Geert Wilders hopes to gain power with an anti-Muslim message.

Nervous leaders across Europe are looking to tomorrow's election in the Netherlands for clues.

Elections are also to be held this year in France and Germany and anti-Islam, anti-European Union candidates there also are capitalising on fears about a wave of mostly Muslim refugees and migrants.

Even if anti-immigration candidate Geert Wilders is barred from power in the Netherlands by the wide range of parties that are refusing to cooperate with him, he already has tugged his nation's political discourse towards a far harder line on immigrants. Anxious to capture Wilders voters, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said this year that immigrants needed to work harder to fit into Dutch society or they should leave - a stark departure from a Dutch tradition of acceptance.

Wilders started the year with 20 per cent support in the polls. His appeal was only enhanced by a December criminal conviction for inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. "It's ammunition for his populist argument that there is an elite that doesn't listen to the concerns of ordinary citizens," said Matthijs Rooduijn, an expert on populist parties at Utrecht University.

Geert Wilders laughs with a supporter during a campaign stop in Heerlen, Netherlands. Photo / AP
Geert Wilders laughs with a supporter during a campaign stop in Heerlen, Netherlands. Photo / AP

Wilders has since slumped to second place.

His participation in governing the Netherlands would not be unprecedented - he was a member of a ruling coalition from 2010 until 2012 - but in an era of rising euroscepticism, his most radical messages have powerful new traction.

Most observers expect that Wilders will not take part in any coalition following the election, forcing mainstream parties to form a broad and weak alliance to muster a majority in Parliament. If it fails, Wilders may be the long-term beneficiary.

The peroxide blond crusader

He warns about the perils of Muslim immigrants. A single well-lobbed tweet can ignite his nation's political scene for days. And in a time of relative prosperity, he has succeeded in focusing dark fears about what is happening in mosques across his land.

The peroxide-blond Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who wants to ban the Koran, shut down mosques and upend his nation's sleepy political scene, was executing the Trump playbook long before the US President. "These elections are historic, because the Netherlands can choose if we want to give our land away further or if we are going to recapture it," Wilders said this month.

Mainstream politicians shake their heads at Wilders's contradictions, even as they scramble to match his common-person's touch. The man who is railing at the establishment is one of the longest-serving members of the Dutch Parliament, a fixture of The Hague for nearly 20 years. He is a man who directs his message straight to the gut of ordinary Dutch voters but has hardly any contact with them, as assassination concerns have forced him to live on the move, surrounded by a bristling guard detail.

Although he dominates Dutch airwaves and political discussions, Wilders rarely grants interviews to the media, preferring to avoid tough questions by communicating through Twitter. And despite his bar-the-door attitude towards immigration, his mother was born in Indonesia and his hair dye has bleached away the dark curls that once drew racist schoolyard taunts.

In Wilders' southeastern Dutch home town of Venlo, residents are split about whether their native son is a source of pride or shame. The future firebrand grew up here in middle-class comfort, attending schools that drew from Venlo's mostly white, Catholic population. Later Wilders travelled to Israel and worked on a kibbutz, a trip he described as transformative in shaping his pro-Israel, anti-Muslim views.

"A lot of people think the things he says, but he says it," said Marc Schatorj, 49, who works as a supervisor at a roofing tile manufacturer near Venlo. "I don't have a problem with the whole of Islam, just Moroccans and immigrants who don't make you feel safe on the street anymore."

But others resent his pull on the nation's political discourse. "Every city has its idiot, and ours is Geert Wilders," said Abbie Chalgoum, 37, a high school teacher who moved to Venlo from Morocco when he was a child.

The Dutch answer to Justin Trudeau

In a venue more used to international pop stars, 5000 people crowded into a concert hall in Amsterdam last week, beers in hand, for the largest political rally in the Dutch election campaign.

Green Left party leader Jesse Klaver gestures during an interview in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo / AP
Green Left party leader Jesse Klaver gestures during an interview in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo / AP

The cheering crowd had gathered to see Jesse Klaver, the 30-year-old leader of the Green Left, a new left-wing party campaigning for social equality and radical environmental change in the Netherlands.

With curly brown locks that have drawn comparison to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and a compelling family story as the son of a Moroccan father and part-Indonesian mother, Klaver has become a beacon for Dutch liberals and his poll numbers have risen dramatically.

Klaver thinks he has the formula to revive the downtrodden left and begin turning back the populist tide.

"These elections are crucial for the Netherlands because I don't want hate and fear to win, but also for Europe," Klaver said. "These are the first elections across the continent, after them come France and Germany. Parties on the left are having a hard time, but you can see that Green Left is growing because we want to do politics in another way."

Klaver's Green Left is running third against the Christian Democrats and another liberal party.

Maurice de Hond, a leading Dutch pollster, said: "He's young, a little bit like Trudeau, although his movement is more like Bernie Sanders', a grassroots movement of young, optimistic people."

Klaver is among the 12 per cent of the population who has a parent born in a non-Western country.

- additional reporting Daily Telegraph UK