has been in place since he led supporters in anti-Moroccan chanting last month – can leave the Freedom Party looking ineffective and isolated.

“Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?” Mr Wilders roared to the crowd at a rally after the local elections.

Minder, minder, minder (Fewer, fewer, fewer),” they roared in reply.

Wilders leaned closer to the microphone and said: “Then we’re going to organise it.”

The country descended into uproar, with a surprising amount of the criticism coming from Wilders’s own constituency.

The popular right-wing daily newspaper De Telegraf railed: “Those who place themselves outside the constitution by consciously turning their political message into the sort of deeply menacing politics we saw off in the past will find themselves sidelined by society.”

There have been resignations at all levels of the party since, the most damaging being those of Laurence Stassen, its leader in the European Parliament, and Stephan Jansen, Mr Wilders’s personal policy adviser and former friend.

In a letter to party members, Mr Jansen, an elected provincial councillor, said: “Mr Wilders has ensured our party will never be taken seriously again.”

Thursday’s election – polling is earlier here than in Ireland – will be the first indication of whether or not he is correct.

The chanting controversy apart though, it’s ironic that perhaps the biggest problem for Mr Wilders this week will be the same as for the other party leaders, including prime minister Mark Rutte – to generate any interest at all in the elections.

Wilders and Le Pen
An Ipsos Political Barometer poll last week showed the Dutch are the least interested of all the European nations

; 82 per cent of the electorate know there’s an election, but only 20 percent say they will vote. This is the lowest percentage in the EU. Turnout in 2009 was about 40 per cent.

Mr Wilders and and Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France hope to form an anti-EU bloc in the European Parliament based on the swing to the right they believe is imminent. It would include Italy’s Lega Nord, Vlaams Belang from Belgium, Slovakia’s SNS, the Swedish Democrats and the Austrian Freedom Party.

But the Ipsos poll indicates that while the Freedom party will retain its four of the Netherlands’ 26 European Parliament seats, it will not make any gaina. It shows Mr Rutte’s Liberals taking four and the centre-left D66 taking another four.

An “As you were, Geert” from the Dutch electorate is very unlikely to impress Ms Le Pen.