Response from Ton Dietz
“I am pleased that the Netherlands is not reducing its development aid budget. Personally, I think we should do no less. We must behave differently! For the moment, the pressure has been reduced. We’re now working on international cooperation 2.0.”
“Take, for example, Mali. Since the Taureg rebellion, Mali has become greatly destabilized. The Netherlands must develop a broader strategy. We must cooperate with other donor countries in terms of diplomacy and security. Same story in South Sudan.”
The curious political situation in the Netherlands with a caretaker minority government puts an immediate stop to many of the government’s policies, including some aspects of Dutch foreign policy.
Geert Wilders had given the government parliamentary support in return for getting some of his own Freedom Party policies implemented, but now that support has been withdrawn and the caretaker cabinet is free in its turn to withdraw its support for his policies.
What Wilders wanted
Immigration Minister Gerd Leers, for instance, has already announced he will stop pushing for policies such as restrictions on family reunification. The Minister of the Interior also no longer supports a new law, pushed by Wilders, putting restrictions on Dutch citizens holding a second passport.
A similar policy area is development aid. As part of an earlier austerity budget (the one annual budget this government did manage to get passed), development aid was cut from 0.8 percent of GDP to 0.7, a cut of about one billion Euros.
Geert Wilders had insisted on another cut of the same size during the recent negotiations for another austerity budget. That new reduction will not take place (although the earlier one has already been implemented and therefore cannot be reversed).
Freedom Party joins the opposition
Geert Wilders is now free to oppose other aspects of foreign policy which he had tacitly supported in the interest of keeping this government in power.
One such policy is the sale to Indonesia of dozens of Leopard tanks no longer needed by the Dutch army. The Freedom Party has always opposed the sale, but probably would not have blocked it. Now they will join the opposition parties and make sure the sale does not go through.
Further Dutch participation in the Joint Strike Fighter programme, such as the purchase of a second test plane, is also now uncertain.
Relations with a number of countries will almosty certainly go more smoothly now that Geert Wilders is back in the opposition. Mr Wilders has repeatedly insulted Turkish officials, most recently during a state visit by President Abdullah Gül.
His party’s website soliciting complaints about Polish immigrants also raised the ire of Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe. Many felt Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not do enough to distance his government from these ideas. That political distance is now crystal clear.
The Netherlands has also been blocking admittance of Romania and Bulgaria to the Schengen countries. It is not clear if the fall of the government will change the Dutch standpoint.
The budget deal, quickly put together by five parties on Wednesday and Thursday, has already softened concern that the Netherlands would no longer be a credible proponent of budget discipline in Europe. The deal aims to bring the Dutch budget for 2013 in under the three-percent deficit norm set by Brussels.
The Netherlands has been an outspoken proponent of stricter rules for countries in the euro zone, and for sometimes drastic austerity measures and budgetary discipline as the best means of dealing with the euro crisis (as opposed to those saying growth should get priority).
Germany in particular was concerned that the Dutch would no longer pursue the austerity argument, at least not as fervently. German Chancellor Angela Merkel went so far as to warn the Netherlands to bring its budget in order quickly. The Dutch parliament seems to have heeded the warning.
All eyes will be on the Netherlands later this spring when parliament debates ratification of the European Stability Mechanism, a permanent fund scheduled to be established in July. A majority in parliament supports the fund, but the Netherlands share of investment is 40 billion euros, and that sum may come under fire from parties with an eye to Euro-sceptic feeling in the run-up to September's elections.
The Netherlands has had a caretaker government for almost two of the past ten years, so the political situation is not an unfamiliar one. But this caretaker government is different: it does not control a majority in parliament.
So now more than ever, the Dutch parliament will have a major role in government policy. This was made clear on Thursday when five parties (VVD, Christian Democrats, Green Left, Democrat 66 and the Christian Union) got together to agree in principle to a budget for 2013.
These same five parties approved the Dutch police training mission to Kunduz in Afghanistanlast year. Since then, that combination of parties has been known as the ‘Kunduz coalition’. That coalition, plus occasionally the Labour Party, will have plenty to say about foreign policy in the next few months.