Netherlands' government to resign amid asylum row

World Saturday 08/July/2023 17:57 PM
By: DW
Netherlands' government to resign amid asylum row

Amsterdam: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's coalition government collapsed after just a year and a half in office on Friday in a row over measures to curb the flow of migrants.

Rutte, the Netherlands' longest-serving leader, presided over crisis talks between the four coalition partners but failed to reach a deal.

The resignation was broadly reported in the Netherlands for a couple of hours on Friday evening before Rutte confirmed the resignation in a statement.

"This evening we have unfortunately reached the conclusion that the differences are insurmountable. For this reason, I will shortly present my written resignation to the king in the name of the whole government," Rutte told a press conference.

What was the dispute about?
Rutte, the leader of the centre-right VVD party, the largest in the four-party coalition, had wanted to tighten curbs on reuniting families of asylum seekers, following a scandal last year about overcrowded asylum centers.

He called for the number of relatives of war refugees allowed into the Netherlands to be capped at 200 per month, and had threatened to topple the government if the measure did not pass.

Two junior partners, including the Christen Unie — a Christian Democratic party that draws its main support from the protestant "Bible Belt" in the central Netherlands — were staunchly opposed to the proposal.

Both Christen Unie and D66, the left-leaning party in the rainbow coalition, saw the issue as less of a problem than Rutte's VVD.

The four parties had held crisis talks on Wednesday and Thursday as well in a bid to save the shaky government, which only took office in January 2022.

Rutte said late on Friday that it was "no secret" that the coalition had its differences on the issue, describing it as "very regrettable, but a political fact."

Asylum applications in the Netherlands jumped by a third last year to more than 46,000, and the government had projected they could increase to more than 70,000 this year, which would top the previous high from 2015.

Asylum and migration is a difficult issue for Rutte and has been for years because of the strength of far-right parties in the Netherlands, most famously that of Geert Wilders, and the threat this poses to center-right parties like his VVD.

What happens next?
The most likely outcome seems to be new elections, far earlier than the next scheduled 2025 date.

Opposition parties were quick to call for a vote on Friday. Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Party for Freedom (PVV), called on Twitter for "Quick elections now."

Jesse Klaver, leader of the Green Left party also called for elections and told Dutch broadcaster NOS: "This country needs a change of direction."

It's also possible that the king ask another political leader to try to set up a coalition, but given the parliamentary arithmetic that seems highly unlikely.

The vote in late 2021 in the Netherlands was spread extremely broadly. It took around nine months to find a functioning coalition afterwards.

Rutte's VVD was the largest party but won less than 22% of the vote. Only two other parties had support above 10%, while no fewer than 17 groups won at least one seat in the House of Representatives. Practically, it's not clear what other coalition options exist besides the current one.

In the event of new elections, Rutte would hope his party could emerge from a fifth successive vote as the strongest party and try to form a new coalition, possibly with an altered landscape in parliament. He managed this in 2021 after his government resigned over a childcare scandal but went on to fare best at the polls a few months later.