Early Elections in the Netherlands: Rutte IV stumbles over asylum policy

Anne-Marie Reynaers

6 mins - 11 de Julio de 2023, 07:05

Last Friday the Dutch government announced its dissolution after a year and a half of the executive known as Rutte IV, a coalition made up of the VVD (the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), D66 (Democrats 66), and the Christen Unie (Christen Union). The cause of this break-up? Irreconcilable differences between the four-party partners over a more restrictive asylum policy. To better understand the origin of the issue, it is necessary to go back to the summer of 2022. 

Just a year ago, the Netherlands was experiencing serious difficulties in coping with the growing flow of asylum seekers into the country. These problems were evidenced by the registration centre being overwhelmed to handle the large number of applications, but also by the lack of housing to accommodate asylum seekers, as well as by the precarious living conditions of new arrivals who could not be accommodated in overcrowded reception centres. Faced with this crisis, the government promised to find a solution to resolve these problems and prevent the emergence of similar ones in the future. To this end, over the past year, new registration centres and more reception places have been created in addition to new housing having been built for the refugee population.

[Recibe los análisis de más actualidad en tu correo electrónico o en tu teléfono a través de nuestro canal de Telegram]

But at the same time as these measures were being implemented, a cross-party working group began to discuss the possibilities of adopting a more restrictive asylum policy that would gradually reduce the number of asylum applications in the country in Autumn 2022. One of the members of this group was Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, Minister of Justice and Security of the VVD. Yeşilgöz-Zegerius called the current Dutch asylum policy “unnecessarily attractive” compared to that of other countries, proposing a return to a policy based on the protection of asylum seekers by limiting, among other rights, family reunification, as this “has nothing to do with refugees.”

In an attempt to tighten policy, the working group proposed the reintroduction of a system that distinguishes between two types of status, used in many European countries and in the Netherlands itself until more than two decades ago. This system differentiates war refugees from other types of refugees (such as political refugees) and migrants (such as labour refugees), granting each group a different status and rights. Thus, war refugees would be conceived as temporary residents with a residence permit for a maximum period of three years. Another restrictive proposal was the introduction of a quota, already used in countries such as Germany, to control family reunification and ensure that reunification only covers the core family (father, mother, and children), but not other family members (ex-husband, ex-wife, or stepchildren, etc.). The working group also discussed the possibility of using the so-called “pause button”, a measure that allows the government, again following the German example, to temporarily suspend family reunification in specific circumstances.

After nine months of work, the negotiations remained deadlocked. In response to this situation, last week the VVD stepped up the pressure through Prime Minister Rutte, who stressed the urgency of reaching a solution, preferably before the summer. The Christian Union (CU) then made the negotiations even more difficult by stating that it was impossible to reconcile the restrictions on family reunification with the party’s fundamental values.  It was then that on 7 July Mark Rutte decided to tender his resignation to the King. Although there are voices that have spoken of the rashness of this decision on the part of the prime minister, Yeşilgöz-Zegerius argues that rejecting the proposed restrictions would inevitably lead the government to renege on its promise to bring order to the country.

The government’s fall is somewhat surprising, as none of the coalition parties are doing well in the polls. According to opinion polls, the CDA, the D66, and the CU would lose seats in the current political situation. Mark Rutte’s VVD would also be in a weak position, mainly due to the emergence of the new formation BBB (BoerBurgerBeweging) (the Peasant-Citizen Movement), which, against all odds, achieved great electoral success in the last provincial elections. Likewise, the dissolution of the Dutch government has consequences at the European level. A caretaker government has a fragile position in Brussels, as the incumbent prime minister’s hands are tied in defending the country’s interests. The timing is not exactly ideal, as Spain’s current EU presidency has asylum policy as one of the main issues to be discussed.

Polls for a new election suggest that the VVD will once again be the largest party in the country with 28 of the 150 seats. However, as usual in Dutch democratic history, a coalition will be necessary to form a majority government. Two of the current four-party partners, the CDA and CU, are likely to drop out of the future government, as polls show the BBB as the party with the second most support (23 seats), followed by the far-right PVV (Party for Freedom) (15 seats). An exception is D66, which is expected to win 12 seats according to the polls. With these four parties it would be possible to form a new coalition, but in a very fragmented political landscape, both on the right and on the left, it could also happen that the next government will be in a minority, as has happened on other occasions.

Despite the collapse of the Dutch government, until now there was little doubt about the (admittedly dwindling) support that the VVD continues to enjoy. However, the party is entering a new phase following the decision of Mark Rutte, the longest-serving prime minister in Dutch democratic history, to leave politics. For those who already foresaw ‘Rutte fatigue’ within the VVD itself, the Kurdish-born minister Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, who coincidentally emigrated to the Netherlands when she was eight years old after leaving her native Turkey with her family, could end up becoming the new prime minister of the Netherlands. 
Se puede leer el artículo original en español

¿Qué te ha parecido el artículo?