In the wake of Geert Wilders relatively disappointing election showing this week, many pundits are quick to declare the populist wave over in Europe. They have extrapolated from the Dutch result that France will not become the domain of Marine Le Pen after the first week in May. I would advise a lot more caution on this front than we’re hearing.
For a start, the Netherlands and France are very different countries, in very different places, politically speaking, at present. The fact that Wilders’ virtual one-man band PVV (he is, in fact, the only member) managed to get as far as it did in the liberal Netherlands is actually scary, not something to celebrate. Yes, it’s better that PVV didn’t win the most seats in the Dutch election, obviously, but I cannot take that as comfort in regards to what will probably happen in France in what is now only a few weeks away.
I’m going to double down and repeat my prediction: I think Marine Le Pen will win the presidency in May. It’s because, like I say, France is not the Netherlands. France is a country that has suffered several traumatic terrorist attacks over the past few years, and it was never even close to as liberal as the Netherlands is to begin with. I would love to see Macron win – what a victory for a Europe-wide liberal comeback that would be. And that’s exactly why I can’t see it happening. It was like I felt before the US presidential election: do I think America is on the verge of electing the first female president, or do I think they’re on the verge of electing a highly unqualified clown? And so it goes with France: do I feel like the French are in the mood to give a fresh faced centrist with a very nascent political party a chance at the palace? Or will they give it to the person who seems to echo the mood of most of the country at it stands perfectly? The choice seems obvious.
I hope I’m wrong. But I just can’t see the VVD hanging on in Holland as a sign that the populist wave is over and that the European project is going to have no further existential problems. It simply doesn’t feel like the way things are going.