THE HAGUE – The Dutch government collapsed Monday, April 23, following the withdrawal of far-right, anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders over a dispute on budget cuts.
“The Prime Minister (Mark Rutte) will meet her Majesty the Queen during their weekly discussions to inform her over the current political situation,” the government’s information service (RVD) said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Rutte tendered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix after a split with Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV), which supports the minority government.
He said the Queen was considering the resignation offer and had asked the cabinet to keep working for the country’s good.
The collapse came after the anti-EU PVV refused to agree with Rutte’s center-right coalition on how to cut 14 to 16 billion euros from the budget and get the Dutch deficit down to the EU target next year.
“I assume it is inevitable,” deputy foreign minister Ben Knapen told Dutch news program RTL Z.
“It is important that everyone who bears responsibility stays calms and makes sure we get an orderly budget. We do have big problems,” Knapen said before he entered a cabinet meeting.
The Netherlands has been close to Germany in calling for tough austerity measures across the euro zone, and in supporting the EU’s fiscal pact which must win parliamentary ratification by the end of the year in the countries whose governments signed up to the treaty.
In line with other euro zone countries, the Netherlands must tell the European Commission by April 30 how it will cut its budget deficit.
With election unlikely until summer, Rutte may try to cobble together an agreement with opposition parties so he can stay on at the head of a caretaker administration and meet the deadline at the end of this month.
But even this was unlikely.
“It will be very difficult,” Hans Stegeman, economist at Rabobank, told Reuters.
“Many opposition parties don’t think it’s that important, including Labor, which says reforms are most important.”
The government collapse has caused a political turmoil in what is traditionally one of the euro zone’s most stable and prosperous members.
“The bomb Wilders let off underneath Rutte’s cabinet on Saturday has plunged the Netherlands into uncertainty,” left-leaning daily De Volkskrant wrote on Monday.
It said “none of the main players knew Sunday how to proceed.”
Rene Tissen, a business economics professor at Nijenrode University near Utrecht, agrees.
On Saturday, “the deal with (the PVV) expired,” he told AFP.
“The Rutte government is now truly a minority government.
“The prime minister now would have to go hat-in-hand to the opposition if he wants anything done.”
Wilders’ party, the third-largest in parliament, was the minority coalition government’s key ally, providing crucial support when the government needs a majority to pass legislation.
Since storming onto the political scene in 2004, Wilders has made a significant mark.
He has influenced Dutch immigration policy and set the tone of public debate, whether on Muslims and burqas or bailouts and the euro, in what once would have been regarded as politically incorrect language.
Wilders is notorious for his rants against Islam and Muslims.
He has also called for banning the Noble Qur’an, describing the Muslim holy book as “fascist”.
In 2008, Wilders released a 15-minute documentary accusing the Qur’an of inciting violence.
His party’s anti-Islam campaigns, however, have helped it make its biggest gains since Wilders has founded it in 2006.
“It was Wilders’ last chance to make a big impact,” Alfred Pijpers, former Dutch political expert with the prestigious Clingendael Institute, said, adding that PVV was the big loser.
“Even if there are new elections, there is no other party likely to go into a coalition or even an informal parliamentary partnership” with the PVV.
The collapse of the political arrangement between the parties was also threatening Rutte’s reputation, Pijpers added.
Rutte’s “reputation as a politician has taken a serious knock,” he said.
Tissen, the business economics professor, agreed.
“The situation now calls for leadership,” Tissen added.