Dutch gov’t falls over failure to agree on asylum seeker policy

Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on July 7, 2023, that his coalition government would be resigning [File: Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo]

Dutch PM Mark Rutte says resignation due to failure among coalition partners to agree on dealing with migration issues.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his coalition government was resigning over “insurmountable” differences about measures to curb the number of people seeking refuge in the country.

The resignation on Friday of Rutte, 56, the Netherlands’ longest-serving leader, and his coalition government means the country will face a general election later this year.

“It is no secret that the coalition partners have very different views on migration policy,” Rutte told reporters in The Hague.

“And today, unfortunately, we have to draw the conclusion that those differences are irreconcilable. That is why I will immediately … offer the resignation of the entire Cabinet to the king in writing,” he said.

Rutte had presided over late-night meetings Wednesday and Thursday that failed to result in an agreement on dealing with the number of people seeking asylum in the country.

During one final round of talks on Friday evening, the parties decided unanimously that they could not agree and, as a result, could not remain together in the coalition.

Local media said Rutte – dubbed “Teflon Mark” after the non-stick pan coating for his political slipperiness – had taken a tough stance on asylum seekers to deflect a challenge from the right wing of his party.

He reportedly demanded that the number of relatives of war refugees allowed into the Netherlands be capped at 200 per month, and threatened to topple the government if the measure did not pass.

The coalition – which local media said was “not a happy marriage” – last year faced a major scandal over overcrowded centres for asylum seekers in which a baby died and hundreds of people were forced to sleep in the open.

Rutte had promised a “structural solution” to the problem after what he called “shameful scenes” at the asylum centres.

The resignation decision on Friday underscored the ideological divisions that existed from the day Rutte’s coalition was sworn in just over 18 months ago between parties that do not support a strict crackdown on migration – Democrats 66 (D66) and fellow centrist party ChristenUnie, or Christian Union – and the two parties that favour tougher measures – Rutte’s conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Christian Democrats.

Rutte’s coalition had tried for months to work out a deal to reduce the flow of asylum seekers arriving in the country of nearly 18 million people.

Proposals reportedly included creating two classes of asylum – a temporary one for people fleeing conflicts and a permanent one for people trying to escape persecution – and reducing the number of family members who are allowed to join asylum-seekers in the Netherlands.

Last year, hundreds of asylum-seekers were forced to sleep outdoors in squalid conditions near an overcrowded reception centre as the number of people arriving in the Netherlands outstripped the available beds. More than 21,500 people from outside Europe sought asylum in the Netherlands in 2022, according to the country’s statistics office.

Tens of thousands more moved to the Netherlands to work and study. The numbers have put a strain on housing in the Netherlands that already was in short supply in the densely populated country.

Opposition politicians wasted no time in calling for new elections even before Rutte formally confirmed his resignation on Friday.

Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration Party for Freedom, tweeted, “Quick elections now”.

Green Left leader Jesse Klaver also called for elections and told Dutch broadcaster NOS: “This country needs a change of direction.”

The Netherlands is expected to hold elections in November following the fall of the coalition, which is Rutte’s fourth since 2010 and had only taken office in January 2022 after lengthy negotiations.

Rutte said that he had the “energy” to stand for a fifth term but that he had to “reflect” first.



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