Daily Review: The Netherlands’ Coalition Deal Says a Lot

Daily Review: The Netherlands’ Coalition Deal Says a Lot
Geert Wilders talks to the media two days after his far-right PVV party won the most votes in a general election, in The Hague, Netherlands, Nov. 24, 2023 (AP photo by Peter Dejong).

Today’s Top Story

After nearly six months of negotiations, four right-wing parties in the Netherlands said they had reached a preliminary agreement to form a government. The agreement will mark a sharp right turn for the Dutch government, after Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom, or PVV, won the most votes in general elections in November, although Wilders will not become PM. (New York Times)

Our Take

The past six months of Dutch politics have underscored two political trends across Europe that are often in tension with each other.

The elections in November, in which the PVV emerged with a shock victory, highlighted not only the rise of the far right, but its normalization. For decades, far-right parties and leaders like Wilders—who has espoused anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and Euroskeptic positions—were not only considered extreme but dangerously so. And yet, as Alexander Clarkson wrote in November, Wilders’ victory was the culmination of long-term trends that legitimized the PVV in the eyes of much of the Dutch electorate.

At the same time, though, the nearly six months of government formation talks that followed the election show that, even when far-right parties do make inroads in elections, they often still find it difficult to enter government. In some cases, that has meant providing minority governments with support in parliament in return for some policy influence, as in Sweden. In other cases, it’s meant failure by the right-wing coalition to form a government entirely, as in Spain.

In the Netherlands, given the stigma still attached to Wilders, the country’s center-right parties participated in government formation talks but showed a sustained distaste for being too closely associated with him, leading the talks to repeatedly collapse. As a result, the four parties had to reach an unusual solution: All of the party leaders, including Wilders, agreed to forego the PM position. In fact, it’s expected that at least 50 percent of the Cabinet, as well as the PM, will be from outside party structures altogether.

Still, the Dutch government will be dominated by Wilders’ party, and the initial agreement makes clear that the coalition plans to implement far-right policies, particularly on immigration and asylum. Also notable is that the agreement says the coalition will continue with existing plans to fight climate change, despite the presence of the Farmers Citizens Movement, or BBB, which shot to prominence last year amid a wave of farmers’ protests against environmental protections. The BBB could very well be an irritant in the coalition’s climate plans.

Looking ahead, Dutch voters will likely have a chance to weigh in on the coalition agreement before the government even officially forms. EU parliament elections next month will serve as an indicator of whether Wilders’ shock election victory in November was a one-off event or if it signaled a lasting shift toward the far right in the Netherlands.

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