PARIS, March 16 (Xinhua) -- A few weeks before the French presidential elections, France breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday after the Dutch general election victory of the center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
After the Brexit vote and the victory of Donald Trump in the United States, all eyes were on the Netherlands. In France, there are less than 40 days until the presidential election in which extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen is the favorite to win the first round.
In the eyes of many political observers, the Dutch general election qualified as a test for the strength of populist parties on the continent where several important elections will be held this year.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault congratulated the Dutch "to have checked the rise of the extreme right."
In a statement, French President Francois Hollande "warmly" congratulated Rutte, and said "The values of openness, respect for others and faith in the future of Europe are the only true responses to nationalist and protectionist tendencies which are shaking the world."
Hollande had personally entered the fray over the past few weeks to warn against the "dangers" that the extreme right poses for France.
Francois Fillon, presidential candidate for the Republican party, also voiced welcome to the outcome of the Dutch elections.
"This success shows once again that while the right and center have a clear program, defend their values without concessions, they are the best fortification against populism and extremism," he said in a statement.
The far-right party National Front (FN) led by Le Pen, on the other hand, celebrated the progress made by the euroskeptic and anti-Islamist party of Geert Wilders.
The Secretary General of the FN Nicolas Bay on a broadcast for France Inter radio called what Wilders got in the elections "a real success."
He said "It's not yet the final victory but we see that this is part of a general trend which is the progression everywhere of patriots in Europe."
Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) won 33 legislative seats.
With 20 seats, Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) would have gained five seats compared with the 2012 general election, but actually gained eight seats since the outgoing parliament, three members of parliament having left in the course of their terms.
This election saw an extremely high turnout, which was estimated at 80 percent.
And it was also closely watched by media.
"The Netherlands holds strong," read a Le Monde article. "After Austria, where voters confirmed in December 2016 their preference for a president from the Greens over a candidate from the extreme right, the Netherlands delivered new proof of the vigor of democratic resistance to the rise of anti-European populism," wrote the editors.
"The voters of the Netherlands have thwarted predictions," announced RTL radio, underlining that Wilders' party had not succeeded in exploiting the diplomatic crisis with Turkey.
According to La Tribune, "the real lesson of the elections" resides in the hard fall of the coalition in power up until now. The economic journal judges that the Dutch people "have rejected the economic policy of the coalition" which returned unemployment in the country to 2012 levels, but where "the inequalities widened and the risk of poverty increased."