In an epochal parliamentary election last week in The Netherlands, Geert Wilders led his recently formed, anti-Islamist Freedom Party (PVV) to a significant breakthrough that could have reverberations throughout Western Europe.
Wilders’ party came in third with 15.5 per cent of the national vote. That was 1.8 percentage points more than the centrist Christian Democratic Party (CDA) headed by former prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) finished first with 20.4 per cent of the popular vote.
Wilders is a demagogue who plays upon widespread fears of Islamist extremism and elevated crime rates among Muslim youths in The Netherlands. Among his more bizarre policy proposals is an outright ban on the Koran and an annual excise tax on head scarves of 1,000 euros.
These are plainly frivolous suggestions intended to stir up public controversy. Given the proportional system of representation used in The Netherlands, Wilders stood no chance of winning a majority government. He also knows that there is no likelihood of any other parliamentary party supporting such radical, not to say absurd, policies.
However, there can be no doubt that there is considerable public support among the Dutch for Wilders’ proposals to close radical mosques, ban preaching in any language other than Dutch and impose a five year moratorium on immigration by non-Western foreigners as well as on the founding of new mosques and Islamic schools.
Many commentators outside The Netherlands have dismissed Wilders as a right-wing extremist akin to the neo-fascists in Austria, Italy and elsewhere. That is incorrect. There is better reason to believe that he is a sincere democrat, an exponent of gay rights and a stalwart champion of Israel who genuinely deplores racism and admires former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
On most social issues, Wilders has run well to the left of the CDA and VVD. For example, while both parties proposed to cut pension costs by increasing the retirement age to 67 from 65, he resolutely opposed the idea.
Nonetheless, on the day after last week’s election, Wilders announced that he had dropped his objections to increasing the retirement age. In a transparent bid to join a coalition government led by the VVD, he said: “We want to work together and make compromises.”
Meanwhile, Wilders is already having a considerable impact on public policy in The Netherlands, by persuading other parties to amend their immigration policies. During the election campaign, Mark Rutte, the leader of the VVD and most likely next prime minister, promised: “Everyone who comes to our country to contribute is welcome. But we need to put a stop to the influx of disadvantaged migrants who come here only to end up dependent on social security.”
To this end, the election platform of the VVD included a draconian pledge to bar immigrants from receiving social assistance during their first 10 years in The Netherlands. Any such policy would contravene the equality rights of immigrants as decreed by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but that is of no account to Rutte: He says The Netherlands should circumvent the court, if need be, by opting out of “antiquated European conventions” that inhibit restrictions on unproductive immigrants.
Canada faces a similar dilemma. Thanks to the calamitous ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1985 Singh case, all foreigners who arrive in Canada, including phoney asylum seekers with false documents, are now entitled to the same health and welfare benefits as Canadian citizens.
Herbert Grubel, emeritus professor of economics at Simon Fraser University, estimates the annual net cost to Canadian taxpayers of government benefits for immigrants amounted in 2002 to a monumental $18.3 billion.
That’s absurd. Following Rutte’s example, Canadian parliamentarians should invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to enact laws that both bar welfare benefits to immigrants for at least a few years and curtail appellant rights against deportation orders so that foreigners who break the law or pose a serious security threat can be expedited out of the country.