ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Dutch government collapses over bitter migration dispute

Prime Minister Mark Rutte resigns over ‘insurmountable’ differences on immigration policy, heralding a stormy and divisive election campaign

Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte listens to a question during a press conference after talks with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel at the Serbia Palace, in Belgrade, Serbia, July 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte listens to a question during a press conference after talks with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel at the Serbia Palace, in Belgrade, Serbia, July 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

AFP — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government collapsed Friday over “insurmountable” differences on how to tackle migration, with elections expected in November.

Rutte, 56, the Netherlands’ longest-serving leader and one of Europe’s most experienced politicians, said days of crisis talks between the government’s four parties failed to produce a deal.

They fell out over Rutte’s plans to tighten curbs on reuniting families of asylum seekers, a bid to curb immigration numbers following a scandal last year over overcrowded migration centers.

“It is no secret that the coalition partners have very different views on migration policy,” Rutte, the leader of the center-right VVD party, told a press conference after talks broke down.

“This evening, we have unfortunately reached the conclusion that the differences are insurmountable. For this reason, I will shortly present my written resignation to the king in the name of the whole government,” he said.

The government later confirmed he had presented his resignation and would visit King Willem-Alexander on Saturday.

The coalition was Rutte’s fourth since he took office in 2010. But it had only taken office in January 2022 after a record 271 days of negotiations and was deeply divided on many issues.

Rutte — dubbed “Teflon Mark” after the non-stick pan coating for his ability to avoid political catastrophe — added that he had the “energy” to stand for a fifth term but that he had to “reflect” first.

Posters of political parties for the provincial elections, with one of the Farmer Citizen Movement BBB, left, are seen at a farm in Okkenbroek, eastern Netherlands, March 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

The earliest that elections can be held is in mid-November, the Dutch election commission said.

Rutte said he would lead a caretaker government until then that would focus on tasks including support for Ukraine.

The sudden collapse sparked bitter recriminations between the four parties in the year-and-a-half-old coalition, which had been dubbed “Rutte IV.”

ChristenUnie — a Christian Democratic party that draws its main support from the staunchly Protestant “Bible Belt” in the central Netherlands — and center-left D66 had opposed Rutte’s plan.

He reportedly demanded that the number of relatives of war refugees allowed into the Netherlands be capped at 200 per month.

Rutte had promised to tackle migration after last summer’s migration centers scandal, during which a baby died and hundreds of people were forced to sleep in the open.

“The family, that children grow up with their parents, is a core value for us,” said deputy prime minister Carola Schouten of ChristenUnie, adding it was “a very difficult moment.”

Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag of D66 said there was “unnecessary tension in the process” and that the collapse was “regrettable.”

Netherland’s Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra of the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) said the fall of the government was “very disappointing, unnecessary and inexplicable to the people of the country.”

The Netherlands now faces one of its most stormy and divisive election campaigns in years.

The upstart BBB party, led by farmers who oppose the government’s European Union-backed environmental rules, will be seeking to repeat the success of senate elections that it won earlier this year.

Its leader, Caroline van der Plas, has refused to serve in a coalition with Rutte, and she didn’t rule out standing for the prime minister’s job if it wins the most seats in the general election.

Local media said Rutte had taken a tough stance on migration to deflect a challenge from the right wing of the VVD, whose voters the farmer party has begun to win over.

And Rutte has long been under pressure on the issue of migration due to the strength of far-right parties in the Netherlands, including that of anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders.

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