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Dutch election is a reminder that far-right politics are gaining support in Europe


Last week, a far-right party whose leader wants to ban mosques received the most votes in the Dutch national election. The party will likely not have enough support to form a government, but the strong result served as a reminder that far-right politics are gaining more popular support as Europe deals with an uptick in migration and a downturn in its economy. NPR's Rob Schmitz is with us now from Berlin to tell us more. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start in the Netherlands, where last week's elections saw what we are told was a surprising win for the far-right Freedom Party, at least surprising to some. What does this result tell us?

SCHMITZ: Well, you know, it tells us first that migration has again risen to become a very big concern for Dutch voters, at least. The Freedom Party is led by Geert Wilders, a populist politician whose views are so extreme that he requires police protection whenever he's out in public. He wants to ban all mosques, as you mentioned, he wants to ban the Quran, he wants to cut aid to Ukraine. His Freedom Party received just short of 25% of the vote last week, which does not sound like much. But when you consider that a couple of dozen parties were competing in this election, 25% is pretty good. And in fact, his party beat out every other mainstream party, showing that an anti-immigration platform was quite popular.

MARTIN: So Wilders said this weekend that he will become the Netherlands' next prime minister, is that true?

SCHMITZ: Well, he will get the first shot at trying to form a coalition government, but it's not likely he'll be able to convince enough parties to join him to make up the majority of seats in parliament required to do that. Over the weekend, another big vote getter, the center-right party of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, said it would not join a coalition government with Wilders. And so far only one major party has indicated that it's open to this, which means Wilders could form a minority government, but that would be incredibly unstable. Any time he would offend a big party in Parliament, he'd likely be voted out. So Wilders serving as a long-standing prime minister is not likely at all.

MARTIN: But broaden this out a bit. What does this strong result for him and his party say about the role of parties like that in Europe?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, I mean, it is the latest sign that these far-right parties are rebounding in popularity. Last month, I covered the elections in Poland. And while the far-right ruling Law and Justice party did not win enough for an outright majority, it did get the most votes. But just like Wilders' party, it likely will not have the support to form a coalition government. But still, Poland is another case where a far-right, anti-immigrant party received the most votes in another part of Europe. And you see these trends in France, Germany, Italy, and the list goes on.

I spoke to Jacob Kirkegaard about this. He's a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, and he made the observation that Geert Wilders did not have much support back in September. His poll numbers started climbing in mid-October, and Kirkegaard thinks it's because of the Hamas attack on Israel and the pro-Palestinian protests that followed in Europe.

JACOB KIRKEGAARD: For me, at least, it's difficult not to link that to the large-scale street protests by many immigrant groups in favor of Palestine in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

MARTIN: So the protests - he's saying that the protests by a largely Muslim migrant community in the Netherlands prompted a backlash among voters?

SCHMITZ: Right. Now, you know, there has always been a certain degree of unease among many Dutch voters about Muslim migrants. And Kirkegaard says when these voters saw Muslim migrants out in the streets at demonstrations, it revived some of their long-standing fears about this group, and it spurred some of them to vote for the most anti-Muslim candidate on the ballot. And that could have contributed to why Geert Wilders is now leading coalition government talks in The Hague.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us from Berlin. Rob, thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLAH-LAS' "HOUSTON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.