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Dutch companies combine to fight far-right 'populism' before election

Far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders' Freedom Party leads polls, leaving Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party in second place
French far-right Front National party president Marine Le Pen, left, and Dutch far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders speak at news conference in Milan (AFP/file photo)

Major Dutch corporations including Shell, Unilever, Philips and dairy produce giant FrieslandCampina have joined forces in a PR campaign to showcase national talents in a bid to roll back gloom and populism, Dutch media reported on Saturday.

The initiative coincides with the run-up to general elections that are seen as a bellwether for nationalism in Europe in a critical year following last year's Brexit vote and the election victory of Donald Trump.

Dutch far-right parties have been beating the drums on immigration, Islam and economic stagnation.

Far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party have been leading the opinion polls for months, leaving Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party trailing in second place.

A poll aggregate published on 1 February predicted Wilders would emerge with the largest party with 27-31 seats in the 150-member lower house of parliament, with Rutte's party mustering just 23-27 seats.

The PR campaign - whose launch coincides with the tense election campaign - will point to Dutch success in meeting five challenges of the future, the financial daily Het Financieele Dagblad said.

Entitled "Global problems, Dutch solutions," it will look at how Dutch enterprises are enhancing farm yields and water management, coping with demographic ageing, the demands of urbanisation and the switch to renewable energy.

The European head of Unilever, Jan Zijderveld, told the paper that "populism is a symptom of lack of progress".

"Right now, there is a lack of an outlook for growth and that feeds negativity."

He added: "To combat populism, we need a new business model, a point on the horizon to which we can work over the next decade."

"In the election debates, people only talk about today, not about the future," he said.

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