The Real Lessons of the Dutch Elections

The Dutch elections of March 15 were billed around Europe and beyond as a battle royal between the forces of populist evil, as represented by Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV), and virtually everybody else in the motley crew of Dutch electoral politics. The victory of prime minister’s Mark Rutte’s VVD party (which lost 20% of its seats) over Wilders’s PVV (which added 25%), was greeted rapturously as a monumental defeat for populism and a great triumph for Europe across the political spectrum. In fact, it was nothing of the kind, and if its coverage showed anything, it was that the European press, much like the American mainstream press, had become a one-trick pony that is good at demonstrating political bias, but rather useless in helping one understand where Europe is going. For these elections did have some profound implications for the future not only of the Netherlands, but all of Europe, that were nearly completely missed in the tons of ink spilled on partisan post-mortems.

Two things stand out. An openly Islamist party made it into an European parliament on its very first try and the usual political home of Muslims in Europe heretofore -- the socialist Left, suffered a grievous defeat, likely as a result, with the Dutch Labor party losing all but 9 of its 38 seats. This is a paradigm change documenting the growth of political Islam in Europe and almost certainly ushers a new and disturbing trend.

The Islamist party is called Denk (‘think’ in Dutch, “equality” in Turkish) and it was founded by former Labor parliamentarians who are ethnically Turkish. Denk is as radical as Erdogan’s AKP, of which Denk claims to be an affiliate. It openly rejects integration, the worn-out mantra of the Left, which it sees as a form of racism, and instead advocates acceptance of Muslims and their culture as they are. Aiming to take advantage of the migrants’ youth, it urges voting at 16 and control of local government by the local majority, thus solidifying existing Muslim-dominated parallel societies in Dutch cities with large Muslim populations like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, the Hague, and Utrecht. It further calls for a ‘racism’ and Islamophobia register that would disqualify those listed from holding public office. It wants imams to be present in all schools, hospitals, and the military, whose education is to be paid by the state, but without any state interference in the curriculum.

It also has foreign political ideas that are closely aligned with those of Erdogan. It calls for EU policies that are pro-Palestinian and anti-American and, of course, vigorously denies that there was an Armenian genocide.

Denk is only six months old and yet it managed to garner 205,000 votes in the election. With nearly 1 million Dutch citizens of mostly Turkish and Moroccan descent, its prospects must be considered bright. Which brings us to the question of what makes Muslims, who in many cases have lived most of their lives in liberal European societies, vote for a party that openly rejects European norms and values. It is indeed puzzling that 60% of the German Turks and 70% of their Dutch co-ethnics voted for Erdogan in the last elections, as he systematically dismantled what was left of Turkish democracy. The most troubling implication of this is the simple question that European governments never dare ask in their happy integration talk. What happens to Europe if it turns out that its Muslims do not want to integrate?

And signs that this indeed might be the case are proliferating from all over the continent of late. It is, for instance, well established that most of the 20,000 or so jihadists who joined terrorist groups in Syria and elsewhere in the past few years were born, raised, and radicalized in Europe and not in the Middle East. It is also a fact that the radical growth of anti-Semitism in France and elsewhere is directly tied to the growing Muslim presence, which for more than a year now has necessitated de facto martial law in France. Nor are most other current trends sanguine.

Perhaps the main reason for the Islamists growing confidence is the belief that time is on their side. Regrettably, most demographic data unmistakably point in that direction. Europe’s native populations are old, tired, and declining, while the mostly unintegrated Muslims are young and vigorous. The median age in Germany, for instance, is a very old 46.8 years of age, while Muslims average 32 years, even as the dismal German fertility of 1.44 children per woman compares to a Muslim fertility that is close to twice as high. These demographic discrepancies were given further impetus by Angela Merkel’s policy in 2015 of inviting millions of mostly young, mostly male migrants without skills or education and limited chances of obtaining asylum. EU authorities claim that the number of asylum claimants in 2015 was 1,321,560, while the border police organization, Frontex, believes that 1,800,000 came in 2015 with any number of jihadists hidden among them. Since then, the flow has continued with half as many arriving in 2016 and Erdogan threatening that he would unleash a new tsunami of migrants if Europe does not do as he wishes.

Faced with this assault on its fundamental values, Europe has no better reaction than to gang up on a politician who must sleep in a different place every night to avoid being killed for his views. O tempora, o mores! 

Alex Alexiev is chairman of the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies and the editor of the geopolitical website He twits on national security at and could be reached at