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Monday 22 December  
Caretaker PM Jan Peter Balkenende
John Tyler's picture
The Hague, Netherlands
The Hague, Netherlands

Dutch government falls over Afghanistan mission

Published on : 20 February 2010 - 4:48am | By John Tyler (ANP Photo)
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The Dutch government has collapsed over a rift between coalition parties about extending Dutch military participation in Afghanistan. 

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told journalists that the prime minister has offered his government's resignation to Queen Beatrix, the constitutional head-of-state.

News of the collapse came in the early hours of Saturday morning following 16 hours of crisis meetings and days of speculation that the differences between the coalition parties had simply become too great to bridge.

The stand-off began after Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos, leader of the Labour Party, drew a line in the sand over extending the Dutch mission in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan - coalition partners wanted to consider this option after a specific request from NATO to do so.

This was Mr Balkenende's fourth cabinet. It was also the fourth time he failed to carry a coalition to the end of the full four-year term.

Video: Jan Peter Balkenende announces the government's fall at a press conference

Uneasy coalition
Uneasy compromise typified the coalition from the beginning. The centre-right Christian Democrats (and its predecessors) had governed with the centre-left Labour Party before. But the two parties have trouble forming a stable coalition.

Balkenende IV was no exception. Difficulties were already apparent during the negotiations to form the government in the winter of 2007. All three coalition partners, the two larger parties plus the smaller Christian Union, had to compromise on major issues.

During three years of government, many decisions were made only after long disagreements inside the cabinet. These included plans to raise the government pension age, how long to try to keep government expenditures up in the wake of the economic downturn, and whether or not to keep investing in the development of a new fighter plane, the Joint Strike Fighter.

The issue where a compromise could not be found – whether or not to extend the military mission in the unruly Afghan province of Uruzgan - was itself not new. The cabinet decided back in the autumn of 2007 to extend the mission to Uruzgan by two years.

But the Labour Party felt it could not compromise again on an extension of the military mission. The criticism of Dutch support for the invasion of Iraq, presented by the independent Davids Commission in early January, only reinforced the Labour Party's resolve.

Save face abroad

The fall of the government may, paradoxically, help the Netherlands save face abroad. At NATO headquarters, as well as in the United States, there is little sympathy for the Labour Party's veto of an extension of the Uruzgan mission. The Netherlands pulling out of Uruzgan is a source of irritation both in Brussels and Washington. The Netherlands even risks losing its hard-earned seat at the G20 meetings.

But a cabinet crisis is seen as a reasonable excuse, even if the end result - pulling out of Uruzgan - remains the same.

Of perhaps greater consequence is what the fall of the cabinet means for Dutch politics. Nearly ten years ago, this country was shocked by the sudden rise of the populist politician, Pim Fortuyn, and even more shocked by his murder. More recently, the right-wing politician Geert Wilders underscores a long-term trend in Dutch politics: instability.

Related content

The Dutch electorate is famously fractured - no one party can ever hope to form a majority, and eight or more parties typically gain seats in parliament (there are currently eleven parties in the Dutch parliament). Plus, Dutch voters no longer identify very strongly with the traditional political parties.

This combination makes it possible for a Pim Fortuyn, or a Geert Wilders, to suddenly rise to prominence with the support of as little as ten percent of the population.

The Wilders factor

Geert Wilders has profited from the current political climate. And he will play a major role in the upcoming election, even if his Freedom Party does not become the largest party. Mr Wilders is a polarising figure, and the campaign is likely to feature a camp on the right that will consider governing in a coalition with Mr Wilders, and a camp on the left that rules it out.

But the major parties will not likely make up much of the ground they've been losing, and the next coalition could need four or more parties (in place of the usual two or three) to form a majority. During a time of economic recovery, the Netherlands is entering a period of political instability.


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Shawn lee 27 November 2010 - 9:49am

I'm rather glad that this indecisive government has quit and we all can think long and hard on the subject for who we are going to vote for.

I'm not sure wilders, as stated by your post, is a real follower/fan of the judism tradition, but atleast he fights for something i value very highly and that is total freedom of speech. It's really ridicilous that one gets stigmatised or looked down at by voicing a personal opinion about certain subjects which has been the case in atleast the past 2 decades in this country.

