Netherlands Forms New Government After Seven Months of Post-Election Negotiations

July 3, 2024 by No Comments

The Netherlands has a new prime minister for the first time in 14 years, as Dutch King Willem-Alexander swore in the country’s new government on Tuesday. This comes more than seven months after elections that were dominated by a far-right, anti-Islam party.

Dick Schoof, former head of the Dutch intelligence agency and counterterrorism office, signed the official royal decree at Huis Ten Bosch Palace, stating he “declared and promised” to uphold his duties as the country’s prime minister. The 67-year-old was formally installed alongside 15 other ministers who make up the country’s right-leaning coalition.

The anti-immigration party of firebrand Geert Wilders won the largest share of seats in elections last year, but it took 223 days to form a government.

The new coalition quickly faced criticism of its marquee anti-immigration policies — by its own party members, as well as opposition groups. Protesters gathered in front of the palace where the ceremony took place on Tuesday, with one woman carrying a sign asking: “Are we democratically getting rid of our democracy?”

The four parties in the coalition are Wilders’ Party for Freedom, outgoing center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, the populist Farmer Citizen Movement and the centrist New Social Contract party.

The formal agreement creating the new coalition, titled “Hope, courage and pride,” introduces strict measures on asylum-seekers, scraps family reunification for refugees and seeks to reduce the number of international students studying in the country.

Opposition from other coalition partners prevented the controversial Wilders from taking the prime minister’s job. During the monthslong negotiations, he backpedaled on several of his most extreme views, including withdrawing draft legislation that would have banned mosques, Islamic schools and the Quran.

For the first time since World War II, the Netherlands is now led by a prime minister who is not aligned with a political party. Before serving as chief of the country’s top intelligence agency, Schoof was previously the counterterror chief and the head of the country’s Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The other government ministers were sworn in Tuesday according to seniority of their departments. One minister, Femke Wiersma who will head the agriculture portfolio, made her declaration in Frisian — the country’s second official language alongside Dutch.

Although the November elections were widely seen as a win for the far right, political youth organizations are already pushing back on the ambitions of the new government. Ahead of the swearing-in ceremony, youth groups from six parties, including two of the coalition partners, called for a softening on asylum plans.

“Although the influx must be limited, it is of great importance that we receive people here fairly and with dignity,” Eva Brandemann, chairperson of the youth wing of the New Social Contract, told Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

Her counterpart in Rutte’s party, which brought down the government last summer over concerns about the number of family reunifications for refugees, said that problems stemmed from administration, not migration.

“The problem will only get bigger if you don’t fix it,” Mauk Bresser, the chair of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy youth organization told The Associated Press.

While Bresser thinks the number of refugees coming to the Netherlands should be reduced, his group says those already here should have their claims processed in a timely fashion and be given the opportunity to integrate.

The new agreement slashes the country’s education budget by nearly 1 billion euros — about $1.06 billion — prompting pushback from universities. “Students will not get the education they deserve,” Nivja de Jong, a languages professor at Leiden University, told the AP. She’s part of a group of academics pushing back against the proposed cuts by delivering lunchtime talks about the importance of their research.

The new government will now spend the summer firming the coalition agreement into a governing plan.

The Netherlands isn’t the only country seeing a rise of anti-immigration, far-right views. Last month’s EU elections saw a similar shift, and face a decisive choice on July 7 in the runoff of snap parliamentary elections that could see the country’s first far-right government since the World War II Nazi occupation.