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Hello, I'm Katja Adler. From the BBC World Service, this is The Global Story. Our mission is to give you fresh, smart takes on the stories that matter. We focus on one story in detail, Monday to Friday, with the help of the BBC's best journalists. In the Netherlands, the hard-right politician Gert Virdes, known for his anti-immigration, anti-Muslim rhetoric, is trying to form a coalition government after a surprise election victory.


The indigenous.




Are being ignored. The Netherlands people first now.


Is his success part of a broader European pattern? Right-wing nationalist, politicians, and parties increasing in influence. We on the right know exactly.


Who we are and what we.


Stand for. Take Italy, for example, and also major European powers, France, and Germany. Since the Second World War, Europe's leaders have traditionally had an image of their continent as centrist, tolerant, social-minded. But voters are under pressure thanks to rising living costs and politics are looking a lot more hard-edged. Today we're asking, is Europe now a hotbed for the far-right? With me today, the BBC's correspondent in the Netherlands, Anna Holigan, and Timothy Garton-Asssh, a regular contributor to the BBC on Europe and populism, and the author of Homeland's, a personal history of Europe. Hi, both of you. Hi. Hello. Anna, first of all, because we've started this whole program looking at the Dutch elections, what happened basically? Tell us a bit. Who is Gert Wilde? How much of a surprise is it that he did so well?


It depends on your perspective. For some, he is the hero poster boy of the hard right. He is sometimes called the Dutch Donald Trump. He is an anti-immigration, anti-Islam politician. He's the leader of a party he created himself called the Freedom Party.


It's a travesty that I have to stand trial because I spoke about fewer Americans. It is my right and my duty as a politician to speak about the problems in our country.


Because the Netherlands.


Has a huge problem with Americans.


For others though, he is an extremist, somebody who wants to ban all forms of immigration. He has risen up through talking to people who feel marginalized, disenfranchised. The cost of living crisis has meant that he has a very rich audience, a receptive audience, because they are looking for reasons why life has become so hard.


But what he really focused on in the lead-up to these elections, Anna, what we heard was migration, migration, migration, and a concentration on the cost of living crisis and decreasing quality of health care and things like that. Was it the fact that also the more mainstream parties in the Netherlands seemed to jump on the migration bandwagon as well? Did that help soften his image so he seemed less of an extremist, more acceptable to vote for?


To some extent, yes. He was able to steer them towards what has traditionally been seen as Geert Wilders territory, so issues of migration. There is a migration crisis here in the Netherlands, but the way the Dutch frame this debate is around practical and pragmatic terms. There's a massive housing shortage, about 400,000 too few homes here. The average house price has gone up to about €400,000, which is above what even the average earner can afford. Geert Wilders has said, Well, look, it's because all of these people are coming into the country, there are no borders, the EU has taken control, and we don't have a say anymore. We need to put Dutch people first again.


Timothy, this claim by Gertrude is to be the man speaking the language of the people, understanding the problems of the broader public. To what extent does this fit into a European pattern? We see lots of headlines shouting about a swing to the far-right in Europe. Is this accurate?


It is absolutely. It is clearly part of a larger wave. What we've seen in Hungary, Victor Orban, one of the longest-serving heads of government, being re-elected last year in one of the largest founding member states of the European Union. We now have Georgia Maloney, a post-neofascist Prime Minister of Italy, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, significant successes for the populace. Actually, in the two core major member states of the European Union in Germany, the so-called AFD, the Alternative der Deutsche, has done spectacularly well in two wealthy West German states, not just in the east. And, of course, Marine Le Penne is still looking like a quite possible next President of France. This is very clearly not just one flash on the pound, it is a wave.


So we actually heard from Victor Orban, Hungary's Prime Minister, who you mentioned there, Timothy, after he saw the election results in the Netherlands, he announced the winds of change are here. Is this, though, a real political shift amongst voters that we're seeing in Europe? Or it's an issue-based, issue-driven, and also personality-driven politics where voters might say, Well, that politician is speaking my language, or I feel that he is listening to my concerns, but not necessarily that voter being far-right or extreme-right or right-wing, nostalgic, nationalist, or all the labels that we read about and hear about.


