Netherlands Gets a New Government: What You Need to Know

The Netherlands swore in its first far-right government on Tuesday, more than seven months after an election sent shock waves through the Dutch political system.

The new government has pledged to govern the Netherlands differently after nearly 14 years under Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The coalition was formed out of months of negotiations spurred by the success of right-wing leader Geert Wilders’ party in November elections.

“This is an experiment for the Netherlands,” said Armen Hakhverdian, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam.

Long seen as a bastion of liberalism, the Netherlands is one of several European countries that have experienced electoral swings to the right. Last year, Italy voted in a hard-right leader and Slovakia elected a populist president with ties to Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary; and this weekend in France, the far right surged in the first round of legislative elections.

It remains to be seen how the style of governing — and its far-right leanings — will fare in the Netherlands, a country of nearly 18 million people where the political system rests on a culture of consensus building and the art of compromise. There could also be broad implications for the country’s standing on the international stage.

Here’s what to know about the new government and its role in Europe:

The party of Mr. Wilders — a populist leader known for his anti-Muslim stance — won the largest share of votes in the November elections. Long an anathema to most other political parties, in part because of his anti-Islam rhetoric, Mr. Wilders said in March that he would forgo becoming prime minister in an effort to increase the chances of forming a right-wing coalition.

Four parties that participated in the negotiations will make up the new government: Mr. Wilders’ Party for Freedom; the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, a center-right party that governed for nearly 14 years; the Farmer Citizen Movement, a populist pro-farmer party; and New Social Contract, a new centrist party.

Together, they hold 88 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives — a comfortable majority.

The parties tapped Dick Schoof, a former intelligence chief with no party affiliation, for the role of prime minister.

Mr. Wilders will keep his seat as his party’s leader in the House. And even though he will not be prime minister, he will still wield significant influence over the new cabinet. His Party for Freedom also supplied the biggest share of ministers and secretaries to the new cabinet, including the crucial position of minister of asylum and migration.

By keeping his seat in the House, he might feel more free to say what he wants, given that he is not responsible for maintaining cabinet unity, according to Simon Otjes, an assistant professor of Dutch politics at Leiden University.

After winning the election, Mr. Wilders seemed to moderate some of his most extreme views, including seeking a ban on mosques and Islamic schools and a Dutch exit from the European Union. But the appointment of some of his most hard-line allies to powerful ministerial posts — including one who espoused the white nationalist “great replacement theory” — suggests that Mr. Wilders might lean on them to push through some of his most controversial positions.

The Netherlands has long exercised an outsized influence in the European Union. Mark Rutte, the departing prime minister, was seen as the unofficial leader of the bloc’s “frugal” nations — a fluid grouping of northern countries that prefer limited E.U. spending — and known for his negotiation skills and connections.

That could all change with Mr. Schoof as the Dutch leader. A nonpartisan prime minister with no political experience, he might struggle to exert the kind of influence in Brussels that the Netherlands had gotten used to under Mr. Rutte, political experts said.

Mr. Hakhverdian, the political scientist, said that international affairs had played only a small role in the election campaign, which was dominated by the theme of migration.

“This is a cabinet with very few international ambitions,” he said.

Mr. Rutte, who will become the secretary general of NATO, used his farewell message as prime minister to urge continued support for Ukraine in its war with Russia. Critics have accused Mr. Wilders of being pro-Russia, and pro-Kremlin outlets welcomed his election win. Although in the past he has spoken out against providing weapons to Ukraine, in February Mr. Wilders expressed a willingness to consider more military aid to the country.

With a nonpartisan prime minister and a less detailed coalition agreement, the four governing parties said they would work together in a slightly different form than previous Dutch governments in an effort to create more distance between the cabinet and the House. Part of that involved promising to install a cabinet with a large number of political outsiders.

But most of the 29 ministerial posts have gone to prominent members of the four parties, and the cabinet has a clear right-wing stamp — suggesting that it might not be as far removed from the House as was initially proposed.

The ministers and secretaries will get to work immediately, but deep disagreements among the four parties remain, and mutual trust appears to be limited after the long and difficult coalition negotiations. That could make getting their campaign pledges through the House of Representatives challenging.

In addition, some of the pledges that Mr. Wilders made during the election may be unrealistic or unconstitutional, Mr. Hakhverdian said. If the government cannot deliver on its promises about issues like migration or nitrogen emissions, Mr. Hakhverdian said, trust in the rule of law and democratic values could come under pressure.

“The omens aren’t favorable,” Mr. Hakhverdian said. “I wouldn’t bet on this cabinet being in place for four years.”

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