On November 22, 2023, early general elections were held in the Netherlands to elect members of the House of Representatives.
According to preliminary forecasts, seats in the parliament will be distributed as follows:
• Ultra-right Freedom Party (PVV) – 36 seats;
• Coalition “Green Left – Labor Party” (GroenLinks-PvdA) – 25 seats;
• Right-liberal “People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy” (VVD, led by current Prime Minister Mark Rutte) – 24 seats;
• “New Social Contract” (NSC) – 20 seats;
• “Democrats 66” (D66) – 9 seats;
• “Farmer-Civil Movement” (BBB) – 7 seats.
According to the results of counting almost 100% of the votes, the “Party of Freedom” (PVV) led by Geert Wilders received 37 mandates, exceeding the previous exit poll forecasts.
Wilders is an outspoken Eurosceptic who has long advocated for the Dutch government to regain control of the country’s borders, reduce immigration, cut payments to the European Union budget and veto any further EU expansion. He also repeatedly stated that the Netherlands should stop supplying weapons to Ukraine, as the Netherlands needs these weapons for its defence.
Wilders also refused to attend Zelensky’s speech in the Dutch House of Representatives during a visit in May. He also criticised the opening of the EU market to Ukrainian farmers. Before the full-scale invasion of the Russian Federation, he gave an interview to the Russian mass media, where he advocated Ukraine’s implementation of the Minsk agreements and called on Kyiv to come to an understanding with the southeastern regions. In addition, Wilders advocated the Netherlands’ exit from the EU, called for closing mosques and Islamic schools and banning the Koran.
At the same time, the right-wing politicians of Europe – Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, Matteo Salvini in Italy and the AfD in Germany – have already congratulated Wilders on his victory.
It is worth noting that much will depend on the coalition formation process. The political parties meet on Friday with the rapporteur Vera Bergkamp to decide who should be the so-called scout. This high-ranking government figure examines possible government coalitions in the days after the election. During the week after the election, the parliament will appoint an “informant” to conduct detailed negotiations with the most likely candidates.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s last government took a record 299 days to form a coalition; this time, it might take even longer. Rutte, who has ruled the country for the past ten years, will remain in office until a new government takes office, likely in the first half of 2024. As long as negotiations regarding the formation of a coalition continue, Rutte’s government will remain in power, and the policy towards Ukraine will not change in the coming months.
Founded in 2006, Wilders’ PVV, while certainly attracting its rivals’ attention, must be made clear that Wilders will find enough allies to form a coalition.
Dilan Jesilgöz, head of the liberal-conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), previously stated that she does not rule out a union with Wilders. But after a historic election night in which her ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) lost 10 of its previous 34 seats, Jesilgöz said she was open to doubt.
Another key player is Peter Omtzicht, leader of the new centrist New Social Contract (NSC) party, which won 20 seats. During the campaign, he also ruled out working with Wilders because of his unconstitutional plans to ban Islamic schools, mosques and the Koran. On election night, however, Omtzicht chose a more moderate tone, declaring that “we are ready for joint communication.” He named the result “difficult” and said, “Politicians will have to step over their shadows.”
On the other hand, on Thursday, November 23, before the meeting with his party, Omtzicht was more cautious and did not say anything about cooperation with the PVV.
A coalition of the “Party of Freedom”, “VVD”, and “NSC” in a combined format could get 81 mandates out of 150 seats. Moreover, the president of the Farmers-Citizens Movement, Karolina van der Plas, and an attractive coalition partner with the most significant number of seats in the Dutch Senate, recently stated that she is open to joining a coalition of these three parties.
The left bloc, led by the former vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, ruled out cooperation with Wilders’ far-right party.
According to the internal regulations, as soon as a potential coalition is determined, the “informant” appoints a so-called formator, usually the leader of the largest party, who is charged with concluding a coalition agreement. It is worth noting that in the event of a failure of negotiations between the right-wing parties, there is an opportunity to form a centre-left government, but this option also faces several obstacles.
If Wilders cannot form a coalition, Timmermans, whose Socialist-Green alliance finished second with 25 seats, will struggle to find a majority. Together with “VVD”, “NSC”, and the liberal party “D66”, they could form a centrist coalition with an “insubstantial” majority of 78 seats.
Such a scenario will be critical for both Wilders and other far-right politicians. Therefore, it can be expected that Wilders will do everything possible to avoid such a scenario. However, a similar event had already taken place in the history of the Netherlands in 1977, when Joop den Uyl won the election but could not negotiate a coalition successfully.
Separately, it is worth noting that the activation of right-wing and far-right political forces in Europe has certain tendencies, which consist of a significant softening of the rhetoric of political leaders after coming to power. Such a phenomenon is often explained by the need to use populist statements and slogans for a broader mobilisation of the respective electorate. In this case, it should be noted that immediately after winning the elections, the Chairman of the Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, specifically stated that he would not insist on banning the Koran or closing Islamic schools (which he had previously called for). Accordingly, in the conditions of the need to form a coalition with less radical parties, one can count on the softening of the official position of the “Freedom Party” on other issues as well.