Accessibility links

Netherlands: What Now For Pim Fortuyn's Controversial List Party?

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The Netherlands, long one of Europe's most stable and liberal democracies, is heading into fresh elections less than three months after the last were held. That follows the collapse of the ruling coalition, which contained the List Party of murdered populist politician Pim Fortuyn. List had a meteoric rise in the country's political world after Fortuyn was shot, but now it's being blamed for breaking up the government through its chaotic infighting. Is this the end of List and its controversial anti-immigrant program? And are there broader implications for the European Union and its eastern candidates?

Prague, 18 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An adventure in Dutch politics, which began when populist politician Pim Fortuyn was gunned down in suburban Amsterdam, appears to have ended.

The Netherlands is now heading for fresh parliamentary elections following the collapse of the center-right ruling coalition that contained Fortuyn's party -- known as the List.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende offered the resignation of the government after becoming exasperated with the infighting among ministers belonging to List. That party, with its anti-immigration overtones and coolness toward the European Union's eastward expansion, sprang to national political prominence immediately after Fortuyn's death in May. It harvested strong voter sympathy in reaction to its leader's murder.

But times have changed. Instead of sympathy, List is now being blamed for the breakup of the government. According to a Dutch analyst, Cas Mudde of Antwerp University, the List Party is likely to receive few votes in the next election, giving it only a scattering of parliamentary seats and thus sending it into virtual political obscurity. Polls show that voters plan to vote for the established political parties instead.

So what explains the brief spark of glory for List? Mudde's opinion is this: "This was a massive burst of resentment, which is very, very uncommon in the Netherlands."

This social resentment, he says, did not have voice until Fortuyn arrived on the scene with his powerful populist temperament. This resentment reflects the feelings of a sector of society that feels disenfranchised, despite the Netherlands' inclusive social policies.

Now this sector of the population will again be largely voiceless -- although, says Mudde, part of its agenda has now been incorporated into the platforms of the main political parties, something that can be seen as Fortuyn's legacy.

But now the List Party lies severely wounded, divided by internal quarreling. To another Belgian-based independent analyst, Stefan Maarteel, the episode serves as a reminder about populism: "That's probably a sign that populist parties have a growth potential as long as they are in opposition. They can play the antihero. They can create populist policies. But once they are in government, it becomes problematical, and they have to govern."

Turning to foreign policy issues, Maarteel also foresees a possible impact on the European Union's eastward enlargement process. That's because Balkenende's present caretaker government will probably still be at the key EU summit in Copenhagen in December, which will decide whether to go ahead with the eastern enlargement.

That government has taken a strong line on enlargement, suggesting that Poland, Latvia, and Slovakia should not be among first-wave entrants because they do not fully meet the EU's criteria.