Party for Freedom (PVV)

Party for Freedom (PVV). The PVV is the Netherland’s most notorious party.

After the collapse of the List Pim Fortuyn in 2003, there was a large gap in the market for right-wing populism in the Netherlands. Several figures vied for the support of this market but it was Geert Wilders who won this battle through the formation of the Party for Freedom.

Geert Wilders was a long-term VVD party worker (working as a speechwriter and assistant to the party’s former leader Frits Bolkenstein) turned MP who was principally known for his oddball platinum blonde swept-back haircut. In 2002 he was made a party spokesperson for the VVD. However tensions developed over his opposition to Islam, he was eventually thrown out of the party for his refusal to endorse the party’s position that EU accession talks be started with Turkey.

Whatever else Wilders is, he is a very clever party manager. Wilders correctly noted that all prior right-wing populist parties in the Netherlands, especially the LPF, had fallen apart due to a lack of unity and party infighting.

His new party, the Party for Freedom was thus created with a unique structure, both in the Netherlands and internationally. Under Dutch law a political party must have at least two members. Hence, the PVV has exactly two members: Geert Wilders, and the Geert Wilders Foundation. The party and Wilders are essentially one and the same. PVV policy is set by Wilders. All the party’s candidates for office are only accepted onto its lists after heavy vetting by Wilders personally. This has downsides, the party is only ever capable of running in two municipalities, The Hague and Almere, but the party remains tightly under Wilders’ control.

Wilders claims to be the heir of Pim Fortuyn and like Fortuyn before him is an especially harsh critic of Islam. Wilders has compared the Qu’ran to Mein Kampf and claimed it should be outlawed just as Hitler’s book is in the Netherlands. He has referred to Muhammed as ‘the devil’ and suggests that Islam is not a religion, but a totalitarian political ideology which he compares to Communism and Fascism. His proposed solutions to the ‘Islamic problem’ include €1,000 licences to wear a hijab, and to pay Muslims to leave the country.

He was acquitted of a hate speech charge in 2011, though the court stated that his speech was ‘on the line’.

In addition to Islam Wilders has recently branched out into attacking Eastern European migrants. In 2012 the party launched a website named ‘Reporting Centre on Central and East Europeans’ which solicits complaints about East and Central European immigrants. The website has a headline which declares ‘Do you have problems with people from Central and Eastern Europe? Have you lost your job to a Pole, a Bulgarian, a Romanian or other Eastern European?’ It also says ‘Wouldn’t it be better if you just went home?’ and accuses Eastern Europeans of criminality. The European Commission has condemned the website.

Additionally, Wilders, predictably, takes tough positions on law and order, is climate-sceptic and has populist views towards the political elite.

Wilders was originally very classically right-wing on economics, even amongst the VVD, but as the PVV’s base is fairly mixed socially, and because of competition with the left-populist Socialist Party, the PVV’s platform has become rather oddball and mixed in this area. It is often described as economically centrist, but a better word might be syncretic. The PVV does not adopt centrist economic positions but rather has a set of positions which are either very left wing or very right wing. He supports tax cuts, and welfare chauvinist positions tightening up the welfare system, but he also supports keeping the retirement age at 65, a position only also supported by the most left-wing party, the Socialists. That said, Wilders does not much concern himself with economics and this is simply not a major part of the PVV’s programme.

Since 2011 Wilders has also increasingly positioned himself as an opponent of EU austerity, but even his opposition to austerity is coached in nationalist terms. Since 2012 he was become an uncompromising advocate of total withdrawal from the EU.

Between 2010 and 2012 Wilders supported a minority government composed of the VVD and CDA. This allowed Wilders some direct power and influence but also allowed him to oppose the government on any topic he liked (such as support for EU bail-outs). Nonetheless, Wilders saw his support fall and pulled the plug on the government rather than support the latest round of austerity.

Since 2012, Wilders has become more vocal in his opposition to other parties and more extreme in his rhetoric, knowing that he is less likely to be invited into government. The only sizeable party ready to countenance him as a potential coalition partner was the VVD.

The party typically grows sizeably in the polls during the mid-terms between national elections as it is the primary recipient of anti-government feeling. It has recently been polling in first place (in an extremely fragmented field).

In recent years party MPs have become increasingly vocal about Wilder’s autocratic approach to running the party. PVV MP Hero Brinkman split from the party and created his own Democratic Political Turning Point in 2012, though the party failed to win any seats. The PVV lost another MP early in 2014.

The party’s performance in the 2014 local elections was decent, if unimpressive. Of the two municipalities it ran in, it won Almere and came second in The Hague, but lost votes and seats in both.

However, real problems began during a party rally after the election. Wilders, always happy to play a crowd, asked the assembled party supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. The crowd, full of PVV loyalists, yelled “Fewer! Fewer!” Wilders responded “We’ll arrange that.” The subtext was clear: Wilders aimed to expel all Moroccans from the Netherlands (Wilders later claimed he only meant criminal Moroccans).

A fairly standard tactic for Wilders backfired stupendously. Two further PVV MPs resigned from parliament, and representatives at provincial level joined them. The newly elected Almere councillors also threatened to walk out en masse.

Other Dutch parties, smelling blood, heavily criticised Wilders. PM Rutte went on children’s TV to explain to Dutch children of Moroccan origin (some of whom had apparently written him letters writing of their fear of being expelled) that no Dutch citizens would be expelled from the country. The VVD ruled Wilders out as a potential coalition partner, essentially locking him out of power.

This PVV revolt is not really about Wilders comments per se, but about his autocratic leadership style, with the comments acting as a catalyst. The revolt has damaged Wilders and the PVV has lost support in the polls because of it (though it still holds first place in several).

The PVV is not currently a member of any European political party. Wilders recently signed a deal with Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National, to form a new right-wing nationalist grouping in the European Parliament. Wilders recent comments about Moroccans seriously irked Le Pen, however, as it made the FN look more radical by association. Whether this might harm FN-PVV cooperation in the next European Parliament remains to be seen.