Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders appeared Monday to have persuaded his preferred coalition partners to keep negotiating but reportedly major “stumbling blocks” remain over his hardline anti-Islam, anti-European views.
Wilders delivered a political earthquake in the Netherlands and across Europe last month by handily winning elections and putting his PVV Freedom Party in pole position to form a government.
Unlike Britain and the United States for example, the Netherlands has a hugely fragmented political system that means no one party ever enjoys a parliamentary majority.
Wilders has struggled to convince other party leaders to join his government, as they are put off by elements of his party’s manifesto seen as unconstitutional, such as banning mosques and the Koran.
The “scout” Wilders appointed to shuttle between party leaders to scope out who is prepared to work with whom will deliver his much-anticipated report to parliament later Monday.
But elements of Ronald Plasterk’s report were already leaked to public broadcaster NOS and it contains good news and bad for Wilders.
The good news: his preferred coalition parties have reportedly agreed to continue negotiations.
Wilders wants a four-way coalition of his PVV, the BBB farmers party, the centre-right VVD liberal party, and the New Social Contract (NSC) party that was only formed in August.
That would comfortably give him the 76 MPs in the 150-seat parliament he needs for a workable majority.
The VVD, led by Turkish-born former asylum-seeker Dilan Yesilgoz, has said it would not join a Wilders-led coalition but offer its “support” to a centre-right cabinet.
The NSC, whose popular leader Pieter Omtzigt is an anti-corruption crusader, has drawn a “red line” at the parts of Wilders’ program he sees as unconstitutional.
- ‘Stumbling blocks’ –
And that’s the bad news for Wilders. The leaders have agreed to keep talking on three “stumbling blocks” as NOS termed it, any one of which could blow up the talks.
The first is the rule of law. It is not just the anti-Islam elements but also Wilders’s plan to hold a referendum on a “Nexit”, the Dutch leaving the EU.
Afterwards, the parties will get down to the substance: can they even agree on what policies could make up a potential coalition agreement?
Finally comes the shape of the cabinet and the vexed question of whether Wilders can be prime minister given his previous comments on Muslims and the European Union.
Wilders toned down most of his more extreme rhetoric during the campaign and vowed to be a premier “for all Dutch people” after his election win, but doubts remain.
He told journalists during the swearing-in of new MPs last week that “nobody needs to be afraid of us,” as the largest party in the Lower House.
All of this will likely take several months. Only if the stumbling blocks are overcome will the substantive talks start on policy — another lengthy process — according to NOS.
During the talks, Mark Rutte remains prime minister. His last cabinet collapsed over immigration and he announced he was leaving politics after a record 13 years at the helm.
The last Rutte government took 271 days to form.
by Richard CARTER
©️ Agence France-Presse