This is a year of elections for Europe. France, Germany and possibly Italy will each hold their most important election in generations. In each of these major countries, the post-World War ii political system is crumbling. The unthinkable is now possible: France could elect a far-right president, Italy could quit the eurozone, and the European rock of stability, Germany, could convulse.
Across the world, observers are watching anxiously.
But one country has already held its 2017 election, and its results give us a powerful message about what to expect.
Europeans Want a Strongman
The Dutch election on March 15 exposed a major shift in European politics. Ahead of the election, many polls showed that Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (pvv) would win. “I hate Islam” is among one of Mr. Wilders’s more controversial statements. He also wants the Koran outlawed. When he only came second, the Western media were euphoric. Bloomberg: “Dutch Liberals Defeat Wilders’s Party in Blow to Populist Surge.” Daily Mail: “Far-Right Dutch M.P. Geert Wilders FAILS to Make Inroads in General Election.” The Telegraph: “Netherlands Rejects Far Right.”
Welcome to 2017 Europe, where it is a “major defeat” for a far-right party to place second in a national election.
A generation ago, it would have been unthinkable for someone like Geert Wilders to do so well.
Wilders’s influence extends far beyond those who actually voted for him. As James Traub wrote for Foreign Policy:
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Dutch have been preoccupied, almost obsessed, with issues of immigration, integration and national identity. Overschie is a largely white enclave in a city that, like most major urban centers in the Netherlands, consists about equally of immigrants and native Dutch, and everyone I spoke to in the Boulevard [a pub where the regulars are all older white men] agreed with some part of Wilders’s nativist agenda. …
He has so thoroughly reshaped Dutch political culture that voters who share his views, but find him ultra vires, can now vote for any number of parties that have taken a hard-line on immigrants and on Islam, including the vvd itself. This is Europe’s politics in 2017; the center holds, but only by giving ground to the nationalist right (March 13).
Dutch center-right leader Mark Rutte and his People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy “won” the elections. But the intriguing question is: How did he manage to claw ahead of Wilders in the polls?
During the campaign, Rutte deliberately echoed Wilders. Immigrants must “act normal or leave,” he wrote. He told antisocial Turkish youths, in crass terms, to go back to Turkey. “Everybody knows immediately this is Wilders’s style. … It’s almost a dialect word, a little bit archaic,” said Henk te Velde, a professor at Leiden University who studies political language, referring to the phrase Rutte used.
Then, just a few days ahead of the election, Turkey gave Rutte a gift. Turkey is scheduled to hold a constitutional referendum on April 16 on shifting more powers to the presidency. A significant number of Turkish citizens live in the Netherlands and are eligible to vote in the referendum. So Turkish ministers scheduled rallies in the Netherlands to whip up support.
The Dutch government was not keen on Turks holding rallies so close to general elections—elections in which Islam had grown to play such a key role. It tried negotiating with Turkey. During the talks, Turkey threatened to impose sanctions on the Netherlands if the latter attempted to restrict the rallies.
This prompted Rutte to get tough. If Turkey was going to make threats, then no Turkish ministers would be allowed in the country, he said. The Turkish foreign minister’s airplane was denied permission to land in the Netherlands.
That didn’t stop Turkey. Turkey’s family affairs minister traveled to Germany, along with a couple of decoy ministers, to try and sneak across the border into the Netherlands. But Dutch police spotted the real minister nonetheless, and she was escorted back to Germany.
As a result of this diplomatic incident, the Dutch rallied around their leader, not because he was accommodating or sophisticated, but because he was tough. According to one poll, 86 percent of the Dutch said they supported Rutte’s actions. Many say that the incident occurring the weekend before the election is what boosted Rutte’s popularity enough to beat Wilders. Spiegel Online wrote, “Rutte’s election win had a Turkish father: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
This is the path to popularity in Europe now. Stand firm for your country. Stand up to Islam. Sound like your far-right opponent.
Other countries are taking note. As German business paper Handelsblatt wrote in an article titled “Beating Populists: Lessons From the Dutch Vote”: “Dutch prime minister and Liberals leader Mark Rutte prevailed over right-wing politician Geert Wilders thanks to statesmanship, a clear line against Turkish campaigning and by partially adopting Mr. Wilders’s position on immigrants” (March 17).
The message from the election is clear: If you want to beat them, join them.
