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16th Jun 2019

Liberals wary as new Dutch government takes office

  • The VVD won the elections back in June, but have been forced to get into bed with Mr Wilders to get a majority in parliament (Photo: NewsPhoto!)

The pan-European Liberal party, the ELDR, has voiced concern over Geert Wilders' role in the new Dutch government but defended the coalition on banning the burqa and on immigration.

"What worries me is that this government is depending on the support of a radical right party, to put it mildly. I hope this is not going to push it in a direction I would not like it to go," Belgian Liberal MEP and ELDR President Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck told EUobserver by phone on Thursday (14 October).

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"His MEPs are not very exciting. They are extremely narrow-minded and are still stuck in a phase of knee-jerk reactions. If it seems to impinge on sovereignty, it's bad. They are for Nato but against [defence] co-operation with the EU - it's very simplistic."

Mark Rutte, the 43-year-old leader of the ELDR-affiliated VVD party, became the new Dutch Prime Minister at a ceremony with Queen Beatrix at the Huis ten Bosch palace in The Hague on Thursday.

The VVD is to rule together with the centre-right CDA party of former premier Jan Balkenende in a minority government with 52 seats out of 150 in parliament. The coalition is to rely on the backing of Mr Wilders' PVV party on a vote-by-vote basis to give it a majority of 76.

A coalition pact adopted last month is said to bear the Islamophobe and anti-immigrant Mr Wilders' stamp by promising legislation to ban the burqa and to make immigration by family members and unskilled workers more difficult. It also aims to cut the Dutch contribution to the EU budget by €1 billion.

Ms Neyts-Uyttebroeck strongly supported the burqa ban idea.

"We have different opinions [in the ELDR]. But on the burqa we largely believe that - with the exception of Carnival - people should show their faces," the former Belgian foreign minister said. "A woman covering herself completely and then walking the streets is a frightful sight ... one always wonders if they are doing it of their own free will. The burqa is a horror."

She also said the coalition's anti-immigration stance should be seen in a wider context.

"I want to wait and see what concrete measures and rules will be decided before I judge. Several countries have moved to restrict immigration. Let's not behave like the Dutch government is the first one to do this," she said.

The new Dutch cabinet includes: Uri Rosenthal, a former Senator and crisis-management theorist as foreign minister; Piet Hein Donner, a former justice minister as interior minister; and Jan Kees de Jager, the previous government's finance minister, who is to stay in place.

It also includes a new post - of immigration minister - taken by Gerd Leers, a former mayor of Maastricht. Dutch business daily NRC Handelsblatt reported that Mr Leers had a meeting with Mr Wilders prior to his appointment to make sure the pair can work together.

Belgium's Ms Neyts-Uyttebroeck in a written statement on Thursday noted wryly that the Netherlands has done better than her native country in pulling together a coalition.

"More than 130 days after the June elections we still have no new government [in Belgium]," she wrote. "They should be deeply ashamed of themselves."

EU leaders task Tusk to find commission chief by June

With national leaders and the European Parliament divided over who to put forward for the commission presidency, the EU Council president will now start negotiations with all sides - hoping to come up with an answer by next month.

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