My 2 cents

düzce 23 September 2010 - 11:05am /

Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.

bangpress 23 July 2010 - 8:10pm / Indonesia

This great but I wonder, why all the countries taking part in Afghanistan? I realize very well that the main objective to capture terrorists, but why with so many soldiers from many large countries, the terrorist was not arrested as well?

atomicbuddha 26 February 2010 - 6:33pm

Congratulations to the patriots of Holland!

frank portugal 25 February 2010 - 9:59am / Portugal-the netherlands

i really hope this is the end of Balkendende ! as a dutchman i feel ashamed of my nationality if i must refer to this guy and dutch politics in general who represents the Netherlands in a way i very much dislike.
(probably this is also one of the reasons i don´t live in this country anymore)

Anonymous 22 February 2010 - 6:20pm / Lalaland

Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.

Avo 21 February 2010 - 9:39pm / Nederland

Geert Wilders is a coward who's affraid to be called out on his racist nonsense, so he refuses to go into a political debate with his opponents. He prefers to stay in the background, scoring now and then by offending a few foreign cultures.
It is also impossible to join his party; he is the one and only one in control of his party. Absolute control, he likes it that way.
And seriously? Some of his proposals, a tax on wearing a veil, and a ban on the Quran like he proposes, are impossible in practice. Well, I guess a ruthless dictator could enforce things like that.

Geert Wilders methods and ethics scare me, and they should scare you as well.

Pankaj Saksena 27 March 2010 - 6:40am / India

His policy to tax burqa offends and the zillion atrocities on human rights in all the Islamic countries don't? It doesn't offend you that Muslims cut hands of a 'thief' just because he has stolen an apple? It doesn't offend you that a woman is stoned to death on the charge of adultery? It doesn't concern you that a woman has to produce four eye witnesses to prove that she was raped???

It doesn't concern you that Muslim fanatics assassinate women, children and other all over the world, just because they are non-Muslims?

There is a limit to hypocrisy and double standards!

Willie minha. 21 February 2010 - 8:36am / Nirvana.

Wouter Bos.....someone who wants the war to stop.
Geert Wilders, someone who wants to start new wars.

Looks like the next few months in Dutch politics will be interesting.
Maybe other European soldiers will follow, and be withdrawn?

Well done Mr Bos, war is an expensive conundrum, peace is a far more democratic process.

Anonymous 21 February 2010 - 2:16am / Lalaland

Too bad that all the people who know to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.

AmericanRed 21 February 2010 - 4:32am / United States

Ain't that the truth.

Rachel 21 February 2010 - 1:29am / Netherlands

It suprises me not that this government has fallen, based on the question of Dutch troops in Afghanistan. However there is a little bit more to this. One must remember that in 2007 it was the SP that had won the most votes to enable it to go into government with the PvDA, or the CDA. Both the CDA and PvDA could in no way make an accord with the SP for the simple reason that Jan Marijnson, leader of the SP, was not prepared to negotiate away the promises made to the electorate. The act of the PvDA jumping into bed with the CDA and Christen Unie, has in some way given its supporters a feeling of an act of betrayal. not withstanding the feelings of the people who voted SP.
The question of Afghanistan and the present situation comes about from 9/11, but hold on. No clear evidence has ever been shown to this day that Afghanistan, its people, or even its government, the Taliban, had anything to do with that terrible deed. There is evidence to show that it was an inside job in the USA, constantly pushed under the carpet. So who has created this terrorist threat to the world, Afghanistan or the USA. In my opinion the USA. In 1971 Afghanistan was a peaceful democracy with a parliament, with the king, Zahir Shah as constitutional monarch. I know this to be true as I was there at the time. It was destroyed by a coup in 1972, which was supported by the USA. It was the communist party of Afghanistan that called upon the Soviet Union for military support, there was no invasion, which enraged the tribal leaders and the beginning of the end. In a nutshell, Afghanistan was used and destroyed by western cold war politics and then left totally destitute. What is being done now is a continuation of these same politics by the west and in my view, this is a crime. The Netherlands should have no military troops there, but should try to use its good offices to seek solutions that are acceptable to the Afghans from the poorest to the richest.
NATO is an American war machine and has outlived its day. The Netherlands is one of the founding members of the EU. The EU should have some sort of military defense mechanism, but only for the EU states. Therefore I believe that the EU must come to terms with this and create as fast as possible an EU Defence Force, and a farewell to an American NATO war machine, which has only led the world into conflict, mistrust and bankruptcy.
When the people are once again asked to vote for a new government there may well be some surprises but these surprises may not be those sought for by right wing politics. The PvDA may well lose votes again to the SP, because of what happened in 2007. We could also see a mending of fences between the two parties and wind up with a grand coalition between the two with an inclusion of the Green Party and D66, leaving the right wing parties out in the cold. The US may feel this is a snub to them and their war on the world, but why should that concern us. Let them put their house in order and their finances and keep their noses out of our internal politics, finances and savings of the dutch people.

sandrav 20 February 2010 - 11:59pm / Nederland

Anisthenes Kyrosarges, Well said! You would make a good politician.