It’s a message Germany’s conservative parties will be thinking hard about. The Alternative für Deutschland party is not going to win Germany’s general election in September. But it could siphon off enough votes from the mainstream conservative parties to cause them to lose the election.
Shifting to the right, standing up to Islam, encouraging national pride—these were the paths to electoral success in the Dutch elections. And they are important trends to watch in Germany.
Since its inception in 1990, the Trumpet has intently watched for the emergence of a strongman in Germany. “Routinely in German history, when Germans become anxious about world events, they call on a strongman to lead them!” writes Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry in A Strong German Leader Is Imminent. “They have done so throughout history—and they are going to do it again.”
“The weakness being demonstrated by the West is exposing the crying need for stronger leadership. And whether or not people want to believe it, that leadership is going to arise in Germany,” he writes.
“Today, Europeans are looking for another ruler like Charlemagne.”
Mr. Rutte stood up to Turkey and received the support of 86 percent of his countrymen for his handling of the issue, according to a snap poll by Maurice de Hond released days before the election. He is not this coming strongman—he is not that strong and, despite his electoral victory, received only limited support. He got a boost in support due to a single instance of standing up to Turkey. But that boost shows what Europe’s voters want.
It is making German political leaders think seriously about the need for strongmen to win elections.
A Shattered Electoral System
The Dutch election also demonstrated another important pan-European trend: the breakdown of the political system.
The main left-wing party in the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party, collapsed from 38 seats to 9. “[I]n this election, the fight seemed to be between right and righter, with some charming alternatives to the left, and no real place for the center-left,” wrote the European Council on Foreign Relations (March 21).
Now, Dutch politics is dominated by a range of smaller parties. Wilders’s pvv, the Christian Democratic Appeal and the Democrats 66 party each won about 20 seats. The Green Left and the Socialist Party each won 14. In 2012, nearly 65 percent of the vote went to the top three parties. This time, they won only 47 percent.
The governing coalition must be made up of at least four separate parties. “This year’s election may give the Netherlands its most fragmented government in history,” wrote the New York Times. “Some political analysts believe it could take weeks or months to form a government and that the governing coalition will be fragile. In Belgium, which has a similar political system as the Netherlands, it famously took nearly a year and a half after inconclusive elections in June 2010 to form a government” (March 15).
Berlin’s elections last year showed the same trend. After support for Germany’s two mainstream parties fell so low that they could not even muster a majority between them, George Friedman at Geopolitical Futures wrote that “the results of the Berlin election look like someone smashed a plate on the floor—with support for the various parties fragmenting into pieces” (Sept. 20, 2016).
This is dangerous territory, and country after country is venturing into it. The last time we were here was in the 1930s, and it was a vicious cycle. The rise of fringe parties deprived traditional parties of their usual votes. Traditional coalitions stopped working. Mainstream parties on the right and on the left created complicated coalitions to keep the fringe parties out of power. These coalitions were unstable or ineffective, and more voters decided to leave the mainstream and back the fringe parties.
What we are seeing in 2017 is nothing less than the complete breakdown of the European political system.
The continuation of liberal democracy is not inevitable, and in most of Europe, democratic governments are actually relatively recent. European leaders are already toying with alternative systems (read our article “Democracy Is Dying”).
This too matches the Trumpet’s forecast, which is based on biblical prophecy.
In A Strong German Leader Is Imminent, Mr. Flurry writes, “Daniel 11:21 prophesies that this strong leader will come into power ‘by flatteries’—probably not by votes, but through a coalition government of some kind.”
“The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says ‘the nation shall not, by a public act, confer the kingdom on him, but he shall obtain it by artifice, ‘flattering,''’ writes Brad Macdonald in the same booklet. “In other words, a deceived public, or a group of European leaders, likely invites this man into power.”
“This soon-coming ruler could literally be called a king,” notes Mr. Flurry. “Even if he is not, the Bible gives him that label. When the Bible talks about a king, in most cases it’s saying that this is not a democratic government.”
This breakdown in European politics is setting the stage for a leader to rise through these sorts of “flatteries.”
This prophetic framework does not tell us exactly what will happen in the French, German and possible Italian elections. But it gives a general outline of what to expect in Europe: what trends will be important in these elections and beyond. Political systems will stall. People will become desperate for a strong leader. They will get one. Europe will form a united front. And this king will ultimately go to war with Islam and with powers beyond.
This is exactly the type of leader the Trumpet has said to look for in Germany. Keep watching for him.