-Wilders strikes first blow for European extremists-
By Claire Soares and John Lichfield in Paris
Geert Wilders' Freedom Party won 17 per cent of the vote in the European elections in the Netherlands.
The first killer punch of the European election campaign was struck yesterday by the maverick Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who scooped 17 per cent of the vote and almost a fifth of his country's seats in the European Parliament running on a populist, anti-immigrant, law and order agenda.
The Dutch result, released two days early – before most Europeans had even cast their votes – sent jitters around a continent fearful that a miserably low turnout will help extremists on both the left and right.
Mr Wilders, refused access to Britain as a rabble-rouser earlier this year, has perfected a form of tolerant intolerance with his Freedom Party and its smartly-suited, middle-class, anti-Islamic and "pro-liberal" values. While the Christian Democrats of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende managed to keep hold of the largest share of the votes (albeit with the loss of two seats and a mere three-point lead), the Freedom Party romped home in second.
The platinum-blond maverick shot to international prominence for branding the Koran a "fascist book" and releasing a film, Fitna, which depicted Islam as inherently violent. "This is fantastic, a great day for the people who crave another Netherlands, another Europe," declared a triumphant Mr Wilders who won four of the 25 seats up fro grabs. Having beaten the Labour party, the other main bloc in the Prime Minister's coalition, into third place, he claimed the government no longer had a mandate. "The cabinet should step down, the sooner the better," he told Dutch television, although analysts said that was wishful thinking.