The Dutch extreme-right Freedom Party, led by controversial anti-Islamist Geert Wilders, looks set to make large electoral gains at the upcoming general election with an outside chance of becoming the Netherlands' largest party, according to the latest polls.
With the general election set for Wednesday 9 June, mainstream parties are worried by the prospect of the extreme-right Freedom Party (PVV) becoming a major force in the new Dutch Parliament.
Having only won nine seats in the 2006 election, Geert Wilders’ party could even become the largest party in Holland, polls show.
A February poll by the Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond showed that Wilder's anti-Islamist party could just about clinch a 26-seat majority in the next general election, ahead of the Christian Democrats (25) and the Liberals (23).
The Freedom Party fared extremely well in the 2009 European elections, winning four out of 25 Dutch seats.
In municipal elections on Wednesday (3 March), the party came out on top in the city of Almere and came second to the Labour party in the Dutch political capital, The Hague.
The party, which describes itself as anti-Muslim, wants to introduce an immigration ban of five years for immigrants from non-Western countries, and a five-year ban on the founding of mosques and Islamic schools.
Wilders spoke in the Get Down café in Almere after Wednesday's win about the fact that Muslims did not have to fear the PVV.
"If they abide by the law, then they have the same entitlements as anyone else, and have no reason to be afraid."
The big loser in the forthcoming ballot is likely to be outgoing PM Jan-Peter Balkenende, who has been in power for eight years and was a serious contender for the job of EU Council president, which eventually went to Belgian Herman Van Rompuy.
Dutch MEPs contacted by EurActiv confirm that Wilders' gains are substantial and worrying.
They will be holding debates in Brussels on how they will try to reconcile their coalition government to prevent a right-wing backlash, according to sources in the legislature.
Sarah de Lange, a Dutch political scientist affiliated to the University of Amsterdam, told EurActiv that the success of the PVV is fuelled by two factors: voter opposition to immigration and more particularly Islam and voter dissatisfaction with the governing parties.
"The PVV has channeled these voter concerns by campaigning against the established parties, most notably the PvdA and against headscarves and mosques. The party's proposal that headscarves should be banned in the governmental agencies and organisations that receive government funding has been fiercely criticised by established parties and legal scholars," she explained.
She went on to note that "several mainstream parties, especially those situated on the left of the Dutch political spectrum, have already indicated that they will not govern with the PVV at the local and the
national level. The CDA and VVD, the largest established parties on the right, have indicated that cooperation at the local level is unlikely at this stage. In light of the national elections that will be held on 9 June they refuse, however, to erect a cordon sanitaire around the PVV at the national level".