Dutch break coalition deadlock in boost for Rutte

Dutch political leaders made a breakthrough Thursday after six months of coalition talks, with Mark Rutte, one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders, set to head a repeat of his previous government.

The situation has been deadlocked since prime minister Rutte’s centre-right VVD party won the most seats in elections in March, followed by the progressive D66 of ex-foreign minister Sigrid Kaag.

But Kaag, who campaigned on a platform of change, said Thursday that she had dropped her opposition to a coalition of the same four parties that held power from 2017 in order to avoid a new vote.

“Nobody wants new elections. They paralyse politics for at least another six months,” Kaag told a press conference. “We’re going to negotiate.”

Formal negotiations will now start between Rutte’s VVD, Kaag’s D66, the centrist Christian Democratic Appeal of finance minister Wopke Hoekstra, and the socially conservative Christian Unie party.

Actually forming a new government could take weeks or even months more while the parties hammer out policies.

The new government will have to tackle key issues including the response to the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.

Rutte, a key figure in the EU’s economically “frugal” group, is set to lead his fourth coalition in the eurozone’s fifth-largest economy since coming to power in 2011.

Far-right leader Geert Wilders, who was frozen out of coalition talks despite having the third-most seats in parliament, said Kaag “spits right in the face of the voter.”

“Again the same mismanagement and the same liars and failures as before: Rutte and Kaag,” Wilders tweeted. “RIP Netherlands”.

The previous cabinet quit in January over a childcare scandal but has stayed on in a caretaker capacity.

Kaag meanwhile resigned as foreign minister earlier this month over the chaotic Dutch response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The Netherlands’ multi-party political system famously produces broad coalition governments, with 19 parties winning seats in parliament in the March election.

It took a record 225 days to cobble together Rutte’s last government in 2017.

This year’s deadlock was over Rutte’s refusal to admit two left-wing parties, and Kaag’s reluctance to include the Christen Unie again over fears they might block her party’s progressive agenda.

The talks appeared on the verge of breakdown earlier this week when Kaag’s D66 suggested that the man coordinating the talks might have had his judgment clouded by alcohol. 

The party later apologised.