The shine is coming off the new Dutch government before it has even started

Geert Wilders comes to the founding talks with the founding parties PVV, VVD, NSC, BBB and formateur Richard van Zwol to discuss the cabinet posts.

Geert Wilders comes to the founding talks with the founding parties PVV, VVD, NSC, BBB and formateur Richard van Zwol to discuss the cabinet posts.

© picture alliance / ANP | Robin Utrecht

More than seven months after the start of negotiations, a new Dutch government is likely to be finally sworn in by King Willem-Alexander on 2nd July. The negotiations followed the spectacular win of the right-wing PVV party led by Geert Wilders in the November 22nd General Election, where they got a quarter of the votes and replaced the liberal VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the biggest party. PVV was some distance ahead of the Labour-Green alliance headed by former European Commissioner Frans Timmermans in second place (just ahead of VVD in third place). New VVD-leader Dilan Yesilgöz had hoped to stay ahead in the polls by stating that PVV voters should be taken seriously. This blew up right in her face like an exploding trick cigar. It only had the effect of making the PVV more acceptable. Wilders shot up in the polls not even two weeks before the elections, much to his own surprise.

Wilders handled his election victory cleverly, “mothballing” his most controversial plans and appearing as nice as he could, earning himself the nickname Geert Milders. Wilders can do this easily because he does not have to fear repercussions within his own party – of which he is the sole member. It was crystal clear that Wilders would not let this opportunity be taken away at any price. He thus made it nigh impossible for his favoured coalition partners to find an excuse to refuse to sit down with him and go down his slippery path. It was in particular hard for VVD, which under Mark Rutte had always refused to open the door to the PVV, and for the new centre-right party New Social Contract (NSC) led by the renegade Christian-democrat Pieter Omtzigt who ran on a programme of political reforms. The fourth party involved was the (also quite new) conservative farmers party BBB, which a year earlier out of the blue became the biggest group in the Dutch Senate with more than 20% of the vote, although by the time of the General Election they had already gone down to just under 5%. BBB question the EU’s environmental policies and is by far the most enthusiastic about cooperating with the PVV. Together, these four parties hold 88 of the 150 seats in Parliament. In the Senate, though, they do not have a majority and need to find support from other parties. Other parties, such as the other liberal party D66, the pro-European Volt and the Labour-Green alliance, refused to talk to the PVV.

Programme outline

The four parties finally presented their government programme outline called “Hope, guts and pride” in the middle of May after six months of often acrimonious negotiating, with Wilders claiming that it would “…make the sun shine again in the Netherlands…”. It is a thoroughly conservative programme, with as was to be expected the most eye-catching points being on immigration policies. The programme claims to have “…the strictest asylum admission rules and the most comprehensive migration control package ever”, although in practice it amounts to not accepting new asylum applications in the next two years but stopping short of closing the borders. It is doubtful whether this will actually legally hold up according to European or even Dutch law. Apparently, PVV voters find that the migration measures do not go far enough.

Other than that, it is a hodgepodge of campaign promises of the four parties. It has an anti-intellectual streak (raising VAT on theatre and books and limiting international courses at universities), raising the maximum speed from 100km/h to 130km/h again, meeting the climate goals by building four nuclear power plants, and heavy cutbacks on development aid, on the civil service and on public broadcasters, to name but a few points. None of the points that Geert Wilders promoted throughout the years, such as a ban on headscarves, mosques and the Koran, a complete immigration stop and a vote on Nexit (the Netherlands leaving the EU), made it into the programme.

The VVD suddenly finds itself in the unusual situation of being the left wing of a socially conservative government, and is beginning to make its mark in this way. In Parliament, VVD-leader Dilan Yesilgöz came out in support of D66-leader Rob Jetten when he had a debate with BBB-leader Caroline van der Plas on how far sexual education in schools should go, and days later she was prominently present at a gay wedding.

VVD says that it is particularly satisfied with the emphasis on fighting crime and the continued support for Ukraine, which was put in question precisely by the PVV, on top of dealing with the “unbridled entry of asylum seekers”. The programme also “strengthened the position of middle-income earners by lowering taxes and making childcare almost free in the long run”, and made room for entrepreneurs by “strengthening trade, smart inventions and green growth and by imposing fewer rules and reversing tax increases”. PVV and BBB similarly have put programmatic or financial hand-outs to their respective voting base in the government programme outline.


