Following a racist comment by Geert Wilders last week, his party took a dive in the polls, and lost several members, including its lead candidate for the EU elections.
Holland's populist Freedom Party (PVV) is experiencing a crisis after its leader, Geert Wilders, gave a speech to supporters last week on Wednesday (19 March).
The PVV leader addressed the crowd at a conference following the local elections, asking the audience: “Do you want more or less Moroccans in this city and this country?” The party’s base answered: “Less! Less! Less!”
The incident has dominated political debate in the country since Thursday, as Wilders’ political adversaries expressed their dismay over Wilders' comments.
Diederik Samson, leader of the socialist PvdA party, was one of the politicians accusing him of racism. “What Wilders did is inciting hatred. This can be prosecuted,” he said.
Polling data gathered by Maurice de Hond, an analyst who conducts weekly surveys on Dutch voters’ intentions, showed that the PVV took a hit after the remarks. The poll showed 11% of respondents answered the chance of them voting for Wilders had shrunk due to the remarks; 56% said they wouldn’t vote for Wilders anyhow.
While the far-right party led in previous polls, it dropped to second place last week in a near-tie with the socialist PvdA and the conservative CDA party.
In last week’s local elections, the PVV gained seats in Almere, but lost the first spot to the liberal D66 Party, in The Hague. These two cities were the only ones where the populists ran for local office.
EU elections plan falls apart
At least eight politicians ended their membership in the party since the incident. Amongst those quitting the PVV are Joram van Klaveren and Laurence Stassen.
Stassen, a non-attached MEP, leads the party delegation in the European Parliament and was set to take the top spot on the PVV’s European list of candidates. Van Klaveren was involved in drafting the full list for May’s ballot, which has to be completed in two weeks’ time. These two figures were key for the PVV’s EU elections strategy.
Wilders is now on the lookout for a new top candidate for 22 May. Initially, the incumbent MEP and second-in-line in the PVV’s European delegation, Lucas Hartong, was expected to take over the lead. But Hartong commented on Monday (25 March) on Dutch public radio that he would not run, NRC Handelsblad reported.
Of the party's four MEPs, only Auke Zijlstra sticks by her party leader after the racist incident and will run in next May's elections.
European ally shows support for Wilders
Wilders was scheduled to attend a congress by the Belgian extreme-right party Vlaams Belang (VB) on Sunday (23 March). But the populist leader cancelled due to what was later clarified as “internal party issues”.
The PVV has created a pan-European alliance with the French extreme-right National Front (FN), Vlaams Belang, and other populist, Euroskeptic parties, to form a parliamentary group after the elections.
Gerolf Annemans, top candidate for the Belgian party’s EU elections list, said on Flemish public television: “[Wilders] is not a racist. He is an intelligent person who knows exactly how far he can take things. I’m not planning to denounce him.”
Meanwhile, the FN fulfilled expectations in the French local elections on Sunday (23 March), putting itself in position to win next May’s vote for European Parliament seats.
On Tuesday (18 March), the EU Parliament finalised new rules for pan-European political parties. In the future, such parties will have to respect ‘EU values’ and risk losing their funding if they engage in racist acts.
Wilders was previously charged with hate speech, for having made anti-Muslim remarks, but was acquitted in 2011. He is known for his anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic views.
- 8 April: Deadline for Dutch parties to submit election lists for the EU elections.
- 22 May: European Parliament elections in The Netherlands
- 22-25 May: European Parliament elections in all 28 EU member states