EU breathes sigh of relief after Dutch election

  • 17/03/2017
Geert Wilders (left) and  Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Getty)
Geert Wilders (left) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Getty)

EU leaders have lined up to congratulate Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on beating far-right candidate Geert Wilders in the first of a series of European elections this year in which populist insurgent parties are hoping to rock the establishment.

The centre-right Prime Minister had trailed in opinion polls for much of the campaign but emerged the clear victor of Wednesday's election, albeit with fewer seats than before.

Mr Wilders, who campaigned on an anti-immigration platform and wanted to shut mosques and ban the Koran, won a third more seats than at the last election but was thwarted in his bid to become the biggest party.

Mr Rutte, whose win helped boost the euro and European shares, called it an "evening in which the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said 'stop' to the wrong kind of populism".

A win for Mr Wilders would have been seen as a boost for French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, running second in opinion polls before a presidential election in April and May, and for populist parties elsewhere that want to curb immigration and weaken or break up the European Union.

The sense of relief among European leaders was palpable.

"The Netherlands are our partners, friends, neighbours. Therefore I was very happy that a high turnout led to a very pro-European result, a clear signal," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will run for re-election in September.

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, expected to face Ms Le Pen in a two-way run-off on May 7, said: "The Netherlands is showing us that a breakthrough for the extreme right is not a foregone conclusion and that progressives are gaining momentum."

With 99 percent of votes counted, Rutte's VVD Party had won 33 of parliament's 150 seats, down from 41 at the last vote in 2012. Mr Wilders was second with 20, and the CDA and centrist Democrats 66 tied for third with 19 each.

Mr Rutte is now virtually guaranteed a third term, leading a government that can be expected to continue tightening immigration policy in the Netherlands, already among the strictest in the EU.