D66 leader Rob Jetten calls it an agreement full of "…air castles built on financial quicksand". D66 plays a prominent opposition role, aiming particularly at the new taxes on culture, and is forging with great effect a working coalition of some of the smaller opposition parties. Jetten also called the programme outline "...a deal that puts the Netherlands back behind the dykes and with less cooperation in the EU."

The latter point is relevant. Although Wilders temporarily shelved his proposals to leave the EU, he has publicly stated his determination to erode the EU from within. The programme outline commandeers the new government to go to their EU partners to ask for an 'opt-out' on asylum and exceptions for nature and nitrogen, and to lower the Dutch contribution. It is doubtful that any of this will be successful, but in the greater scheme of things, the Netherlands was always the country most opposed to other countries asking for opt-outs. Now that the Dutch go down this road, it opens the floodgates for everybody else to do the same, which would send European cohesion down the drains. Just what Geert Wilders is looking for. And if the Dutch do not get what they want, as seems likely, Wilders can still take his Nexit plans out of the fridge and blame those fiendish Eurocrats. It is telling that Geert Wilders, whose wife is Hungarian, is intimate friends with the Eurosceptic Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

Party politics aside, this strategy risks that in the EU the Netherlands becomes part of the problem and not of the solution, and thus loses its central strategic position that so was painstakingly built up by Mark Rutte over the years.

Dick Schoof, candidate for Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Dick Schoof, candidate for Prime Minister of the Netherlands

© picture alliance / ANP | Jeroen Jumelet


With great expectation, Geert Wilders’s choice for his candidate prime minster was awaited. He has publicly taken ownership of this government. He wanted to be prime minster himself until the other three parties forced him into an agreement that none of the party leaders would take a seat in the government, which many saw as a ploy to prevent him from becoming prime minister, and he still does not let an opportunity pass to blame particularly Pieter Omtzigt for destroying his dream. Wilders’ preferred candidate Ronald Plasterk, a former Labour Party minister for Education and then for Home Affairs, who had already played a part in the earlier stages of the forming of the government, had to withdraw as a candidate when it became known that he was under investigation because he may have wrongly obtained a patent on a cancer drug. This fits a pattern. An earlier negotiator proposed by Wilders, a PVV Senator by the name of Gom van Strien, had to withdraw after being linked to another fraud case.

In the end Wilders did not present any candidate at all, and the four party leaders jointly proposed Dick Schoof, a high-ranking civil servant from the Justice Ministry and former head of the Dutch secret services, completely unknown outside the The Hague political bubble. As a meme on social media stated, “…you may not know who he is, but he definitely knows who you are.” People who have worked with him describe him as a “nice man” and as a problem solver, who is also a bit vain. Immigrant organisations accuse him of illegally eavesdropping on their organisation when in charge of the Secret Service, and opinion leaders on the extreme right see him as the epitome of the political elite that they claim runs the country.

Opinion polls show that supporters of VVD and NSC are much happier with Dick Schoof than supporters of PVV and BBB. Thierry Baudet, leader of the even-more-extreme-right Forum for Democracy described Schoof, who was a member of the Labour Party until 2021, as a “…left-wing mainstream guy who has been a civil servant all his life, pro-EU, pro-climate policy, pro-NATO and pro-war in Ukraine”. In a newspaper interview only a few months ago, Schoof however expressed support for the idea that PVV should join the government. The big question is to what extent this able civil servant will be his own man and not be on Wilders’ leash. After all, he will have to implement a government programme, in the writing of which he was in no way involved. In any case, it seems that Wilders is confident that Schoof will not outshine him.


It took longer than usual to divide the other ministerial posts. In theory this was to become an “extra-parliamentary” cabinet with half the ministers coming from outside politics and the four coalition parties staying at arms-length of it, but in practice the bulk of the ministers come from Parliament. PVV will get five ministries including Migration, VVD four including Finance, NSC also four including Home Affairs and BBB two including Agriculture. The parties have made some interesting choices. NSC for example sends Caspar Veldkamp to be Foreign Minister, a former diplomat who describes himself as an enthusiastic European. VVD’s deputy prime minister is Sophie Hermans, who will be Minister for Climate and Green Growth, not an easy position in a government where the other three coalition partners have grave doubts about climate policies. Hermans, who was an advisor to Mark Rutte before she became VVD’s Floor Leader in Parliament, is not known as a conservative Liberal. That she has worked closely with Mark Rutte is significant, since probably to his own surprise he retrospectively is increasingly pigeonholed as a progressive liberal. Two other VVD ministers, Justice Minister David van Weel (currently assistant secretary-general at NATO) and Defence Minister Ruben Brekelmans, who is known as a modern liberal, are staunch supporters of Ukraine and have already come under heavy flak from the extreme right.

