leading progressive voice in Europe while the Netherlands has come under the sway of a hard-right party. If you had posited this scenario to someone in the early 1970's they would have thought you were crazy. But Holland's years-in-the-making drift toward hard-right conservatism was again demonstrated this week when a conservative coalition government was finally formed – with the participation of the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders. The new coalition is set to ban the veil and limit the number of "non-Western" immigrants allowed to come into the country.
Dutch elections were held back in June, but the two centre-right parties did not achieve enough of a majority to form a stable government on their own. The PVV, meanwhile, greatly increased their share of the vote. After months of negotiations, this week the centre-right parties concluded a deal with the far-right PVV, led by the controversial anti-Islam crusader Wilders, that will allow them to form a government with Mark Rutte as prime minister.
Mr. Wilders' support didn't come cheap. According to news reports today, the new "Freedom and Responsibility" coalition has, in exchange for Wilders' support, pledged to introduce a bill banning the Muslim face veil and to halve the number of "non-Western" immigrants allowed to come into the country. Non-Western immigrants who are already living in the Netherlands will have to pass extra hurdles if they want to bring their family members to the country. Speaking at a press conference with the Christian Democrat leaders yesterday, Wilders declared "A new wind will blow in the Netherlands."
the far right has enjoyed a resurgence in Europe over the past few years and has attained its first elected seats across Western Europe from the UK to Sweden. But the fact that Geert Wilders, who is notorious across Europe for his anti-Muslim crusade, is now a part of the Dutch government is going to shock many people.
In recent weeks Wilder has even become a folk hero among the Tea Party movement in the United States. He was a headline speaker at the demonstrations against the so-called "ground zero mosque" on September 11th this year. He was invited by a group called 'Stop Islamisation of America', and told the cheering crowd that Muslims were trying to take over both the US and his home country by building mosques. He advocated the burning of the Koran as proposed by a Florida pastor. And in a bizarre misapplication of a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, he declared, "Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves." The irony of this quotation was apparently lost on the crowd of 3,000 Americans who cheered wildly in response.
The anti-immigrant and anti-Islam measures aren't the only new rightist initiatives the new Dutch government will pursue. The new government will be very Eurosceptic. They are set to cut the Dutch contribution to the EU budget by €1 billion, and they have indicated they intend to become a more difficult force within the European Council.
As is the case with the other far-right parties of Western Europe, the PVV's platform is devoted almost entirely to immigration and Islam. Clearly, concern over Muslim immigration has become so strong that it is making even traditionally progressive and pluralistic societies become attracted to the message of the far right. Centrist politicians in netherlands and elsewhere in Europe are scrambling to figure out what to do about this popular anti-Islam rage. But the clock is ticking, and the longer they wait the more people will sign up to the ideology of the far right. And that will not lead to a good outcome for Europe.