Dutch far-right Party for Freedom set for gains in European Parliament polls
Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders is riding high ahead of this month's European Parliament elections, hoping to destroy from within what he calls the "monster of Brussels".
Despite an unprecedented backlash after he called for "fewer Moroccans" in the Netherlands, his Party for Freedom (PVV) looks set to make gains in the May 22 vote, including extra clout and cash by joining a pan-European populist alliance.
Wilders in November announced "the start of the liberation of Europe" from the European Union after forming a partnership with the French far-right party National Front (FN).
Like the FN's leader Marine Le Pen, Wilders wants to take his country out of the EU and to abandon the euro.
"Wilders is hunting for power in Europe. He wants to be part of a broader movement and wants more influence in the European Parliament," said Adriaan Schout, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute for International Relations.
The latest Ipsos opinion poll on May 1 ranked Wilders' PVV third in the Netherlands, just below the ruling coalition partner People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the pro-Europe D66.
But Wilders' campaign, which has been based almost solely on anti-Islamic, anti-immigration and anti-EU rhetoric, has suffered a number of setbacks in recent months.
His controversial statement after local government elections in March vowing "fewer Moroccans" led to an exodus of several high-ranking party supporters - including the head of his parliamentary group in Brussels, Laurence Stassen.
"For serious people in the PVV it was tipping point and a reason to leave - including for his European parliamentary leader Stassen," Schout said.
Despite thousands filing police complaints of racism against Wilders, his anti-EU and anti-immigration call still appeals to many disillusioned with crisis-driven budget cuts blamed on Brussels.
In order to form a far-right anti-European bloc, Wilders and Le Pen would have to find like-minded politicians in at least a quarter of the EU's 28 member states, and see 25 members elected to the now trimmed-down 751-seat European Parliament.
If they become an official European political group, they would benefit from subsidies, offices, a communications budget, seats on committees and speaking time in parliament proportional to their numbers.
But even if Wilders makes inroads in the May 22 ballot, his direct involvement in European politics will remain limited.
The Netherlands this time only has 27 seats in the European Parliament and with the PVV expected to gain around five seats, it would remain junior to the mightier National Front.
"Indirectly, though, he'll have a far greater impact," said analyst Andre Krouwel, because of Wilders' ability to create doubt and division within bigger parties.
"He's using it on a national level. It is likely to happen on a European level as well."