The Irish Times view on the collapse of the Dutch government: Mark Rutte calls it a day

Whoever takes his job as party leader could be forced in the autumn to look for allies on the populist extremes

The collapse last week of the coalition government of Dutch liberal conservative prime minster Mark Rutte, followed by Rutte’s unexpected decision, announced yesterday, to quit politics, will bring new elections this autumn, rather than in 2025 as scheduled.

The four coalition parties could not agree a family reunification policy for refugees fleeing conflict zones. Rutte’s proposals were considered too harsh by the left liberal D66 and the small Christian Unity party, conservative on abortion and euthanasia but progressive on the environment, immigration and social equality.

Rutte, the longest-serving prime minister in modern Dutch history, had a reputation as a skilled negotiator and master craftsman of compromise, so the break-up of the coalition is unlikely to have been an accident. It seems more likely that he was motivated by the declining support in opinion polls for his own VVD party, and the even sharper collapse of his partners in D66 and the CDA. The move may underline his party’s image as tough on immigration and law and order in response to increasing pressure from the right – but Rutte has decided to call time on his own career.

The Netherlands has a record of spawning new populist movements which burst dramatically onto the scene but often later fade away. The latest of these is the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) of former agri-industry lobbyist Caroline van der Plas, which scored dramatic victories in provincial elections in March on a policy of fighting EU restrictions on the use of nitrogen and pesticides. Van der Plas has since expanded her programme to embrace the usual populist themes of “less tax and fewer regulations”.


As Dutch politics, like that of many other European countries, takes a further turn to the right, the VVD needs a new leader. One contender could be justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz, who has a high profile from her tough stance on the threat posed to Dutch society by murderous mafia-type organisations engaged in the drug trade. But whoever leads the VVD could be forced in the autumn to look for allies on the populist extremes