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Elections with a shift to the right: how could the Dutch coalition impact Ukraine?

Written by UCMC/Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group

Migrants “Brought it” to the Elections

Last summer, the Dutch coalition government “stumbled” on the issue of immigration control. The current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, decided that he had “had enough” of 14 years of government and announced the resignation of his cabinet: “It’s no secret that the coalition partners have very different views on migration policy […] And now, unfortunately, we must conclude that these differences are insurmountable,” the politician admitted. However, it appears that Rutte won’t be unemployed for long after as he is the current favourite to become NATO’s next Secretary General, whose candidacy will be decided before the Alliance’s Summit on July 9-11, 2024.

The results of the Dutch elections held on November 22, 2023, came as quite a shock. In the final stretch, the campaign turned into a race between the four major parties: the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the Freedom Party (PVV), the Green Left-Party of Labor (GL/Pvda) alliance, and the New Social Contract (NSC). Geert Wilders’ right-wing populist Freedom Party (PVV) emerged victorious with 35 seats in the 150-seat parliament, more than doubling its vote share from previous elections, marking the best result the party has ever seen. However, still coming in short to form a majority on its own.

The Dutch Trump 

Geert Wilders celebrates the Freedom Party’s victory in the elections on November 23, 2023

Geert Wilders’ parliamentary career began in 1998 as a member of the centrist VVD (Liberals). However, in 2004, the politician left the party due to what he described as “too loyal to Islam”. A few years later, Wilders founded the Freedom Party (PVV). He has always boast a strong voter support, but his radical stance has given him the name badge as the “eternal opposition” with whom more moderate parties refuse to cooperate. 

The issue of migrants has long been at the forefront of PVV rhetoric: “The people will take back their country, and the tsunami of refugees and migrants will be contained,” declared Wilders’ election slogans. Another right-wing pledge was to “not Islamize the Netherlands.” 

Wilders is also a prominent critic of the European Union. In his election campaign, he used the concept of Nexit (Netherlands take on Brexit). Among his PVV party’s promises were the following controversial initiatives: to maintain the independence of the Dutch armed forces and not support “merging with the EU or the German army”; to “throw” Turkey out of NATO; and to halt the flow of refugees into the country by stationing defense forces at the border. Journalists dubbed Wilders “the Dutch Trump” because of his odiousness, active use of social media, particularly platform X, demonization of immigrants, and outspoken populism. 

In the context of EU-Ukraine relations, Wilders has established himself as one of the most staunch critics of Kyiv’s European integration.  He was one of the organizers of the 2016 referendum in the Netherlands, which temporarily blocked the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Also in 2018, he paid a working visit to Moscow and later stated, “Stop Russophobia. It is time for realpolitik. We need cooperation, not confrontation.” Prior to the full-scale invasion, he opposed sanctions against Russia. Wilders has recently stated that he strongly opposes the supply of weapons to Ukraine: “At a time when our armed forces are no longer able to control our own territory, we are sending our scarce equipment to Ukraine. As a result, our national defense is severely weakened because the government prioritizes foreign countries over our own”. On November 15, Wilders stated in an interview with the Dutch public broadcaster that, while he “politically supports Ukraine” and recognizes Russia as the aggressor, the Netherlands must be able to defend its own territory. 

More detailed quotes from Wilders can be found in our project on the Kremlin’s “Shady Horses” Project here.  

Geert Wilders and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest

Naturally, political observers interpreted Wilders’ potential premiership as a “wake-up call” for the Netherlands to reduce arms supplies and curtail support for Ukraine’s future EU membership. 

Flop Negotiations

The PVV’s election victory gave them the opportunity to form a new government. The party held talks with the New Social Contract (NSC), the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB).

Throughout the negotiations, Wilders demonstrated a strong willingness to compromise in order to attract partners and form a stable coalition. Wilders, who has consistently advocated for a ban on mosques and the Qur’an in the Netherlands, promised to reverse these unconstitutional measures. The politician was also willing to put aside his long-held desire to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union. Furthermore, the election winner stated that his political party was willing to discuss “any form of assistance” to Ukraine during coalition talks, which he hoped would speed up the formation of a government.

However, even such “broad” compromises were not enough. Immediately, difficulties arose in forming a coalition, as several other parties in parliament refused to cooperate with the PVV. Others ended negotiations with Wilders soon after they began. For example, Peter Omtzicht, the founder and leader of the center-right New Social Contract (NSC) party, stated that he would be unable to serve in the new government. He went on to say that “the NSC does not want to make promises to the people of the Netherlands that it knows in advance that it cannot fulfill.”

The rejection to make the coalition was motivated by concerns about the Dutch economy’s ability to overcome the negative trends that began with the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2023, the budget deficit was approximately 3.5 billion euros. As a result, Wilders stated that “Omzicht’s withdrawal from coalition talks is very disappointing” and that he will stop attempting to form a government in the future.

Among the options being considered are a minority government and a technocratic government, in which ministers would not be bound by rigid party agreements and would seek a situational majority to implement their policies.

According to the Dutch national television company NOS, the country will be given the option of forming an extra-parliamentary cabinet comprised of experienced politicians and external experts who are not affiliated with any of the ruling parties. In this system, the parliament would have far more influence over the government’s position than it does now. However, it remains unclear how this formula will work in practice. Despite the fact that the PVV, VVD, NSC, and BBB hold 88 seats in the House of Representatives, or the majority, the four main parties in Dutch politics disagree on a number of key social and political issues.

Potential Consequences for Ukraine

Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the Netherlands has been and continues to be one of Europe’s most pro-Ukrainian countries. The country’s stance on providing financial and security assistance to the Ukrainian Defense Forces is critical for promoting the Ukrainian agenda among its partners. However, as in Slovakia, the situation may change if the political leadership changes.

It is important to note that the majority of Amsterdam’s assistance has become rather strategic since the beginning of the year. The bilateral security cooperation agreement between Ukraine and the Netherlands, signed on March 1, 2024, in Kharkiv (42 kilometers from Russia’s border), as well as the allocation of €2 billion in military aid in 2024, will enable the Defense Forces to deter a Russian invasion. It is also worth noting that it was Mark Rutte’s government’s who played the role in forming and supporting the F-16 fighter jet coalition (with the Netherlands providing 24 aircraft) and the drone coalition.

Such initiatives contribute to the development of cooperation formats between Ukraine and European countries in the defense sector, as well as providing fertile ground for negotiations on new types of weapons for Ukraine.

It is critical for Kyiv to maintain the positive momentum of cooperation with the Netherlands. At the same time, despite Wilders’ compromise position on supporting Ukraine during coalition negotiations, the right-wing populist leader’s shaky premiership may stymie important initiatives on ammunition and Western aircraft for the Armed Forces. As a result, the formation of a technocratic government is the best scenario, as most parties that have entered parliament continue to show strong support for Ukraine. This was reported by Ukraine’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Olexandr Karasevych, in response to the support adopted by the country’s parliament on March 19, 2024. Thus, the possibility of forced repeat of early elections, in which the PVV could have strengthened its position, was avoided as of now.


Source HWAG/UCMC. The article was prepared for publication by volunteers from the Res Publica - The Center for Civil Resistance.


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