Spring time populism

Gert Wilders wants to ban Islam in the Netherlands, shut down Mosques and withdraw from the EU. Indeed his policies are in blatant breach with fundamental legal principles and policies in the EU. We may now be relieved that he had to admit defeat in the national election on 15th of March. Wilders ended up with far less votes than feared, winning only 20 seats in the parliament while the liberal Mark Rutte´s party won 33 seats. Even Turkey´s president Erdogan´s insults and Nazi-labeling of the Netherlands, due to their recent diplomatic row, could not help Wilders this time.

But only days prior to the election uncertainty reigned. Many thought Wilders had a good chance at governing. Yet others thought his win would be the trumpet signal for a populist far right´s win parade this spring. For in late April France starts its presidential election with Marine Le Pen´s Front National as main contender. With the governing socialist Party discredited and weakened, Le Pen is also aiming at a victory. Later this year in October, Germany goes to the polls while liberal Angela Merkel seeks a fourth term. However, the far right and anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD), is advancing towards becoming the country´s third biggest party.

It is clear that a high voter turnout and campaigning from many NGOs positively influenced the outcome in the Netherlands. In both the Brexit-vote and in Trump´s election win of last year, a low voter attendance were key to the outcomes. But voters cannot be ordered to vote. The far right may suddenly acquire seats of power in Europe.

In February, a strange alliance of political parties gathered in a seminar hall in the small German town of Koblenz. They were purporting to tie knots of strange solidarity. With international press present, the crowd of supporters occasionally cheered and shouted "Lügenpresse, lügenpresse!". German for "Journalists liars!" , this phrase was actually used by the agitating Nazis in the 20s and 30s.

The political parties gathered in Koblenz were Le Front National (France), Afd (Germany), Lega Nord (Italy), as well as Gert Wilders party. All can be called far-right and xenophobic. It is strange to note that while they were shouting "Lügenpresse!", Donald Trump had just started his campaign against "Fake news". According to Simen Ekern of Morgenbladet, every speech in Koblenz mentioned Trump and hailed his presidency as a positive sign of the times. The assembly of these nationalist parties was strange, inasmuch as nationalists really should be mutually competitive. Yet it shows a determination to show strength and give off the air of a political movement. " We´re a fantastic movement" is also one of Trump´s endeared phrases.

Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump seemingly kept his word on a lot of extreme promises. Once in office he swiftly signed executive orders to reverse "Obama-care", build his envisioned wall on the US-Mexico border and put US entry bans on select nationalities like Iraq, Iran, Libya and Somalia, and on refugees. Trump assures us that this is not a "ban on Muslims". In that case he did not keep his word from the election campaign. However, the USA is still a democracy. Thus, several US state courts have reversed these orders, most recently Hawaii. How sad! How crooked!

The far right populists have their base among the disenchanted lower middle classes. As the election in the Netherlands showed, it is only engaging democratic processes that can stop them in their tracks. We put our money on a liberal and inclusive political spring.

- Sheila Parrera