The Country of Tulips Awaits a New Government


Dick Schoof

Can a coalition led by the far-right Party for Freedom return to traditional Dutch moderation in foreign policy?

The period of relative political instability in the Netherlands, which had lasted since November of last year, has come to an end. It has been announced that a coalition government (referred to in the West as «populist, right-wing, and Eurosceptic») will be led by 67-year-old Dick Schoof, who previously headed the kingdom’s intelligence service and before that the counter-terrorism coordination center and the migration department.

In a brief speech after his appointment, he announced departure from his last position at the Ministry of Justice and Security, where he was the secretary general, and noted that the new coalition agreement is «an excellent program for all the Dutch people».

To recap, the far-right Party for Freedom, led by the staunch Eurosceptic Geert Wilders, won the November parliamentary elections. This party is similar to Germany’s Alternative for Germany and France’s National Rally led by Marine Le Pen.

After six months of consultations, which took place not in Amsterdam (the capital) but in The Hague, the coalition was formed. In addition to the Party for Freedom, it includes the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (whose figurehead is the current Prime Minister Mark Rutte), the centrist New Social Contract party, and the Farmer-Citizen Movement. It’s worth noting that such prolonged political negotiations are a purely Dutch trait. They take their time, spending as much as needed to settle positions on a maximum number of contentious issues.

It was agreed that none of the party leaders, including the inconvenient for Brussels Wilders, would become ministers. They will all remain members of parliament, from where they will coordinate government policy. The cabinet will include lower-ranking party members and invited technical experts. Rutte’s political alliance is more authoritative, but it has only 24 seats in the 150-seat parliament, while Wilders’ party (often labeled as «fascist and Kremlin agent» in the local media) has 37 seats! The new cabinet will start working on June 26.

How did political antagonists manage to reach an agreement? What they have in common is a sharply critical attitude to the flow of migrants from the Global South. Wilders is considered an Islamophobe and a friend of Israel, while Rutte is an experienced Euro-leader. They agreed that what unites them is more important than their differences. Specifically, the 26-page coalition agreement, ambitiously titled «Hope, Courage, and Pride», states that the kingdom will continue supporting Ukraine and will increase the defense budget to 2% of GDP.

Currently, the Netherlands (thanks to the efforts of the outgoing government) is one of the most anti-Russian states in the EU, involved in the Ukrainian conflict at the highest level. Last year, the government allocated 3.7 billion euros in military aid to the Kiev regime (more than France) and promised about the same amount this year. In addition to various weapons (including heavy and high-tech ones), Amsterdam leads the «fighter jet coalition», committing to transfer 24 F-16 fighters to the Ukrainian Armed Forces this year. This is, mind you, more than a third of the initial fleet of 60 aircraft that the US is gathering for Kiev across Europe and the world as part of the «Ramstein format». And although Wilders, judging by his campaign slogan, disagrees with such a policy, he had to compromise on his principles to achieve his goal.

Incidentally, for the Dutch, this is par for the course. Here (a rare case), they adhere to democratic traditions: the opinion of the population is genuinely considered. In another country, a party like Wilders’ would be quickly dealt with by involving the security apparatus, finding (or fabricating) compromising material, and announcing new elections. But this wasn’t done in a royal manner. It’s not customary…

Rumors suggest that the new authorities have a chance to return to the traditional Dutch moderation in foreign policy. A pro-Russian Amsterdam is hard to imagine, but a reduction in the hawkish stance on the Ukrainian front is quite possible. Why not? How the system of compromise-finding will work in such a strange government is still hard to imagine, but it will surely function. Otherwise, why go through all the trouble?

For now, it seems to be a favorable situation for Mark Rutte, who will finally leave his office as acting prime minister at the end of June and will be open to new ventures. He is reportedly planning to become the new Secretary General of NATO. He has the favor of Joe Biden himself! The appointment is expected to take place on July 9–11 at the alliance summit in Washington. It seems Mark won’t be out of a job.

But Schoof will have to roll up his sleeves very soon.