Banning Muslim immigration, cuts to foreign aid, closing the border. These are policies that one would expect to hear touted by United State’s presidential candidate Donald Trump. However, these are not Trump’s policies – despite sharing some distinct similarities – they belong to one of the Netherland’s most popular political parties.
These are just some of the policies outlined by the Netherland’s Party for Freedom (PVV), which is set to become one of the largest stakeholders in parliament next year.
Headed by long-standing conservative figure Geert Wilders, the party expresses clear Islamophobic views, calling for a ban on the Koran, closure of Islamic schools, and disallowing women from wearing headscarves in public.
From an outside perspective the Netherlands is understood to be one of the world’s most progressive states, with freedom of religion and tolerance held in high regard. So how does a party like the PVV, with its xenophobic paradigm, become so influential in a world-leading nation of religious and racial tolerance?
According to Matthijs Rooduijn, assistant professor at the department of sociology at Utrecht University, there are many reasons why right-wing conservative parties are gaining traction in the Netherlands.
The PVV’s brusque approach to immigration policy has swayed many voters, as mainstream political parties tend to tread carefully around the refugee crisis.
“Maybe they [voters] are not racist, or against foreigners, but they do have worries about immigration, they do have worries about their safety” Rooduijn said.
“When issues like immigration are on the agenda, that is good news for radical right wing parties.”
The most recent Ipsos political barometer shows that since December last year, the PVV have been neck and neck with the party currently in office, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
The PVV’s close competition with the mainstream parties is the result of a vacuum left in the Netherland’s political system. Rooduijn said as the two mainstream left and right parties cooperate in parliament, dissatisfied voters cast their lot with both extreme right and left wing groups.
“We have a government in which a right and left wing mainstream parties are governing together. That means there is a lot of political space on the radical sides of the spectrum,” Rooduijn said.
“There are many people that are dissatisfied with the compromises these parties make, and therefore they are more likely to shift to the extremes.”
Despite the fact that Geert Wilders and the PVV’s views contrast with most Dutch social norms, their recent popularity is the result of a gradual transformation of their public image.
Rooduijn explains that, “these parties have managed to become more respectable over the years. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s these parties had an image that was very negative, associated with Nazi’s and extremists.”
“But they have moderated to a certain extent, especially their image. Their message has not changed that much, but their image has.”
As the 2017 national election looms, Geert Wilders and the PVV’s political success will be truly measured. Despite their traction in the polls, the PVV in office may still be a pipe dream. Can the party amount their popularity to a loyal following? Or are their poll numbers simply the expression of dissatisfaction by mainstream voters? As we all know, topping polls doesn’t always mean winning elections.