The Dutch have rejected populism, now it’s the turn of the French and Germans

A united, stable and prosperous Europe is in China’s and the world’s interest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 2:48am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 3:48am

Dutch voters have checked, if not reversed, the rise of populism across Europe. Incomplete election results indicate a clear victory for the prime minister, Mark Rutte, over rivals including the far-right anti-immigration, anti-EU candidate Geert Wilders. The result calms fears the continent would come under the sway of nationalists following Britain’s Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US president on an “America first” platform.

A wave of relief is understandable wherever the unity and stability of a historically warring continent is seen as positive for growth and peace – not least in China, Europe’s second-biggest trading partner behind the US. Hours before the vote, and with an eye on elections next month and in September that will test populist remedies for discontent in France and Germany, Premier Li Keqiang told his press conference after the recent plenary meetings of the top legislative and consultative bodies : “I would like to stress specifically that China supports a united, prosperous and stable European Union ... a strong euro and European integration.”

The mainstream parties did lose votes to anti-immigration nationalists and minor parties. Indeed, Wilders led in the polls until the final weeks, when many decided not to actually vote for him. There were fears Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ugly war of words with the Netherlands and Germany, including Nazi jibes, would help Wilders, who said immigrants waving Turkish flags at a rally were showing they were “not Dutch, but Turkish” – hardly a view that reflects the open society Europe stands for. Fortunately, not enough voters were ready to buy his recipe for a “patriotic revolution”, including closing borders to Muslims, shutting mosques, banning sales of the Koran and leaving the EU.

The Netherlands has held off the tide of populism that brings isolationist and protectionist sentiments, climate-change denial and scapegoating of immigrants. But Wilders insists the genie will not go back in the bottle. We trust voters in France, where far-right candidate Marine Le Pen promises freedom from the “tyrannies” of globalisation and the EU, and Germany will prove him wrong.