Wednesday March 15, 2017

Dutch election a test for right-wing populism in Europe

Far-right politician Geert Wilders heads Netherland's Party for Freedom.

Far-right politician Geert Wilders heads Netherland's Party for Freedom. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Listen 19:21

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Geert Wilders, who leads the far-right Party for Freedom, has been called the Dutch Donald Trump.

Both politicians share a fondness for controversial tweets, outlandish hairdos, and an anti-immigrant nationalist message.

"He says he wants to close down the mosques, he will stop immigration to the country, and he differentiates between what he calls 'Western immigration' and 'Muslim immigration,' says Margaret Evans, a CBC foreign correspondent.

"He's very incendiary. He's referred to the Qur'an as 'Mein Kampf'. It's very hot language."

Dutch Election - Rally

Demonstrators rally in Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 11, 2017. Signs read Choose Hope, Not Hate". (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Wilders' hateful rhetoric has mobilized a budding far-right movement in the Netherlands. His resonance comes as quite a change from the country's position on multiculturalism historically.

"The Netherlands is known from the Golden Age as being a very outward looking country," Evans tells Anna Maria Tremonti.

"With trade routes around the world, and religious tolerance — ideas about equality for minorities were kind of born in that age here in the Netherlands."

Even though Wilders is unlikely to emerge as his country's leader in the coming election, Joost van Spanje, an associate professor of political communication at the University of Amsterdam​, says the success of his campaign will have a lasting impact on Dutch politics.

"A lot of other parties have repositioned themselves on immigration and integration, basically taking over part of Wilders' rhetoric — and that's a big change."  - Joost van Spanje

"There are four studies suggesting that this is happening in various western-European countries. That anti-immigration party success precedes the positioning of other parties, mainstream parties, on immigration."

In a year of European elections, is the Dutch election the first domino in a wave of populism?

Listen to the conversation at the top of this post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, Sujata Berry and John Chipman.