A continued expansion of wind and solar power in the Netherlands — necessary for the country to produce the large quantities of green hydrogen needed to decarbonise its industry — may be threatened after the victory of the far-right, anti-renewables populist Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) in the Dutch general elections.
With almost all votes counted, Wilders seems to have won close to a quarter of Dutch votes — more than any other party — which would grant the PVV 37 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, the key lower house of parliament in The Hague.
Running on a radical anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platform, Wilders so far had been shunned by most other parties, but after his landslide victory told his centre-right rivals to swallow their pride and enter into a coalition that would make him prime minister.
Wilders faces major challenges forming a coalition government in a fragmentated Dutch party system but Green groups are already alarmed.
"Despite the fact that many people voted green, the provisional election results do not bode well for the climate,” Donald Pols, the head of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, told Hydrogen Insight's sister publication Recharge.
“A Wilders government will mean four years of climate change denial,” the group said. Extinction Rebellion added: “This outcome will likely mean a rollback of climate measures, new fossil fuel investments, exclusion of marginalized groups, and more.”
The PVV has argued that climate change is natural, and that the small Dutch nation could do nothing about it anyway.
In its election manifesto, the PVV said the country must stop using energy from wind, solar or biomass, and instead continue with gas and coal-fired power stations as well as build new nuclear.
No mention was made of hydrogen, but a moratorium on new wind or solar would scupper plans to power electrolysers with renewable energy, especially as the EU requires green hydrogen to be made using new clean electricity facilities.
However, it is unclear how such an energy policy would square with Europe’s updated Renewable Energy Directive, which not only targets renewables to make up 42.5% of energy consumption by 2030, but also sets a strict mandate for 42% of industrial hydrogen to be made according to the Delegated Acts.
If member states fail to transpose directives into law, this can trigger a legal battle and fines.
However, Wilders has called for a referendum on the Netherlands’ membership of the EU, or ‘Nexit’.
In recent years, the country has been a front-runner in the energy transition, particularly in offshore wind, where the outgoing Rutte government has pursued a pragmatic and steady course of expansion, targeting 21GW in the water by 2030 and 70GW by 2050.
And it has also set ambitious targets for 4GW of domestic electrolysis capacity by 2030, doubling to 8GW by 2032, while a joint auction with Germany for imports of renewable H2 is set to begin next year.
Wilders’ closest rival in the elections was former EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Frans Timmermans, whose Green-Labour alliance came in second, with 25 seats in parliament. Next came the right-wing liberal VVD of currently acting Prime Minister Mark Rutte with 24 seats, and the centrist New Social Contract (NSC) of popular lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt with 20 seats.
Wilders’ PVV could theoretically form a coalition with the VVD and the NSC, which would have a solid majority of 86 seats.
But it is unclear whether the polemical Wilders — who in the past has called for outlawing mosques and the Koran — can win over current VVD leader and outgoing justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz, who is of Turkish origin with a family that fled to the Netherlands in the 1980s.
Yesilgöz until Tuesday still had ruled out a pact with Wilders but didn’t repeat that statement after the election, saying it had been based on the expectation that the far-right leader would not be able to find a majority anyway.
“The lead in the formation [of a government] does not lie with us,” Yesilgöz is quoted as saying on public broadcaster NOS.
It could be even tricker to convince Omtzigt and his only recently formed NSC to join hands with Wilders. During his election campaign, Omtzigt had called the PVV’s positions contrary to the Dutch constitution, but never clearly stated whether he was excluding a cooperation with the far right.
If Wilders doesn’t succeed in forming a government, Timmermans could try (although he told Dutch media his party would now likely find itself in opposition).
A four-way coalition of this Green-Labour alliance with the centre-right parties VVD and NSC, joined by the left-liberal D66 party of outgoing energy minister Rob Jetten — a star in Europe’s green energy policy — would have a 78-seat majority.
But it would likely be an uphill struggle for Timmermans to get the VVD on board after he had rallied to push the VVD to the “reserve bench” during his election campaign.
Jetten, whose D66 is one of the big losers of the election with only nine remaining seats , has been outspoken against Wilders in a first reaction, saying: “The politics of intolerance has been normalized when it should never be normal.”
According to NOS, he accused VVD leader Yesilgöz of having “opened the door wide for Wilders” by no longer ruling out cooperation with him.
Like the PVV, the VVD also favours building new nuclear power stations, but it also wants to keep the current course in offshore wind. How that would play out in coalition talks is unclear.
One thing seems to be certain: The Netherlands and the renewables and green hydrogen industries are probably in for months of uncertainty.
This article originally appeared in Hydrogen Insight’s sister publication Recharge.