Dutch parties prepare for unexpected elections in November | International

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The fourth consecutive government led since 2010 by Mark Rutte, already resigning Prime Minister of the Netherlands, has lasted 543 days. On Friday night, differences in approach to immigration policy precipitated their collapse. It has been the end of a center-right coalition whose foundations were not solid and which had suffered more than one crisis since it was formed last January after 10 months of negotiations between four formations. The parties are preparing for the unexpected electoral race of some elections that will be held in November.

Rutte hit the table when his demands to toughen the asylum policy were not accepted, a commitment he had made at the last congress of his party - the right-wing liberals (VVD) -, where he promised to reduce this migratory flow. However, the proposal to limit the entry of relatives of war refugees already welcomed and to make them wait two years for reunification, was rejected by two of its partners, the Christian Union (CU) and D66, left-liberals. Although the rupture of the Executive has been agreed upon by everyone in the end, the harshness of a politician who has made negotiating ability and the capacity for political survival his own brand has been surprising. This Saturday, Rutte has met with King Guillermo to inform him of the fall of the Government, a conversation about which he did not make any statements: "These are confidential meetings."

The next step will be a debate on the resignation of the government in Congress before its dissolution, scheduled for Monday. A race to the polls will then open up for the rise of the Movimiento Campesino-Ciudadano (BBB), a party that represents agrarian populism and already holds a majority in the Senate. If he maintains the pull among the voters, it is possible that the Executive will end up leaning further to the right after decades in which the center has marked Dutch political stability.

Immigration control has divided the Dutch government for months. What has precipitated the breakup now? “A lot of people expected something like this to happen in the fall or maybe during the winter. Now everything is speculation. Rutte was obligated to comply with the party's demands of him and he will be able to say that he has gone even further. They can't do without it. But I am surprised to have seen him run so soon as a candidate,” says sociologist Paul Schnabel. The same night on Friday, during the press conference after the fall of the government, the prime minister seemed to give himself a margin by saying that he had "energy and ideas" to continue on the front line, but that he would consult with his formation.

To the columnist Petra de Koning, who has written a biography of Rutte ―the country's oldest president with more than 12 years in office, surpassed only by the Hungarian Viktor Orbán in the EU―, it seems that the attitude during the negotiations on the reunification of families of war refugees "was not the style of this politician." “He was demanding to the point of stubbornness and then changed his attitude. His group has pressed him on this issue, and once he has complied, everything is conjecture about his future, ”she maintains. In her opinion, it would not be strange if Rutte took a step back as leader of the VVD, "but with him you never know."

Throughout a year and a half of the legislature there have been other critical moments. Last February, a parliamentary commission concluded that the benefits of the Groningen gas field (in the north of the country) had taken precedence over the safety of the population. The extraction causes earthquakes, and the coalition remained standing, in part, because the closure of the field is scheduled for October of this year. In addition, protests by farmers over cutting nitrogen emissions have set the field on fire. In 2022, there were massive tractor marches, and the image of the Dutch flag hung upside down in meadows and roads - also on many city balconies - was a powerful symbol. It is a wound that is still open in a country with 52,000 livestock farms, of which about 11,200 will have to close, according to calculations by the Ministry of Finance. Although the Government did not collapse, plans that affect livestock to reduce emissions have been delayed. It was precisely from those protests that the BBB party and its leader, Caroline van der Plas, arose.

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On paper, for the Christian Union, the smallest of the four parties in the now broken coalition, few losses are expected in the early elections. “They only have five seats in Congress [del total de 150] and a loyal electorate. That is why they have become strong in the ethical aspect of the problem of the family reunion of refugees”, points out Schnabel. Meanwhile, the Christian Democrats (CDA), who did support Rutte in the government, do not raise their heads and part of their fishing ground for votes, which is in the countryside, turns towards the BBB. Both they and the left-liberals (D66) face possible setbacks at the polls. The one that warms up engines is also the extreme right of Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV). Today it is the third force in seats ―it has 17 and the polls predict 15 for the moment―, and this Friday Wilders was willing to work with the VVD of Rutte. “You have to get over your egos,” he declared.

As for the VVD, the polls carried out by Ipsos a week before the fall of the Executive give it 28 deputies (now it has 34 seats). For the BBB they calculate 23 seats. A dizzying increase, since now it only has one and it would become the second national party. “Rutte may believe that he has a large part of the electorate behind him, but it is notorious that people tend to get tired of leaders who have been in power for a long time. Think of the former German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Or in the problems of the French president, Emmanuel Macron”, affirms the expert. On the other hand, the BBB leader supports immigration restrictions and has suggested an annual limit of 15,000 asylum seekers, but at the same time says that those who need it for humanitarian reasons are welcome, although they should not cause social problems: "It is ambivalent because he has not had to answer the question of how many and how. For now". In 2022, asylum applications increased by a third to reach 46,000, according to the Central Statistics Office. The Government calculates that this year they can amount to 70,000.

During the upcoming election campaign, Caroline van der Plas will boost her image as a strong and well-spoken Dutch woman. She contrasts with the aloof aura attributed to Sigrid Kaag, the left-liberal (D66) finance minister, who has traded diplomacy for politics and has not decided her political future. “In this context, the social democrats and the environmentalists of GroenLinks can make a common front to try to attract the electorate of the left”, says Schnabel. They have already done so in the Senate, where their alliance has 14 seats (out of a total of 75). They are only surpassed by the BBB, with 16.

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