Absolutely, in the case of the voters. But I think what's happening in almost all these cases is you have a mix of genuine economic and cultural concerns. I mean, housing, insecurity, feeling ignored and disrespected by metropolitan elites, all the things Anna was talking about. And what the populists do is to build all of that into a narrative about migration and foreigners. That the problem is the foreigners are taking their houses and the places in hospital and the jobs, and then they're the wrong foreigners. I think that is the common thread. And, of course, the other thing that's happening, Katja, in many of these places, is that we're seeing center-right parties either actually going into coalition with hard-right populist parties or adopting some of their rhetoric.


This is exactly what I wanted to ask you about, because you don't need to be in government to influence government. And that's definitely something that I'm noticing across Europe. You mentioned the hard-right, far-right, AFD in Germany. They are pushing a government led by the center left, the socialist party, in Germany, and also the Green Party to sound pretty tough on migration.


Absolutely. And as you know very well, in Germany, above all, there used to be an absolute cordon senator between the mainstream democratic parties and the AFD. All the mainstream parties saying, We're not going to get into bed with them at all because they're extremists. And even that is beginning to break down. I think the problem is this. If you get a hardening or sharpening of rhetoric from mainstream center-right parties, and simultaneously what Anna was mentioning, a certain softening of the rhetoric from characters like Jack Wilde's, Maureen Le Pen has done this even more successfully, then voters look at that and ultimately say, I think I want the real meat of populism, or to put it another way, why should I vote for the dog whistle if I can vote for the real dog?


It is interesting that there needs to be for voters to find it acceptable to vote for people seen as on the fringes of politics. There does need to be that softening that you referred to there. We did see that with, didn't we, Anna, when it came to anti-Muslim rhetoric just before the election?


Absolutely. He even said all of those anti-Islam policies, the idea of banning the Quran, closing down Islamic schools, banning women from wearing head scarves and government building, he said all of that was going in the cool cast, so going in the fridge for now because he knows that's not necessarily what most voters here in the Netherlands want. They want perhaps less immigration, they want to have control of some of the laws which are being led by the EU at the moment. But softening his image, that's something, yes, I've seen up close because what I experienced from him over the last couple of weeks was this much more gentle, much more personable character. We saw that in the debates too. He really pulled back on his language. The question of what everyone is looking for now is whether he is able to actually moderate those more extreme views. Even this morning, I came out my house to take my daughter to school and my neighbor said, I'm terrified because this is a wolf in sheep's clothing we've got here and everyone has fallen for this.


Interesting. Timothy-o, what about in France, alongside Germany, the other big European power, Emmanuel Macronmaikon, his second term as President, he'd sought himself as a pro-European centrist, but he's had Marine Le Penne on the far right breathing down his neck. We've seen that in his policies, particularly on immigration.


Everywhere, globally, but as well as the scale of a nation, we have more and more polarization. This is why you have big issue now on migration and big polarization on geopolitics, climate, et cetera, et cetera. The big risk is that it creates a pressure on leaders. And more and more leaders follow the people, follow their CIS reaction, and in a certain way, probably creates new divisions in this world. Maureen Lapen has, of course, been doing better and better from election to election, did very well also in parliamentary elections, and then has really launched a charm, offensive, all her MPs are incredibly well-dressed, incredibly well-belayed, behave incredibly courteous, obeying all the civinities. It's been a multi-year exercise to, as it were, guard the wolf in a very elegant sheep's clothing. And given that EmmanuelTron, with particularly his interior minister, is adopting this hard-aligned language on immigration. I think we're beginning to see the same phenomenon now. I fear we're seeing the same phenomenon now when they say, Well, look, actually, Marine Le Penne now looks quite acceptable. By the way, the same thing happened, of course, with Georgia, Maloney in Italy, whereas, in fact, their views remain very hardline.


With these political shifts, what exactly is Europe's identity today? For Europe's international allies like the US or competitors like China, who are they dealing with when they look at Europe? And what is it exactly that's been driving European voters away from the mainstream? I'm Katja Adler, and this is The Global Story, where we aim to provide you with fresh global perspectives on the stories that matter. Do follow or subscribe wherever you listen to us. Timothy, when did this new drift to the right and sometimes also the left extremes start in Europe?


