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Geert Wilders' Poor Showing In Dutch Election Slows Populist Momentum

Mar 16, 2017
Originally published on March 16, 2017 7:35 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The populist wave that many see sweeping across Europe receded little yesterday. In the Netherlands, a party that is anti-immigrant and anti-European Union failed to win the election by a wide margin. It did gain a few more seats in Parliament, but the party's leader, Geert Wilders, will not be part of the next Dutch government.

That result brought sighs of relief from mainstream political leaders across Europe, especially in France. That's where a Wilders victory could have been a boost to the far-right presidential contender Marine Le Pen. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking French).

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: French media closely followed the Dutch legislative elections. After British voters chose Brexit and the Americans elected Donald Trump, there were predictions that the populist wave would continue across the Netherlands and then to France. Political analyst Nicole Bacharan says the outcome of the Dutch election is a relief for everyone who loves the European Union, at least for now.

NICOLE BACHARAN: There are some crucial elections this year - the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy - and each of those votes could mean the end of the European Union.

BEARDSLEY: Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen both want their countries to pull out of the EU and its euro currency, and they want to close borders and stop immigration.

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MARINE LE PEN: (Foreign language spoken).

GEERT WILDERS: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: The two bleach blonde firebrands appeared together in Koblenz, Germany, at a rally for far-right parties. Le Pen did not comment today on Wilders' disappointing results, but Nicolas Bay, a senior member of her National Front party, told French radio it was not a setback.

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NICOLAS BAY: (Through interpreter) It's still a success because he gained seats. It's not the final victory, but it's a progressive step in the victory of patriots across Europe.

BEARDSLEY: The French vote for a president in two rounds in April and May. There is little doubt Le Pen will make it into the second round. The man expected to meet Le Pen in the runoff is political newcomer Emmanuel Macron. He was in Berlin today meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and said the Dutch results showed it was possible to defeat extremists.

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EMMANUEL MACRON: I do believe that when you deliver a clear speech, when you explain what you do, what your constraints are in your country, you can defeat the extremists.

BEARDSLEY: Those extremists have obviously been worrying the German Chancellor who was clearly relieved at the Dutch results.

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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

BEARDSLEY: "The Netherlands is a friend and neighbor," Merkel said, "and I'm happy that a high voter turnout led to a pro-European outcome. It's a good day for democracy." But the Netherlands is a small country with a very different political system from the two European giants France and Germany. Political analyst Nicole Bacharan says despite the Dutch vote, European populists still think they're on a roll.

BACHARAN: Marine Le Pen and her National Front party tried to show - and unfortunately they have some good arguments for this - that, you know, the wind of history is with them.

BEARDSLEY: Given the collapse of the mainstream political parties in France, Bacharan says Marine Le Pen still has a chance of becoming the next French President. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.