Flight to the Fringes Wilders Big Winner of Dutch EU Elections

Populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders' right-wing party scored big in European elections held in the Netherlands on Thursday. The Party for Freedom is now the second largest Dutch party in Brussels, with the far left having made gains as well.

Geert Wilders and his populist Party for Freedom (PVV) appeared to be the big winners of Thursday's elections for European Parliament in the Netherlands. Exit polls released soon after the Dutch voting stations closed at 9 p.m. on Thursday evening predicted he would get four of the 25 Dutch seats in the European Parliament, making the PVV the second largest of all Dutch parties in Brussels.

Wilders, who has become popular in the Netherlands running on an anti-Islam and anti-political establishment platform, promised voters he would be tough on immigration and criticized Turkey's bid to join the EU. "Should Turkey as an Islamic country be able to join the European Union? We are the only party in Holland that says, it is an Islamic country, so no, not in 10 years, not in a million years," Wilders said.

The other party in the Netherlands to be strengthened in the Thursday vote is the left-wing liberal -- and most outspokenly pro-European party in the Netherlands -- D66. It grew from one to three seats in the European parliament. The boost for these two parties showed that Dutch voters are moving to the fringes of the political spectrum.

Labour, one of the three parties who make-up the ruling coalition government in the Netherlands, suffered a blow and lost four of its seven seats. The Christian Democrats, Pprime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's party, looked set to retain five of their current seven seats.

Voter turnout was at 40 percent, a fraction higher than in 2004, the last time Europe-wide elections were held.

Only the Dutch and the British voted in European parliamentary elections on Thursday. The Czech Republic and Ireland head to the polls on Friday with voters in the rest of European Union set to cast their ballots over the weekend.

European rules prohibit countries from releasing election results until all polling stations across the 27-member bloc close on Sunday evening, because results from other nations could influence those who have yet to vote. Holland, however, has argued that its voters have a right to learn the election results as soon as possible. The results announced on Thursday evening, however, are provisional, with the final tally to be released on Sunday evening.

NRC Newsdesk with wire reports