The Dutch have voted and for a moment, Brussels can sigh with relief. In a race in which the Eurosceptic, xenophobic PVV party of Geert Wilders consistently topped the polls, the electorate have come out in favour of the status quo.
Although the final tally will probably only come in this Friday, Prime Minister’s Rutte, with a forecast 33 seats out of 150, is significantly larger than Wilders’ group. Even if he gained votes, Wilders comes in a distant second with 20 seats, which is even less than the 24 he gained in 2010. Evoking the upsets of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump hasn’t helped him, even in this time of ISIS attacks in Europe, the refugee crisis and a government that significantly cut down on the Dutch welfare state.
For the EU it is important to note some of the other winners: both the pro-EU D66, the Liberal party, and CDA, the Christian-Democrat party, end up with a significantly larger block at a forecast 19 seats. And these are the parties that will probably form the fundament of the Government Rutte may now put together. But they will need at least one, and possibly two further parties, to attain a majority of the 150 seats in the Parliament in The Hague. Expect the coalition talks to last for months.
So does this mean populism in The Netherlands is now defeated? It does not. Wilders still has about 20% of the votes and will continue criticising the ruling parties from the side-lines. Nor does it mean that the Netherlands will now be any less sceptical of the Brussels bureaucracy. The Eurosceptic people behind the Referendum on the EU’s trade deal with Ukraine, the Forum for Democracy, have now for the first time entered the Parliament with 2 seats. They will guarantee, together with Wilders, that whichever parties will now govern, will have to draw a tough line on the EU.
But at the end of the day, the election outcome also reflects that the voters have not had enough of the Dutch EU membership. And that firm commitment, in an election with a historic turnout of more than 80%, gives the new government a clear mandate for the Brexit negotiations: the Netherlands will toe the line on keeping the EU together, presumably closely with its larger neighbour to the East, the Germans. The government, and the EU, may also take heart in a final statistic: of the voters under 35, only 5% voted for Wilders, something that mirrors the split between young and old that was also seen in the Brexit referendum.