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Who Will Succeed Rutte? Implications for Dutch Influence in the EU

European elections / EPC FLASH ANALYSIS
Elizabeth Kuiper

Date: 22/05/2024

Today, Dutch Parliament will formally endorse the new coalition agreement which was proposed last week. After months of tense talks, an agreement was made six months after Geert Wilders of the far-right Freedom Party won the election last year. After 13 years of governments led by liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the country was seen as punching above its weight when it came to influencing Brussels. With uncertainty looming over the next government, the Netherlands expects to lose power after the European elections.  

Analysis has been made about the implications of the coalition agreement for the EU; the broad outline of the manifesto for the future government reads as a shopping list of the four parties involved. Interestingly, whereas the EU was largely missing from the election campaign leading to the November 2023 elections, the four coalition parties are now turning to the EU to solve priorities such as asylum, migration and climate policy. While the new government will continue to support Ukraine, it plans on becoming even more hawkish when it comes to spending at the EU level with a proposed 1,6 billion budget cut in the context of the upcoming MFF negotiations.

The question of who will become the next Prime Minister still looms large and will shape the Dutch position in the EU for the years to come. Mark Rutte, now tipped as the next NATO leader, was the longest serving Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Together with Victor Orbán he was the most experienced leader around the table of the European Council and generally credited for his ability to forge compromises and his network at EU level.

Although the election winner usually becomes the Prime Minister, Wilders has reluctantly agreed not to take this position given the lack of support from his coalition partners. What complicates things further is that the structure of the next government will be experimental, with 50% of the Cabinet consisting of experts and the other 50% of party-affiliated ministers. For Wilders Freedom Party, it remains to be seen how this practically works out practically, considering Wilders is the only member of the party.

The road ahead is not expected to be without hiccups. The man tipped to become the next Prime Minister, former Minister Ronald Plasterk (a retired politician from the Labour Party) has withdrawn his candidature earlier this week after questions were raised about his handling of a patent for a cancer medicine. Wilders now needs to come up with an alternative name, which seems far from easy considering his limited options.

The question is how the next Dutch Prime Minister will align with other political families and exert influence in Brussels, especially if (s)he is not affiliated with a political party? Forging coalitions will be much harder from the sidelines. On top of that, the Dutch will not be seen as credible partners if the future government withdraws support from files they previously agreed on, such as the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

Brussels mainstream parties have already called on the President of the European Commission to reject cooperation or alliances with the far-right and radical parties. Renew Europe (RE) leader Valerie Hayer has equally expressed disapproval with the support of Rutte’s liberal party (belonging to RE) for the radical-right and announced that this may have consequences after the EU elections. In addition, former Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans will allegedly sign the “Appel de Paris   on Thursday, a manifesto expressing discontent about mainstream parties that support radical parties. A future Dutch Prime Minister would need to navigate this political landscape skilfully at the EU level.  

A government supported by the radical right will not only be detrimental to the position of the Netherlands in the EU, but also unwelcome news for the EU institutions in light of the EU elections that will take place two weeks from now. It remains to be seen whether the next (potentially non-affiliated) Dutch Prime Minister supported by a radical right party will position itself like Georgia Meloni and shape the Dutch agenda from within the EU or will rather behave like Orban and divide and conquer from the sidelines.

Elizabeth Kuiper is Associate Director and Head of the Social Europe and Well- being programme at the European Policy Centre.  

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