Cabinet collapse

Photo RVD

The Dutch coalition government has collapsed after failing to agree on housing asylum seekers. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party sought a two-tier system, granting different rights to asylum seekers who face persecution and those fleeing war zones. However, coalition parties couldn’t reach a compromise on capping family reunification numbers. The debate was necessary as asylum applications in the Netherlands have surged in recent years, reaching over 46,000 last year and projected to exceed 70,000 this year. This has led to asylum seekers living in squalid conditions in overflowing reception centres. The problem is acerbated by the unwillingness of many municipalities to provide housing for asylum seekers and those having been granted leave to remain. The coalition’s inability to find common ground on migration issues led to the resignation of the four-party coalition.

On 7 July 2023 Prime Minister Rutte officially handed his resignation to King Willem-Alexander, signalling the end of the Rutte IV cabinet and ushering in new national elections slated for 22 November of this year. The election will surely prove to be monumental for the Dutch people, as not only has the political landscape changed recently with the skyrocketing emergence of the farmers party, the BBB (Boeren Burger Beweging, literally Farmer Citizens Movement), but also with stunning announcements that followed the news of the government collapse – one of which being the announcement from the right-wing liberal VVD leader and longest-serving Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, that he would be leaving politics after the elections.

But first, a little background on the Dutch political system and government (or “cabinet”) formation. The Netherlands is a multi-party system, with the current House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) having seventeen political parties. With so many parties it is extremely rare that any one party wins 50% of the votes. Therefore, the leader of the party with the most votes is named Prime Minister, and s/he must create a coalition with other parties in order to gain a majority that is necessary to advance legislation. Usually this makes compromise the foundation of a coalition formation.

Forming a government is historically not an easy or short process: the current government required 299 days and three mediators to reach an agreement between four parties. The foundation was therefore always a little shaky, with many coalition parties not seeing exactly eye-to-eye on key issues. Talks on immigration and asylum came to a head in the first days of July 2023, with the final talks breaking down on Friday 7 July.

7 July 2023
After weeks of talks and negotiations, the final attempt to find a compromise on asylum was unsuccessful. At approximately 8 PM it was announced that the cabinet had collapsed. Mark Rutte made the formal announcement after turning in his resignation to the King. The King had returned to the Netherlands that day, cutting his holiday short because of the government collapse. Opposition parties respond sceptically to the collapse and welcome elections at the earliest possible date. The current decommissioned cabinet will continue to govern until a new government is formed after the elections.

8 July
In the first of many stunning announcements, Wopke Hoekstra states that he is not available to lead the CDA party. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister had previously stepped away from party leadership when, in 2020, Hugo de Jonge won the leadership election over the popular Pieter Omtzigt, who later left the party and is now a non-affiliated member of parliament. However, De Jonge stepped away from leadership and the reins went back to Mr. Hoekstra.

Having combined forces in the provincial elections earlier this year, the PvdA (Labour Party) and GroenLinks (left-green party) announced they would be joining forces in the upcoming national elections. This union creates a sizable left-leaning party that will present a challenge for the new powerhouse party, the right-leaning BBB.

10 July
Perhaps the most shocking post-cabinet collapse news was Mark Rutte’s announcement that he would be leaving politics for good after the November elections. As the Netherlands’ longest-serving Prime Minister, Mark Rutte has become a solid world leader, with news of his political retirement reverberating around the country, the EU and the world.

Political leaders from across the Dutch political party spectrum pay respect and homage to Rutte. Far-right PVV leader, Geert Wilders thanked Rutte for his “boundless commitment”. BBB leader Caroline van der Plas said that he always worked hard. And CDA chairman Pieter Heerma said that he put “his heart and soul into the country”.

11 July
Some media outlet polls have BBB leading ahead of VVD, although at this point it’s still too early to predict the final results.

12 July
Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz announces that she would like to succeed Mark Rutte as VVD party leader, essentially stating her intentions to become the next Dutch Prime Minister (should the VVD win the national elections). Though there are many notable names in the VVD leadership, André Bosman is the only other serious candidate to replace Rutte.

13 July
In a shocking and sad statement, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the centre-left D66 party Sigrid Kaag announces she will also be leaving politics after the national election, citing pressures and concerns about the safety of her family as the impetus. Earlier this year she had stated that the working environment for politicians had become “toxic” with personal threats necessitating heightened security.

Independent Member of Parliament Liane den Haan also announces departure from what she calls “’ugly’” politics.

14 July
With the announcement of Sigrid Kaag’s retirement from politics, minister of the Environment Rob Jetten officially announces his candidacy for D66 party leadership in the upcoming elections.

ChristianUnion (CU) leader and current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Poverty Policy Carola Schouten also announces that she will leave politics after the elections. Not giving a reason, Minister Schouten said that it was time for a new generation to lead the party and that she was excited about what the CU will bring in the future.

17 July
André Bosman withdraws as contender to lead the VVD, leaving only Dilan Yesilgöz. Other candidates have until August of this year to submit their candidacy, but with the party leadership strongly backing Yesilgöz it seems unlikely that anyone else will challenge her bid.

Meanwhile, party members from GroenLinks and PvdA vote en masse for one joint electoral list and election program, creating a unified left-wing party. It is unsure who will lead the joint party, though GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver announces he will not seek the top position.

18 July
Caroline van der Plas is formally nominated as BBB party leader, though she won’t say exactly what her future plans are in terms of the prime ministership.

20 July
EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans announces his desire to become the joining PvdA-GroenLinks party leader. His candidacy receives aggressive comments by right-wing supporters on social media, highlighting again the toxic atmosphere for many politicians. Party leadership including Jesse Klaver and Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb support Timmermans’ ambitions.

24 July
DENK party leader Farid Azarkan and BIJ1 party leader Sylvana Simons both announce their exits from national politics.

27 July
Even though her party is expected to do very well in the November elections, BBB leader Caroline van der Plas announces that she does not want to be Prime Mnister. She adds that her party is speaking to candidates with more international experience to join the party and run for PM.

2 August
The hugely popular independent member of parliament and former CDA member Pieter Omtzigt has yet to decide on his political future. He has rejected an offer to return to the CDA and also will not join the BBB, but may instead decide to form his own political party, which is expected to attract many voters.

While the collapse of the Dutch government is not a completely unique event (it’s happened three times before with Mark Rutte’s governments), this occasion will prove to be one of the most monumental for the Netherlands. With the departure of so many party leaders, most notably, Rutte himself, the election will automatically bring in a new generation of political leaders.

Combined with the booming popularity of the right-leaning BBB party and the newly formed left-leaning party of the PvdA and GroenLinks, the election will also determine which direction the Netherlands will head into. The liberal-right party of the VVD seemed to have served as a bridge between the two more extremist parties, but with the recent shakeup in The Hague, that bridge might not be strong enough to hold the left and right wings of Dutch politics together.

Written by Marla Thomson