European press relief as Dutch reject 'Populist Spring'

image captionMark Rutte wins, but who will he govern with, ask the Dutch press

Dutch political commentators have little doubt that centre-right VVD leader Mark Rutte will form the next government after the relatively poor showing of the populist Freedom Party of Geert Wilders in the general election. But none expect that task to be easy.

'Hodge-podge of parties'

"The battle is over, so now the fight begins", writes Tjerk de Vries in the mass-circulation free sheet Metro.

He predicts Mark Rutte will form a new government of the right, but it will be a "hodge-podge of various parties" in an attempt to exclude Mr Wilders.

In common with many commentators, Tjerk de Vries sees the Green-Left party as the "big winner", after as it benefited from infighting in the the Labour Party, Mr Rutte's erstwhile coalition partner.

image copyrightLe Figaro / AP
image captionFrance's conservative Le Figaro sees the "right in power after winning the elections"

The conservative tabloid De Telegraaf puts a beaming Mark Rutte on its front page, adding that Labour got "thumped by the voters".

It says Mr Rutte's "sure handling of the Turkish crisis paid off at the polls", referring to the government's very public clash with Turkey's President Erdogan.

'Erdogan's bonus'

Martin Sommer of the centre-left De Volkskrant acknowledges "relief in Europe" at the Freedom Party's defeat, but warns against complacency.

"The voters dealt ruthlessly with the government. Labour ran a messy campaign and got crushed. The VVD once hoped for 50 seats, and has to settle for 33," he writes, being in no doubt that the prime minister "won his bonus thanks to President Erdogan".

He pins the hopes of the left on the Green-Left's charismatic Jesse Klaver, "who could become a progressive beacon in dark days".

image captionGerman papers see a "setback for Wilders"

'Populism halted'

The upmarket tabloid NRC Next asks who Mark Rutte will form the next government with, given the collapse of Labour and the fragmentation of the right.

It agrees that the Turkish crisis helped - a cartoon shows a jubilant Mark Rutte waving a tiny Turkish flag.

The bottom line for the paper's analysts Thijs Niemantsverdriet and Annemarie Kas is that there was "no breakthrough for the Freedom Party", and Geert Wilders' "victory in gaining some seats must feel like a defeat" after he headed the polls for so long.

The writers dub his decision not to campaign prominently as a "miscalculation", and declare confidently that the "international impact of his disappointment is hard to underestimate. The rise of nationalist populism has been halted in the Netherlands for the time being".

'Biggest of the dwarfs'

In Germany, the centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Tim Steppat attributes Mr Rutte's win to his "bid for Wilders-leaning floating voters by moving his own party to the right on migrants", and acting tough with Turkey.

He says the prime minister's gamble of treating the election as a "referendum to decide the fate of the country" also paid off, as it "made Geert Wilders out to be an bigger bogeyman than he really is".

But Mark Rutte now faces a difficult task ahead as only the "biggest of the dwarfs in Dutch politics".

As for Geert Wilders, Mr Steppat says he seems "strangely relaxed" about his defeat. "Perhaps in four years' time, the bogeyman won't look so frightening after all", he concludes.

Jean-Pierre Stroobants writes in France's centre-left Le Monde that The "Netherlands and Europe can breathe out, as the Populists' Spring did not begin in The Hague".

But he also cautions Mark Rutte that his "party was on the retreat all over the country and actually lost seats". He recalls Geert Wilders's ominous tweet that "Mark Rutte has not seen the last of me yet".

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