All eyes are on the Dutch elections to see if Geert Wilders can overturn a model of moderate governance in the Netherlands, writes Europe Correspondent Tony Connelly.

At the beginning of June last year I arranged to speak to Geert Wilders at the Dutch Parliament in The Hague.

He was polite and friendly to the point of being charming, despite his reputation as a hatemonger.  It was clear that his political tail was up.  

It was three weeks before the Brexit referendum, and he was encouraged by the signals he was getting from his contacts in the UK.

"Brexit would have an enormous stimulus and positive effect," he said.  "So many people in Europe would say, hey, if the UK can do it we can do it.  So I really hope they can do it, so that the Dutch can do it too."

As history will forever show, the UK did do it.  Will the Dutch now head in that direction too?

Wilders is one of a cluster of European politicians who have brought themselves from what used to be regarded as the lunatic fringe, right to the centre (or as close as one get to the centre) of power. 

Alongside Nigel Farage of UKip and Marine Le Pen, the French National Front leader, he was vilified as a dangerous and unelectable demagogue with his inflammatory views on Islam and immigrants.

Despite numerous clashes with the courts over hate speech, Wilders still managed to command sizeable popular support to the point where he could win 24 seats in the 2010 general election, a performance which allowed him to support the governing coalition without being a full member in exchange for more right-wing policies.

In the current election he has maintained a steady lead in the opinion polls.

The Brexit victory and the election of Donald Trump in the United States appeared to show there was an insurgent spirit in the West's political system, one that would overturn a model of moderate governance that had held sway since World War II.

All eyes are now on the Dutch elections to see if Geert Wilders will continue that trend.

He was once a member of the centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, but left to form his own party, Party for Freedom (PVV), in 2006. He has gradually carved out a formidable support base attracted by his crusade against what he sees as the Islamisation of the Netherlands. 

His one page manifesto is astonishingly brutal in its pitch.  He wants to "de-Islamize" the Netherlands, ban asylum seekers and immigrants from Islamic countries and "close the borders".  The manifesto calls for the withdrawal of all asylum residence permits and for asylum centres to be closed.

Mosques and Islamic schools would be closed, the Koran would be "banned", headscarves would be prohibited in public and the Netherlands would leave the EU.

Wilders was convicted of hate speech last December, and during his campaign launch he referred to "Moroccan scum" who make the streets unsafe.

On this reading, it’s easy to assume that Wilders is surfing the same histrionic and polemical wave that propelled Donald Trump into the White House.

And yet, all the indications are that, despite his best efforts, immigration and Islam have not become the dominant themes of this Dutch election.

"Refugee flows, the integration of immigrants, and the future of the EU are all on the table," according to a paper by Louise Van Schaik and Anne Bakker for the Carnegie Europe think tank.

"But political parties are paying more attention to domestic concerns such as the retirement age, the costs of healthcare insurance, labor-market reform, euthanasia, and charges for driving during rush hour.

"This range of topics points to the high degree of fragmentation in a campaign that still seems not to have taken off in earnest."

That fragmentation is seen in the proliferation of smaller, single interest parties (28 of them in all). Some 14 of these parties are expected to win seats. These include the Party for Animals (PvdD), the 50Plus party for pensioners, the anti-EU Forum for Democracy (FvD) and Denk (Think), which campaigns among Muslim immigrants.

This fragmentation can be put down to a general disenchantment with the mainstream parties on the right and left. 

They have have been gradually losing support for the past 20 years. Seven or eight parties will take between 8% and 16% of the vote, but right up to the eve of polling there are still many undecided voters.

Poll aggregates by Leiden University put Wilders at an average of around 17%, with the incumbent VVD, led by prime minister Mark Rutte, at 14% with the Labour Party (PvdA) hemorrhaging support at 7%.

Even if Wilders gets the biggest share of the vote, he will not be in a position to form a government because none of the other mainstream parties will work with him. On that score alone, this election will not echo with the kind of seismic boom that accompanied the Brexit and Trump victories.

But the trend is there for all to see. Holland is no longer the home of tolerant, consensual politics.

Although Geert Wilders' PVV party has been losing ground despite a long run of impressive opinion poll showings, the fact that he is still in the lead is shocking to those who find his firebrand xenophobia unacceptable.

The dip in his poll numbers may be because he has avoided public election debates, and the fact that the public may have been turned off the kind of disarray and turbulence that has characterised the early days of the new Trump administration in the US.  

But the same backlash against globalisation thought to be animating voters in the US, Britain and France is alive and well in the Netherlands.

For decades the Dutch were one of the most dependable partners in the drive for European integration.  The country has combined its atlanticist credentials with a willingness to participate in multilateral peacekeeping efforts via NATO and the UN.

According to a survey by the German policy foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung, 40% of the Dutch regard globalisation as a "threat", with 57% of PVV supporters saying they fear it the most.

And yet, many Dutch voters see the benefits of globalisation. Some 60% view it as more of an opportunity than a threat; that may be because of the importance of global trade to the Dutch economy.

Real GDP between 1990 and 2014 was in annual per capita terms €690 higher than it would have been without ongoing globalisation. Adjusted for purchasing power, the per capita gain increases to €840.  "That shows that, on average, Dutch consumers have also benefitted from globalisation," reports Bertelsmann.

In fact, the Netherlands is among the better performers at EU level when it comes to creating jobs and alleviating poverty (at 74% the Netherlands has the second highest employment rate in Europe).  The youth unemployment rate has fallen from 13.2% in 2013 to 11.3% in 2015, well below the EU average of 17%.

At 7% the Netherlands also has Europe's lowest level of so-called NEETs, young people between the ages of 20 and 24 not in education, employment or training.

On the question of refugees, there have been high profile outbursts of violence at protest at the opening of centres for asylum seekers. And yet, there is a strong streak of altruism that still runs through Dutch society, with no small number of political parties calling for a compassionate response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

There's no doubt that the events of recent days could have a significant influence on the outcome.

When the Turkish foreign minister attempted to speak at a rally in Rotterdam on 11 March to persuade Dutch Turks to vote in a Turkish referendum that would give President Recep Tayip Erdogan sweeping new powers, most Dutch political parties denounced it as provocative.

The minister was prevented from landing in the country and the dispute has escalated dramatically into a full blown diplomatic crisis. 

Mindful of Wilders' desire to capitalise on the issue of how Turkish immigrants, even those who are second or third generation, view the question of their allegiance, PM Mark Rutte took a tough stand in preventing Turkish government ministers rallying expatriate voters in the Netherlands. 

"Game-changing events may still take place in what has so far been a dull campaign in which small parties have attracted quite some attention and the polls have not moved much," according to Carnegie Europe.

"Party leaders may keep their electoral powder dry until the very last days of the campaign. A rally between one right-wing party (the VVD or PVV) and one left-wing party (the PvdA or GreenLeft) might still emerge, as in the previous election in 2012, but the centrist parties (the CDA and D66) could absorb last-minute votes too."

Whatever the outcome, there will be a long period of coalition building, with the possibility of four or five parties on the centre right forming a government. 

This may not be another breakthrough shocker in the mould of Brexit and Trump, but the outcome will pose just as many imponderables.