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Why did the Dutch government collapse?

Mark Rutte leaving Palace Huis ten Bosch
Mark Rutte leaving Palace Huis ten Bosch Copyright Michael Corder/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Michael Corder/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP
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After 18 months in power, the Dutch four-party coalition government collapsed over bitter migration policy disputes.

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For months, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tried to negotiate a package of measures to reduce the flow of new migrants arriving in the Netherlands. 

However, political infighting about caps on family reunification and creating a two-tier asylum has ended with him throwing in the towel. 

His proposals included creating two classes of asylum — a temporary one for people fleeing conflicts and a permanent one for people escaping persecution. 

He also planned to reduce the number of family members allowed to join asylum seekers inside the country, seeking to make families wait two years before they could reunite. 

Both Rutte's Forum for Democracy (VVD) party and the Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA) wanted these tough measures, yet the centre-left D66 and Christian Union parties opposed them. 

Their differences were seemingly irreconcilable. 

Pieter Heerma, the leader of the Christian Democrats, a coalition partner, called Rutte's approach in the talks “almost reckless”.

According to government statistics, asylum applications in the Netherlands jumped by a third last year to over 46,000. They are expected to increase to more than 70,000 this year — topping the previous high from 2015.

Immigration has been a hot issue across the European Union for years and was the final stumbling block that brought down Rutte's government on Friday night. 

It exposed profound ideological differences between the four parties that made up the uneasy coalition.

Now it is likely to dominate campaigning for an election months away.

Opposition parties already on the campaign trail

Opposition parties wasted no time in calling for a general election.

“We are the party that can ensure a majority to significantly restrict the flow of asylum seekers,” said Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Party for Freedom. 

He supported Rutte's first minority coalition 13 years ago, but also ultimately brought it down.

Opposition parties on the left also want to make the election about tackling problems they accuse Rutte of failing to adequately address — from climate change to a chronic housing shortage and the future of the nation's multibillion-euro agricultural sector.

Socialist Party leader Lilian Marijnissen told Dutch broadcaster NOS the collapse of Rutte's government was “good news for the Netherlands. I think that everybody felt that this Cabinet was done. They have created more problems than they solved.”

Despite the divisions between the four parties in Rutte's government, it will remain in power as a caretaker administration until a new coalition is formed, but will not pass major new laws.

Rutte, the Netherlands' longest-serving premier and a veteran consensus builder, appeared to be the one who was prepared to torpedo his fourth coalition government with tough demands in negotiations over how to reduce the number of migrants seeking asylum in his country.

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The fall of the government comes just months after a new, populist pro-farmer party, the Farmers Citizens Movement, known by its Dutch acronym BBB, shocked the political establishment by winning provincial elections. The party is already the largest bloc in the Dutch Senate and will be a serious threat to Rutte's VVD.

The BBB's leader, Caroline van der Plas, said her party would dust off their campaign posters from the provincial vote and go again.

“The campaign has begun!” Van der Plas said in a tweet that showed her party's supporters hanging flags and banners from lamp posts.

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