by Maria Vasileiou
THE HAGUE, March 6 (Xinhua) -- The outcome of the Dutch general election scheduled for March 15 could be a barometer of populism impact for a series of high-stake elections in France, Germany and possibly in Italy later this year.
The results could be a touchstone of the power of the growing populism in the continent to see whether it has gained sufficient support among European Union (EU) core members to disrupt the bloc's values and political stability.
"Radical right-wing leaders across Europe would disseminate an outcome marking big gains for anti-immigration and euro skeptic Geert Wilders' party as an impending sign of a growing wave of populism," said Paul Teule, lecturer in political economics at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
With nine days to go, the Dutch vote is the first of three elections in EU founding members this year. The French will vote in presidential first round on April 23 and second round on May 7. The Germans will face federal elections on Sept. 24 and Italy may follow later.
"In the event of a favorable for Wilders, the outcome will fit in the narrative of an upcoming populism spring ready to overturn the established political order across Europe and worldwide," Teule told Xinhua. "Extreme right leaders build expectations for electoral gains on this easy to spread narrative. Wilders did the same with Trump."
The Dutch anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) leader had hailed Donald Trump's election in the United States as "a historic victory" and "a revolution," claiming it would cause a similar political shift in Europe.
Teule suggested that a Wilders' electoral victory would invigorate populist parties across the EU.
"Far right leaders and, in particular, Marine Le Pen in France will propagate it as an example of a nationalist, anti-EU party topping the polls," said the Dutch political expert and author of "Vrijheid voor Gevorderden" (Freedom for Advanced Readers), a book on Dutch politics containing a comprehensive rethink of the notion of freedom.
Both Wilders and Front National (FN)'s leader Marine Le Pen in France are running on an anti-immigrant, anti-European platform that blames the EU for taking away control from the nation state.
The two far-right leaders have seen a significant rise in their popularity and expect electoral gains with the help of rising migration concerns across the EU following the massive influx of immigrants.
Wilders has pledged to close the Netherlands' borders, shut down mosques and leave the EU if he gets into power. Le Pen has also pledged to put France's euro membership to a vote.
A total of 28 parties will bid for the 150 seats at the Dutch lower house. The PVV is competing with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative People's party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) to be the largest party.
The latest poll by Peilingwijzer, which combines different polls, showed that the VVD would win 23-27 seats while the PVV would get 21-25 seats.
However, Enzo Rossi, professor at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), questioned the potential of momentum by Wilders' possible electoral victory to his pals in other EU countries.
In his point of view, national factors or "certain issues randomly surfacing" may play a more significant role in giving Le Pen more chances to mark electoral gains.
For example, the French far-right leader might be boosted by the investigation into claims of "misuse of public funds" launched against conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon.
"The issue is irrelevant to the rise of populism in Europe, but many of the votes lost by Fillon could now be siphoned off by Le Pen," he argued.
What's more, the Amsterdam-based Italian political scientist believes that the outcome of the Dutch elections in the event of a Wilders' victory could be "a wake-up call for France" by triggering a stronger anti-Le Pen vote.
The momentum towards this direction could be even stronger as Wilders is unlikely to participate in the next Dutch government, he added.
Due to the fragmented nature of Dutch politics, no party has ever won a majority in the lower house, making coalitions inevitable.
But so far, almost all major parties have ruled out working with Wilders.
"Even if Wilders wins the election, he's unlikely to become prime minister," said Rossi.
The opinion was echoed by Teule, who also ruled out the possibility.
But he warned that even if Wilders is blocked from real political power in the Netherlands, his winning big in the election would be a blow for the EU's political order.
"Even if his mandate will be limited, his election would cause political frustration," said Teule, suggesting it will be difficult for the next government to get legislation through.
"There will be many cases of rolling back on bills relating to EU decision making, especially on issues of further integration, common rules, investment," he said. "The narrative of resentment will be so dominant that policies will be scaled back and progress could only be achieved on a topic by topic basis."
For Rossi, the growing influence of the narrative of anti-EU populism, a trend already on the rise since the Brexit vote and the Trump election, will be devastating for mainstream and established parties.
A Le Pen victory in France would be more worrisome for the EU than a Wilders' lead in the Dutch polls, he added.
While in the Netherlands the tradition of coalition politics will keep Wilders out of power, in France president holds a great amount of executive power.
But now French polls suggest that Le Pen has a fat chance of passing through the first round.
In addition, according to Rossi, Wilders is against the EU but does not have "a very thought-through platform." Le Pen, on the contrary, has stronger positions for Europe's second largest economy with her promises of a return to the nation state and a vote on the country's EU membership.
"At the end of the day the Dutch recognize their dependence on EU integration for prosperity," said Rossi. Actually 40 percent of Dutch consider EU partnership "a good thing," while 30 percent think of it as "bad," according to the Netherlands Institution for Social and Cultural Research.