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What you need to know about the Dutch government collapse

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands after offering his resignation to King Willem-Alexander at a palace in The Hague on Saturday.

By Claire Moses

A political crisis erupted in the Netherlands on Friday night, with the prime minister offering the resignation of his government to the king, meaning there will be new elections in the fall. Here’s what you need to know.

Why did the Dutch government collapse?

Unable to convince the more centrist members of his four-party governing coalition to back more restrictive migration policies, the conservative prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, offered his resignation to King Willem-Alexander in writing on Friday night and spoke to the king in person about it on Saturday in The Hague.

The collapse underscores the potency of immigration as an arbiter of Europe’s politics, and how stopping far-right parties from capitalizing on it is a growing problem for mainstream politicians.

Rutte’s four-party coalition included his own party, the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, as well as the centrist pro-European D66 and two centrist Christian parties: CDA and Christian Union.

With his government feeling pressured on the migration issue by parties to the right, Rutte had been talking for months to his coalition partners about measures to further control the number of refugees coming into the country. On Friday night, the parties decided they could not come to a compromise and chose to dissolve the coalition, plunging the country into political uncertainty.

“It is no secret that the coalition partners have very different views on migration policy,” Rutte said on Friday. “And today, unfortunately, we have to draw the conclusion that those differences are irreconcilable.”

What were the proposed policies that led to the breakup?

The government had been debating terms of family reunification for refugees and also whether to create two classes of asylum: a temporary one for people fleeing conflicts, and a permanent one for people fleeing persecution.

The goal of both proposals was to reduce the number of refugees, as right-wing parties outside the coalition were seeing political gains by appealing to growing voter concerns in the Netherlands about immigration.

While the other coalition parties were ready to agree with the two-tier asylum system, they would not agree to back Rutte’s proposal for a two-year waiting period before refugees living in the Netherlands could be joined by their children.

Last year, more than 21,000 people from outside the European Union sought asylum in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch government. More than 400,000 people immigrated to the Netherlands overall in 2022, the office said, an increase from the year before.

The large numbers of arrivals have strained the Netherlands’ housing capacity, which is suffering a shortage for the country’s more than 17 million people.

What happens now?

Although he resigned as prime minister, Rutte will remain in charge of a caretaker government until general elections are held.

Dutch voters will head to the polls in the fall, probably in November. It’s unclear whether Rutte will stay on as leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, but he indicated Friday night that he would be open to it and Dutch media have speculated that he will.

Many of the party’s faithful are still happy with Rutte, said Marcel Hanegraaff, an associate professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam.

If Rutte’s party — which can count on the steady support of about 20% of Dutch voters, according to Hanegraaff — manages to win the election, he would be tasked with forming a new coalition government, his fifth. But he may face the same set of coalition problems.

Who is Mark Rutte, and what does his future hold?

Rutte has weathered many political storms. He is the Netherlands’ longest serving prime minister, coming into power in 2010. For surviving at least one other government collapse and multiple other political obstacles, he has earned the nickname “Teflon Mark.”

But Dutch politicians from other parties have said it is time for a new prime minister.

Caroline van der Plas, leader of the Farmer-Citizen Movement, a pro-farmer party that swept local elections in the Netherlands this year, said she wanted a new leader and welcomed a chance for voters to go the polls this fall, two years earlier than expected.

Analysts in the Netherlands expect the Farmer-Citizen Movement, which currently has one seat in the 150-member parliament, to do well in the coming elections. Polls show they could come in as the nation’s second-biggest party.

Dutch farmers are angry at Rutte’s government for announcing reductions in nitrogen pollution to preserve protected nature reserves — a policy the farmers believe unfairly targets them.

Attje Kuiken, leader of the Dutch Labor Party, wrote on Twitter that “Mark Rutte is done governing.” She added that she wanted new elections quickly, “because the Netherlands needs a government that shows vigor and makes decisions.”

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