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Netherlands: Wilders coalition-building efforts face setback

February 13, 2024

Dutch political party NSC pulled out of coalition talks that would have created a rightwing government. Far-right leader Gert Wilders still hopes to lead a coalition government, but this doesn't help his chances.

An eclection campaing poster of Geert Wilders' PVV party is removed in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.
Wilders' efforts to build a coalition government seem to have gone back to square oneImage: Aleksandar Furtula/AP

Anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders' efforts to form a Dutch coalition government have been reset, when potential coalition partner NSC announced on Monday that it was backing out of talks with Wilders' nationalist Freedom Party (PVV), citing irreconcilable differences.

The New Social Contract (NSC) and PVV were locked in coalition talks with two other parties, the center-right VVD of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the farmers' protest party BBB, since Wilders' PVV emerged as the largest party in last November's election, albeit with less than a quarter of the vote.

All four parties combined would command a fairly comfortable parliamentary majority, but that is not the case without NSC support.

Why did the NSC pull out?

The NSC is a new party, founded by anti-corruption whistleblower Pieter Omtzigt.

The prospect for a coalition showed clear cracks last week, when the NSC party pulled out of talks, seemingly without the prior knowledge of its partners. The party described the gap between its take on the rule of law and of the PVV as "too big."

"Considering past remarks and the PVV's election program, the distance remains too large to join a majority or minority government," it said.

Wilders recently removed some of the most contentious draft laws from his party's government program — for instance calling to shut down mosques and ban the Quran — in a bid to reassure his more moderate potential partners, but this did not sway them.

Far-right populist Geert Wilders wins big in Dutch elections

The NSC said it could support a minority government from outside on a case-by-case basis, but ruled out providing ministers.

What's next for government formation?

Ronald Plasterk, parliament's negotiator, known in the Netherlands as an "informer," overseeing the talks said his report on the talks suggested the parties had made little headway in their coalition discussions.

"It is also not possible to compromise on one topic, as the willingness of parties to make concessions depends on others making concessions themselves," he wrote.

While Plasterk's report suggested that the formation of a government that reflects the election result was still theoretically feasible, he cast doubt on whether members of such a government would be able to iron out their differences on all issues.

The remaining three parties could try to form a minority government — rare but by no means unheard of in the Netherlands — operating with support on its legislation from NSC or other lawmakers. But it's not clear whether they wish to try this. 

Plasterk recommended on Monday that, as a next step, the remaining parties in the talks explore whether or not they could agree on how to allocate Cabinet positions for a government that "does justice to the election results, including the major shifts that have taken place."

The left-wing Greens/Labor party of former European Commissioner Frans Timmermans came a distant second in the election and could in theory also try to set up a government, but it's also liable to struggle to find a coalition that commands a parliamentary majority. 

Alternatively, should the process fail entirely on all sides, fresh elections are another possibility. 

rmt/msh (AFP, Reuters)