By Bart H. Meijer
AMSTERDAM – Government formation talks in the Netherlands on Friday became the longest on record, 226 days after the March 17 elections delivered a fractured political landscape that made parties more reluctant than ever to compromise.
Dutch government coalitions often take months to form, but this year’s post-election talks have been especially drawn out. For months, parties failed to even move beyond the question of who would be allowed at the negotiation table.
Meanwhile, pressing matters such as climate change, health care and the strained housing market have been left untouched.
“It’s remarkable,” said political historian and cabinet formation expert Carla van Baalen. “We have never seen a situation in which no real talks were held for months following the elections.”
Talks came to a standstill shortly after the elections as parties tried to mend relations following a failed no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
As efforts to bring other parties to the table failed, the four parties that have governed the Netherlands since 2017 finally agreed to try to extend their coalition last month, but no real progress has been reported since.
The lack of fully-functioning government does not seem to have hurt the Dutch economy. It has rebounded strongly from a COVID-19 slump and boasts one of the strongest growth rates in Europe.
But pressing longer-term problems are being neglected as long as the coalition remains in caretaker status.
“Only urgent problems, such as immediate measures to fight COVID-19, are addressed”, Van Baalen said.
The March elections were won by the conservative VVD party led by Rutte, who has been Prime Minister since 2010. But with only 22% of the vote, Rutte needs the support of at least three junior partners to secure a majority in parliament.
Party leaders were expected to grasp the nettle during a three-day retreat that started last Wednesday, but as they convened Rutte made it clear that a compromise was still not in sight.
“We’ll have more talks next week, and probably in the week after too”, Rutte said. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Christina Fincher)