The Netherlands is having trouble forming a new far-right government. Here’s why

Potential coalition partners were wary of the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom’s leader Geert Wilders’ more extreme anti-Islam plans, that included a ban on mosques, Islamic schools and the Quran

Geert Wilders
Dutch far-right politician and leader of the PVV party Geert Wilders meets the press as parties' lead candidates meet to begin coalition talks in The Hague, Netherlands, November 24, 2023.PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW (REUTERS)

Talks to form a far right-led government in the Netherlands have come to a premature end, for now, leaving the Netherlands in limbo amid a stalled move to build a political coalition around anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders.

Wilders’ Party for Freedom, or PVV, swept to victory in the country’s November parliamentary election on campaign pledges that included slashing immigration. He was in talks with the leaders of three other parties to form a government that would have held a solid majority in the 150-seat lower house of the Dutch parliament.

Wilders said Wednesday on X, formerly Twitter, that the election’s result showed the Netherlands “wants a right-wing Cabinet with the PVV!”

But potential coalition partners were wary of his more extreme anti-Islam plans. Wilders sought to appease them last month by withdrawing draft legislation that included a ban on mosques, Islamic schools and the Quran.

Despite the concessions, tensions came to a head Tuesday night when one of the leaders, Pieter Omtzigt, walked out of the coalition talks. The official shepherding the negotiations was due to report back to lawmakers within days on any progress the parties had made during some two months of closed-door meetings.

What happened?

Omtzigt, the leader of the New Social Contract party, said in a written statement that he was shocked by the state of government finances and was drawing a line under the talks for now. He also criticized Ronald Plasterk, a former Labor Party government minister picked by Wilders to oversee the talks, for only releasing the financial details this week when he had received them up to two weeks ago.

Omtzigt’s seven-paragraph statement vented frustration and disappointment at the numbers the negotiators received so close to the end of the initial round of talks, which were scheduled to wrap up at the end of the week.

“Under no circumstances does the NSC want to make promises to Dutch people that it knows in advance are empty promises that cannot be fulfilled during the coming Cabinet period,” the statement said.

Who was in the talks?

Wilders’ PVV won 37 seats in the House of Representatives in November and can call the shots in the coalition-building process. The center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) holds 24 seats but was seen as the election’s biggest loser.

Led by former Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the party dominated the last four parliamentary terms. Rutte is quitting Dutch politics once a new government is installed — he’s tipped as a very strong candidate to become NATO’s next leader — and has handed over VVD’s leadership to Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius.

Omtzigt’s NSC won 20 seats just months after he formed the party on a pledge to clean up politics after a string of scandals in recent years. Then there’s the BBB, the Dutch acronym for Farmer Citizen Movement, which tapped into anger in the agriculture sector and elsewhere in society to win seven seats.

Leaders have not disclosed details from their their negotiations but in recent days took to sniping at each other on social media, an indication that the mood was souring.

What are the other party leaders saying?

Wilders swiftly took to his favorite means of communication: X. “Incredibly disappointing. The Netherlands wants this Cabinet and now Pieter Omtzigt is throwing in the towel while we were still in discussions until today. I don’t understand it at all,” Wilders wrote Tuesday night.

He told reporters Wednesday that he was “shocked and surprised” by Omtzigt’s decision. He said the parties “were involved in good and constructive talks.”

Yeşilgöz-Zegerius and BBB leader Caroline van der Plas also expressed surprise and disappointment. The VVD leader, who said before the talks she didn’t want to be a formal member of a Cabinet led by Wilders but was prepared to talk about supporting it on key votes, added: “I hope that we can sit down at the table again soon to hear what exactly is going on.”

Plasterk, the official leading the talks, called Omtzigt’s explanation for pulling the plug on talks “muddled.”

What happens now?

Plasterk invited the four leaders to a Wednesday night meeting. Omtzigt told Dutch broadcaster NOS he does not plan to attend.

Plasterk is set to deliver a report on the talks to lawmakers in the coming days. The lower house of parliament will hold a debate before deciding on the next step.

In his statement, Omtzigt didn’t rule out some kind of involvement in the next government. He said his party “continues to work constructively but carefully to form a government that effectively tackles the country’s urgent problems. This can be done, for example, by providing constructive support to a minority Cabinet or a broad extra-parliamentary Cabinet.”

Wilders on Wednesday raised the unlikely prospect of a coalition led by the center-left bloc that is presided over by Frans Timmermans, the European Union’s former climate commissioner.

“I hope that Pieter Omtzigt’s decision to run away now, will not help Frans Timmermans into the saddle because that is not in the national interest and certainly not what the voter has chosen!” Wilders said on X.

If all efforts to cobble together a viable coalition fail, then there will have to be a new election. That would add to an already long list of elections in 2024, including in the United States and for the European Union’s parliament.

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