The Hague, Feb 12, 2024 (AFP)
Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders' bid to form a government faces a critical test Monday, as the man overseeing fractious coalition talks proposes a way forward in the crisis-hit negotiations.
Since Wilders' seismic election win in November that sent shockwaves through Europe and beyond, he has been trying to win over other parties deeply sceptical of his anti-Islam, anti-European manifesto.
If the polls are to be believed, Wilders and his PVV Freedom Party have only got stronger since November's result.
His preferred option is a four-way coalition with the centre-right liberal VVD, the farmers protest party BBB, and the New Social Contract (NSC), a new party created by anti-corruption whistleblower Pieter Omtzigt.
Talks have been tricky from the start, not helped by sniping on social media -- mostly from Wilders' prolific account on X, formerly Twitter -- but also marked by fundamental differences over policies considered anti-constitutional.
Things came to a head on Tuesday when the NSC abruptly pulled out of talks, seemingly without telling anyone, ostensibly because the fiscally conservative Omtzigt was "shocked" by the parlous state of Dutch public finances.
Omtzigt's sudden withdrawal did not go down well with Ronald Plasterk, the genial "informer" leading the talks, who told reporters he had found out via WhatsApp and later fumed about a lack of respect.
Now all eyes are on Plasterk as he delivers long-awaited recommendations to parliament, with analysts scratching their heads as to how the so-called "formation process" can move forward.
"It's a big, big puzzle," said Rene Cuperus, senior research fellow at the Clingendael Institute.
- Catch-22 -
Cuperus said the report could gloss over the major policy differences to open a path for Omtzigt to return to the table -- which the NSC leader himself has not ruled out.
Another option is to declare this round of talks dead, meaning Wilders can either try to form an unstable minority government or throw in the towel.
Waiting in the wings is Frans Timmermans, whose left-wing Green/Labour party came a distant second in the election, but it is far from clear how the former EU commissioner could garner enough support to form a government either.
Re-running the election is viewed as an unpalatable nuclear option as parties already have a European election to fight in June, and support for Wilders has only grown since November's victory.
What does the chaos mean for a possible Wilders premiership?
"I don't think this is really a feasible option because it would be such a scandal for the Netherlands internationally," said Cuperus.
But he added there do not seem to be many good options from the current round of talks.
"It will be a disaster with Wilders and a disaster without Wilders. That's the Catch-22 we are in," he told AFP.
The only thing everyone agrees on is that the process will not be quick. The last government formed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte took 271 days to take shape.
Cuperus said the current political turmoil was hurting the Netherlands' self-image as "one of the best organised countries in the world."
"It looks like a mess from the outside. But then again, in the end, there's always a government. And we have a very stable bureaucracy still running the country," he added.
Sumber : AFP