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Government collapse over migration triggers talks between Dutch PM, King

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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte engaged in discussions with King Willem-Alexander on Saturday. The king, who had been away on vacation, promptly returned to the Netherlands to meet with Rutte, the country’s longest-serving premier, who has held power since 2010.

Arriving at the royal Huis Ten Bosch palace near The Hague in his own vehicle, a grey stationwagon, the 56-year-old Rutte engaged in talks with the king for approximately an hour and a half before departing. Although he did not disclose specific details, Rutte, leader of the center-right VVD party, acknowledged that it was a productive discussion but remained tight-lipped, citing the confidential nature of the talks.

Currently, Rutte is leading a caretaker government until the upcoming elections projected to take place in mid-November. The government’s dissolution occurred as a result of mounting tensions over migration, an issue that has been generating increased friction across Europe. Rutte’s fourth coalition government crumbled primarily due to his proposal to tighten restrictions on family reunification for asylum seekers, aimed at reducing numbers after last year’s scandal involving overcrowded migration centers.

One of the coalition parties, ChristenUnie, a Christian Democratic party representing the devoutly Protestant “Bible Belt” in central Netherlands, and the center-left D66, staunchly opposed Rutte’s plans, resulting in irreconcilable differences. Dutch newspapers have scrutinized the fragmented coalition, which took office only in January 2022 after an exhaustive 271-day negotiation process. The Volkskrant newspaper characterized the government as stumbling right from the start and never managing to regain its footing.

Anticipated to be highly divisive, the upcoming elections will encompass a range of contentious issues, including migration, frustrated farmers, and the cost of living. An upstart farmers’ party opposing EU-backed environmental regulations has emerged as a new challenge to Rutte’s bid for a fifth term. Additionally, the Dutch far-right remains a persistent threat.

Geert Wilders, an anti-Islam leader, took to Twitter, outlining his vision for the Netherlands: “We can make the Netherlands a beautiful country again with fewer asylum seekers and crime, more money and houses for our own people, decent care, plenty of room for our farmers and fishermen.”

The Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB), seeking to replicate its success in earlier senate elections this year, aims to confront Rutte’s leadership. The party’s leader, Caroline van der Plas, has expressed her refusal to participate in a coalition with Rutte and did not dismiss the possibility of running for prime minister.

Despite leading the VVD to electoral victories for almost 13 years, Rutte faces internal challenges within his own party. If the farmer’s party secures a significant enough presence in the elections to demand a place in a coalition, the VVD may be tempted to replace Rutte to maintain its dominant position in the government.

While Rutte confirmed his enthusiasm for a fifth term, he acknowledged tensions within the VVD regarding migration during the party’s conference in June. He stated that he still possessed the “energy” for another term but needed time to reflect on the decision.

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