Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) are seeing a surge in the polls ahead of the Netherlands national elections on November 22.
In the latest poll, published on November 18, Wilders gained a projected five extra seats, sharing the top spot with the right-liberal VVD party. Both would secure 26 seats in the 150-seat Parliament.
Wilders’ chances of a possible role in a future government have increased. This has led him to taking more moderate positions.
His willingness to compromise and appear less of a hardliner is apparently making him more appealing to voters.
The implosion of former right-wing challenger Thierry Baudet and his Forum for Democracy is also thought to be helping.
The Hamas terror attack of October 7 and subsequent protests in Europe against Israel and the West is also said to have pushed a significant proportion of the electorate towards Wilders, who is a staunch ally of Israel and the Jewish people.
*** GAMECHANGER! ***
PVV +5 en op 26 zetels! 👍
Gedeelde 1e plaats met de VVD.
— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) November 18, 2023
All these elements were already noticeable, as veteran Dutch journalist Syp Wynia explained in his interview with Brussels Signal in Amsterdam.
Where in previous election cycles Wilder’s relationship with the media was hostile, this more moderate version is being better received by broadcasters.
When the PVV-leader was invited on Vandaag Inside, a popular TV show whose hosts might be likened to UK TV motoring presenter Jeremy Clarkson and his colleagues on Top Gear, they chatted amiably with Wilders, giving him ample opportunity to make his points.
A day later, on the same commercial channel, Wilders dominated the political debate with his three main competitors, Dilan Yeşilgöz of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, Pieter Omtzigt from the new, centrist NSC party and former European Commissioner Frans Timmermans for the Social Democrats-Greens.
Wilders was widely seen as the winner of the debate and at a one point appeared to score points over Timmermans regarding the high redundancy pay the ex-Commissioner receives.
That came as a disabled woman told Timmermans she struggled to pay €385 for her health insurance. Timmermans tried to explain his plans to amend this but Wilders was quick to shoot him down.
“You get €15,000 a month in severance pay from the European Commission, you can wait, but this lady has no money and cannot wait,” Wilders said.
“You, as the leader of social democracy, have totally lost touch with reality!”
Meneer Timmermans u krijgt €15.000 per maand aan wachtgeld van de Europese Commissie, u kan wachten maar deze mevrouw heeft geen geld en kan niet wachten, u heeft als leider van de sociaal democratie het contact met de werkelijkheid totaal verloren!#Timmermans #Wilders #SBS6 pic.twitter.com/UIAgRV94jk
— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) November 16, 2023
Timmermans was generally seen as the loser of the debate, even among his own supporters.
Journalist Rutger Castricum noted that Timmermans’ European track record, contrary to what many assumed at the start of this election cycle, has turned out to be a major disadvantage.
The debates have shown that Timmermans “carried too little weight” and that he thought that having been “the euro Commissioner, that [he] easily could become prime minister over here.
“It’s quite a disappointment for him,” Castricum added.
Many in the Netherlands, not least his political adversaries, had assumed Timmermans would have been much more forthright in the debates but his performances are now seen as having been lacklustre.
One commentator said Timmermans had underestimated his opponents, with Omtzigt having extensive policy knowledge and Wilders being on top of his game. The former EC “green pope” now seems defeatist in contrast.
Castricum said he believed that stemmed from his decade of political activity in the most elite European Union circles.
The journalist has known Timmermans as a parliamentarian for a considerable time and said he previously seemed well equipped with a “street fighter mentality” in debates.
He claimed that changed as the politician became enveloped by the Brussels atmosphere, where European leaders are not contradicted whatsoever and are instead “very much shielded”, he said. He also referred to the hearing of Wopke Hoekstra.
“When you ask a tough question, they literally push you aside,” Castricum said.
EU leaders are surrounded by yes-men, he said. “For over nine years, Timmermans hasn’t been in a real debate like this [recent series],” he concluded.