This is quite a long-running drama. I would say four key moments. First of all, many of our listeners will recall 9/11 and the 9/11 in 2001, attacks on the US and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe, including the brutal murder of a Dutch filmmaker called Teo van Gogh in 2004. This is actually where Jack Wilders really first emerges on the scene, making this really, really dangerous equation which goes migrant, Muslim terrorist. That's the first moment. The second of the 2008 financial crisis, segue into the Eurozone crisis, which actually creates a lot of the economic problems we've been talking about. The third big one is the 2015 refugee crisis in which a panic, a sense that immigration is out of control. Remember the Brexit slogan, Take back control. I mean, it's one of the key factors behind the Brexit vote.


I think staying in the European Union as it evolves towards an ever more centralized, federalist structure in the effort to preserve the euro is the risky option. The best thing for us now, because we're a great country, a proud economy, a proud democracy, is to take back control.


It gives a huge boost to the AFD in Germany and to Marine Le Penne in France. My own fear, Katya, is that 2023 is turning into a new 2015. That's to say, a year in which this civilizational panic about uncontrolled immigration, as it's presented, is being exploited by populace and driving voters into their arms.


So you're painting a picture there, Timothy, of a Europe where it's evil, manipulative politicians who are hoodwinking, voters who are distressed over a number of issues. But I just want to take issue a little bit if I think back to the economic crisis in Europe, I think voters, and I noticed this in a number of European countries that I worked in, whether it was Spain or Italy, are suffering the economic crisis. They felt that their mainstream politicians were completely out of touch with them, weren't listening to their concerns. And so they went to other parties because they felt they were being ignored by the powers that be those center-left, center-right parties that in so many European countries have dominated politics ever since the Second World War, telling people how to live their lives and telling people what was best for them. And after banks were rescued over ordinary families, I think there was this pushback against that. So rather than being manipulated by populist politicians, the word populist, they say they're listening to popular concerns and speaking a popular language. Isn't it the fault of the mainstream?


I think there's no contradiction between those two things in saying these genuine concerns have been exploited and people were disappointed with the mainstream parties and saying they are being exploited. But listen, there are two elements in that to pick up. One is what a lot of these populisms have in common is a sense that liberal, metropolitan, cosmopolitan elites, including professional politicians from the mainstream parties, simply don't get their concerns. People feel ignored and disrespected in small towns, in the countryside, people who don't have higher education. Then populists come along and people say, Hey, here's Nigel Farage, here's Donald Trump, here's Marine Le Pen. She gets us. She understands. That's point number one. Point number two, it's important to say that in several of these cases, the liberal mainstream parties were in coalition with each other. So, for example, in Germany, you had a grand coalition of the main center-left and center-right parties. Macron has made a big tent of the liberal center. Therefore, if you're unhappy with the people in power, you're unhappy with most of the main mainstream parties. So the opposition, in a sense, was left to the extremes. And I think both of those two things are important.


And when we're looking at trends, Timothy, I'm wondering since you go so up close on all of this and you're often with us on the BBC talking about these trends in Europe. Do you think it's politics-driven or personality-driven? I mean, outside Europe, we can look at Argentina's new President, for example, we could look at the Philippines, we could look at former US President Donald Trump, who wants to return to the White House. And here in Europe, I think the father of the modern-day populism, possibly Silvia Boliscconi, former Prime Minister of Italy, owner of a massive football club and owner of a business empire who said, I'm going to run Italy like a business, make a success of it, and listen to ordinary concerns.


Yeah. So I think there's a hell of a lot of unhappiness with if you like, the world we, Liberals made, the Europe we, Liberals made. An awful lot of people feel there's an awful lot wrong with it: inequality, insecurity, and so on. And I think that populism is a style, and if you like, also a technique of doing politics, telling stories and narrative, that speaking to emotions, something liberals are not good at, at relating to people, which picks up those discontents. So I think there are too many examples we've been talking about for it just to be personalities. It's a personality or, if you like, a gig or a riff, embedded in a certain way of doing politics, which is rather successful.


And are those comparisons? I mean, you referred to it earlier, Rydrydrydrys, with Donald Trump of the United States. Comparisons are made, first of all, physically with a big, bouffon, light-colored hairstyle, but also to that inflammatory language and a rousing appeal to big crowds at times. To what extent, Timothy says there's a manipulation of voters going on. How do you see it?