Wilders himself sent four of his long-time attack dogs as ministers, never mind the protests from NSC and particularly VVD. These have a history of insulting immigrants and political opponents and are active conspiracy theorists. Wilders had to withdraw his first candidate for Migration Minister after he did not pass the usual check by the Secret Service: there are rumours that he is close to the Mossad (which he denies), he was arrested in 2010 for illegally carrying a weapon and he called for tribunals against political opponents who are responsible for Dutch immigration policies. The PVV minister for International Development called in 2016 for the abolition of development aid altogether. And it has just come out that the prospective PVV economics minister is embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings.

Electoral test

The first electoral test for the coalition partners was the European Elections on June 6th. They were hardly a ringing endorsement of the coalition. Naturally, it is slightly unfair to compare European elections with a General Election in terms of subject and turnout, but some of the figures nonetheless make interesting reading. Together, the four negotiating parties got less than 40% of the vote in June, compared to nearly 60% at the General Election in November. The heaviest loser was the NSC which scored 12.8% in November and 3.7% in June. VVD went from 15.2% in November to 11.3% in June, and the PVV from 23.5% to 17%. Only BBB went up one per cent from 4.5% to 5.5%. This compares to the Labour-Green alliance going up from 15.8% to 21.1%, and unambiguously pro-European parties D66 from 6.3% to 8.4% and Volt from 1.7% to 5.1%. Particularly galling for Geert Wilders was that he had tried to turn the European Elections into a contest between himself and Frans Timmermans, and he almost begged his voters to turn out. It ended badly for Wilders. It seems that the shine is already coming off the PVV and the new coalition before it has even started.

Meanwhile, the liberal Renew Group in the European Parliament did not exactly greet the news with applause that one of their members had gone into coalition with a party from the extreme right. At the European level, Renew is unwavering in maintaining a firewall between itself and the extreme right groups. During the election campaign, particularly the French Renaissance party of President Emmanuel Macron, themselves involved in a fight to the death with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, stated that this “… could not stay without consequences” for VVD. Since the elections, it has become quieter on this front, perhaps also because a “cohabitation” looms between Macron and the RN after the forthcoming French parliamentary elections. But there is no doubt that within the European liberal family there is much discomfort with the situation, and that the Dutch developments are followed with a wary eye. And an immediate consequence has been, that the pro-European Volt-delegation of five MEPs has opted to join the Greens rather than Renew, giving as its reason that the lack of measures against VVD shows that Renew is less serious in fighting the extreme right than the Greens. NSC and BBB meanwhile are likely to join the christian-democrat EPP-Group in the European Parliament.

The pro-European majority successfully counters the attack from the right

Eine Frau wirft in einem Wahllokal im Bezirk Lichtenberg ihren Wahlzettel für die Europawahl ein

The 2024 European elections were characterised by a high voter turnout and intense political debates. Despite the rise of extreme right-wing and left-wing parties, the political centre was able to maintain its position. This ensures the continuation of European integration, the protection of democratic values and increased defence cooperation. A clear signal to the world: the EU remains a stable and unified force.

Read more

Historical day

Wilders called the announcement of the new government a “historical day”. This it definitely was, because it is the accession of an extreme-right party to a Dutch government for the first time.  He sneaked into the corridors of power like a Trojan horse, and while all are curiously looking at this animal, nobody knows for sure what is hidden inside. This outshines anything that was or was not agreed on policy. The PVV has consistently made disparaging remarks about liberal democracy and the Constitution throughout the recent decades, and is now suddenly the driving force of this cabinet. This situation can be safely called bizarre, and potentially highly risky. Even as stories emerge that there is no love lost between the coalition partners and that Wilders is a lousy manager, he is also cunning and skilful, and you underestimate him at your peril. He has set everything on getting into government and succeeded. It is naive to assume that he has no plan on how the PVV will come out of this stronger. His coalition partners VVD and NSC carry a heavy responsibility.