Wilders Notches Gains in Dutch Vote But Short of Predicted Surge

(Bloomberg) -- A coalition of left-wing parties won the most Dutch seats in the European Parliament elections, in a setback to Geert Wilders’ nascent governing coalition, even as the conservative populist notched significant gains.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The Netherlands’ Left Alliance led by former European Union climate commissioner Frans Timmermans is set to win eight seats, according to an exit poll announced late Thursday.

Timmermans’ victory comes after a series of recent setbacks for Europe’s far-right parties. The Dutch results suggest that the stumbles have reduced the likelihood of a significant rightward tilt in the region, and could ease the path for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to secure a second five-year term.

Despite the lower-than-predicted result, Freedom Party made significant gains, with its seat count set to jump to seven from zero. It’s the best result on record in the European elections for his far-right party, but some polls were suggesting that he would get more seats than the Left Alliance. Wilders has been spearheading the Dutch coalition talks after delivering a surprise victory in a general election in November.

“It is a telling sign that all pro-European parties have performed well in this election,” Timmermans said. “It shows that a lot of people in the Netherlands support the EU and that a majority of them want a country that contributes to building a stronger Europe.”

Wilders’ party is a member of the European Identity and Democracy alliance, which also includes Marine Le Pen’s National Rally. The group last month expelled Alternative for Germany after the AfD’s lead candidate made comments that were sympathetic to the Nazi SS.

The Left Alliance is the result of a merger of the Green Left and the Labor parties, which are members of the EU’s Green Party and Social Democrats, respectively.

Wilders claimed victory after the vote, calling it a “great result.”

“We see in many other countries that parties like mine are either winning or becoming first or second parties in the election,” he told Bloomberg after the election. “So that is a very positive sign and also a sign to the elites in Brussels that things will change,” he said. “Nothing will be the same again.”

The Netherlands kicked off the bloc’s voting on Thursday, with most of Europe going to the polls on Sunday. The final results of the Dutch vote will be published on Sunday.

Wilders was forced to abandon his bid to become prime minister in order to move coalition talks forward. His Freedom Party, the liberal VVD, the center-right NSC and the populist Farmer-Citizen Movement announced Dick Schoof, the former head of the Dutch intelligence service, as their choice for the top role. The rest of the cabinet needs to be formed before Schoof can formally replace Mark Rutte, the country’s longest-serving premier. That process is expected to be completed by June 26.

Wilders has softened his image in recent months, rolling back some of his anti-Islam policies and dropping his pledge for “a binding referendum on Nexit” ahead of the EU elections. He now wants to “put our energy into reforming the European Union from within,” according to his election program.

“There is no support, even close to majority, in the Netherlands for Nexit,” he said Thursday evening. “We are not advocating for Nexit anymore. We are aiming to change the European Union from within.”

Still, the coalition parties seeking to form a government agreed on a plan to significantly reduce migration and undo some environmental measures. The new government wants to invoke emergency legislation to limit the inflow of migrants and will seek an opt out from the EU’s migration policy.

The coalition is critical of EU enlargement and seeks to reduce Dutch contributions to the EU by €1.6 billion ($1.7 billion) by 2028.

“If the elites in Brussels feel that democracy is an important issue, they better listen to us,” Wilders said. “We are coming and we will change the tune they are singing.”

(Updates with Wilders interview and Timmermans reaction)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.