From my experience of speaking to people on the street, that is patronizing from a political perspective, but also from journalists that they have failed to understand what people are going through. They feel as though people like Geert Wilders, like Donald Trump, actually listen to them. They say that they're making a rational decision and informed choice. They feel as though journalists like us and politicians are patronizing them when we say, Oh, they've been conned into voting for the populace by all of this populace rhetoric. Actually, they say, Well, look at what the mainstream politicians have done. Here in the Netherlands, especially, you've had the child care allowance crisis where people who were claiming benefits were accused of fraud, wrongly accused of fraud. You had the chronic in gas where people's homes were literally crumbling and the government continued to allow the big businesses to take gas from beneath their feet. You have that population of people who feel marginalized and disenfranchized has just grown and grown and grown. I've been in people's homes this week. They haven't turned their heating on for two years because they can't afford to. They don't see how that's going to be fixed.


They don't think the politicians can fix it, but they want to change something. It's a protest vote, but it's also pure desperation from people who don't see any other solution. They have to change something. This is pretty much the way to turn Dutch politics inside out, is voting for Geert Wilde and that's exactly what they've just done.


And, Timothy, would you say that Europe is not what its leaders traditionally like to think itself as? If you think the European Union, for example, won the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2012. In Brussels, the headquarters for the EU, there's this sense, Oh, in Europe, we're a bastion of liberal values. When Europe looks at itself in the mirror, is it not what it imagined these days?


It depends what the it or the who is in that sentence, doesn't it? Because obviously, you spend a lot of time in Brussels, and in Brussels, that's very much the way people are thinking and talking, and of course, some of our liberal leaders. But there are an awful lot of politicians, an awful lot of people around Europe who don't think that at all. My Oxford research project, dusted some polling with the European Council on Foreign Relations, and one-third of the Europeans are saying the EU is likely to fall apart in the next 20 years. So there's a huge amount of discontent with the European project as it's developed. What I would say is that when Victor Orban, or Marine Le Pen, who the other day said, We like Europe, it's the European Union we don't like. When they talk in the name of European values and they mean nationalist values, nativist values, Christianity, the traditional family rather than LGBTQ, all these elements, and by the way, often, if not explicitly white, rather than not white, those historically are European values. A great many Europeans for many centuries held those to be European values, but they're not the values of the European Union.


The values of the European Union, which are in Article Two of the Treaty of the European Union, are liberal, enlightenment, universalist values. I think it's the association of Europe as a whole with that particular set of values. So the values of the union, the liberal, universalist, enlightenment values, which is very much in question.


So, Anna, what about the Dutch? Because at least from the outside, there's still that image of all of those cafes where you can smoke cannabis. There's the Red Light district, prostitution being legal. It's seen as a liberal, open-minded society. Is it that outsiders haven't been looking clearly or Dutch have had a view of themselves that doesn't match with reality? Or how do you see it knowing the Netherlands so well?


I think sheet has been pulled off the face of this country. For some people it's nothing new. For others, it's massively confronting to see this image that lots of Dutch people hold about themselves that they're liberal, they're tolerant, they're accepting. Actually, it's still a deeply conservative society. I think to people outside the Netherlands, you see the Cannabis Cafees, you see the Red Light district, and you think, Wow, it's so liberal and relaxed over here. Actually, this is a hugely rule-driven society and people like to conform. They like conformity, which is another reason why this vote result has shocked so many people. I think that was a moment where the Netherlands took a breath and thought, Actually, who are we and where are we going here? Because the fact that such a huge part of the population feels as though it hasn't been listened to, so it's made this extreme choice, and they feel as though now they're being represented. The question is, what does the rest of the country do about that?


Just finally, Timothy, for Europe's international allies and competitors, when they pick up the phone and think of talking to a European leader, or there does tend to be this tendency to generalize for Europe, who are they dealing with?


I think it's a Europe which, as in Goethe's Faust, Two souls living in my breast, is actually engaged in a really fierce internal argument between those two visions of itself. The only really wise thing to say is it's not clear who's going to win, but I think that the European elections next year will be a very important signal both to Europe and to the rest of the world.


Timothy and Anna, thank you so much for your time.


Thanks, Katja.


Really enjoyed it.


And thank you for listening to this episode. If you'd like to get in touch, please send us a voice note to plus 4.4, 330, 123, 9480. Or you could email us at theglobalstory@bc. Com. We would really love to hear from you wherever you are in the world from me and the Global Story team. Goodbye.