A Dutch-Moroccan foundation is suing far-right politician Geert Wilders for leading an anti-Moroccan chant at an event celebrating his party’s performance at local elections on Wednesday. Wilder asked fans of his Freedom Party (PVV) if they wanted “more or fewer” Moroccans, which elicited a refrain of “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Wilders’ response? “Good, we’re going to take care of that.”
The far-right leader’s comments are eliciting the expected reaction, i.e., condemnation by the country’s conservative faction and comparisons to Adolf Hitler by immigrant organizations and rival politicians (the latter of which have since been retracted). But rather than hurting Wilders, and despite the PVV’s weak showing at municipal elections, the criticisms seem to be setting him and the PVV up for a good performance in European Parliament elections this May — a vote that could well shift the character of the European assembly if, as expected, far-right parties across Europe make headway.
The PPV’s local efforts look increasingly like an effort to give Wilders a microphone ahead of the E.U. ballot, not a serious nationwide blitz. Of the Netherlands’ 402 towns and cities, the PVV only ran on two ballots, including in The Hague (there the far-right party came in second, missing out on what could have been an important symbolic win). And while the local elections saw the ruling centrist coalition falter amidst frustration with its austerity plan — a telling preamble to France’s municipal elections scheduled to take place this weekend — the centrist D66 party emerged the greatest beneficiary, winning the country’s major cities, including The Hague and Amsterdam.
And give him a microphone it did. So look for Wilders’ rhetoric to intensify — especially with the chances of formal censure slim. (The last time the PVV leader was blasted for hate speech, in 2011, he skirted around a conviction on a technicality, claiming he targeted a religion (Islam), and not a specific group (Muslims).) He has, after all, a chance to play off unease over job security and resentment towards Netherland’s immigrant population in far more flagrant a way than can, say, his French counterpart, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN) party, who is more focused on normalization of the FN even as she attempts to appease — and quiet — radical elements within the party.
Wilders’ more overt strategy — anti-Islam, anti-E.U., and now anti-Moroccan — seems to be working, the PVV’s limited presence at municipal elections notwithstanding. The party continues to lead in national opinion polls, galvanized by support for its anti-Moroccan stance, and is expected to make a strong showing in May, when pollsters warn it could become the largest Dutch party in the European assembly.
Amidst his inflammatory post-election statements, Wilders said: “Today, our campaign for the European Parliament has started.” Indeed it has.