Anisthenes Kyrosarges 20 February 2010 - 9:52pm / United States

As an American who loves the Netherlands, I am sorry that this means that Dutch troops will probably be leaving the fight for freedom in Afghanistan.

But, if this also means that Wilders will have more influence over policy, then there may be a silver lining to this cloud. The Dutch are among Europe's most successful societies, maybe THE most successful, and they didn't get there by turning a blind eye to what's real in the world around them, nor by running from problems. And you know what problems I mean.

Dutch tolerance has been a well known and valuable virtue in their evolution into a modern society, but even a virtue can becomes a vice if it doesn't re-calibrate to meet changing times. Holland must face it's Islamist problem head-on, and punish bad behavior very sternly, while it meets good behavior with rewards.

It should be a privilege to live in Holland, not a right. It is a privilege that good people appreciated upon visiting for the first or the fiftieth time. If muslims aren't working to find their way toward acceptance in Dutch society, they are fools; but if they go beyond and criminally threaten Dutch institutions and people and the Dutch way of life, they should be dealt sternly and made to leave. You have too small a country to allow it to become overrun with peoples who not only don't want to be Dutch in every way they can, but actually disdain and threaten the Dutch society that nurtures them.

What mature, modern Western societies need to know is that the good things we inherited and continue to preserve and create must be protected, for they CAN be destroyed again, as they were when Germany went feral and the world let Hitler go unopposed for too long. If certain peoples don't like what they have in the West, they'd better be quiet about it for decency's sake, or be ready to be made to leave if we find that they won't or can't obey our laws. The sooner Holland, America, the West in general rids itself of religious zealots who advocate for violence and hate, the better it will be for everyone. Let them live among themselves if they wish, but they have no claim on my nation's society if they don't want to contribute in positive ways.

Let's stop being afraid to say what's in our hearts. We have much to share with the world and happily so, but never at the cost of our freedoms or our lives.

Pankaj Saksena 27 March 2010 - 6:43am / India

I support you man! Brilliant analysis!

David Berridge 20 February 2010 - 8:48pm / Canada

This is an interesting development, but no so easy as Geert might expect. First, this government fell while Geert is still in his court battle, distracting his campaigning. Second, the issue at hand is that of Afghanistan, which in this forum, has not been explained all too clearly as to how Geert and the PVV make their electoral policy. Does Geert agree with Labour at his own peril? If not, why has he been so quiet about the issue for so long, when the other parties have picked up on it? Third is the factor of election fatigue. With the general election set for probably three months from now, compunded by municipal elections on March 3, the low voter interest is bound to hurt the PVV. Like all populist parties, the PVV needs a high turnout to clamour for change so as to effect it. Fourth, how election ready is the PVV on an issue that is not their main selling point? Where will the immigration issue fall into line on voters agendas? These points lead to the issue of how strong the PVV is on the ground compared to the competition. It is a one-man leadership party with that leader embroiled in the courts. How ready does the PVV and Geert appear to be to form and run a national coalition government? With plans to field only canidates in just two cities on March 3, what is the organizational and logistical strength everywhere else? Time is very short to execute a massive scrambling to mobilize this size of campaign support in the face of what other parties must have in superior quantity and quality. This election may have come too quickly and too soon for Geert and the PVV to capitalize on. In turn, it would not be too great a surprise for Balkenende to have facilitated this event before the PVV has peaked at it's elctoral optimum strength. The more centerist parties have also a great advantage in capitalizing upon a returning sense of stabilty in the Netherlands, which may satisfy voters not to turn to too great an extent for radical change.

Arev Beilttog 20 February 2010 - 8:10pm / Germany

Afghanistan: the cemetery of empires, armies and....governments.

Anne 20 February 2010 - 4:05pm / Holland

Who wants a xenophobe as minister-president?

Even worse, an islamophobe. I hope that one day everyone will be considered equal for real!

And, if you want my personal opinion, the Christian belief system is just as ungrounded and amoral as the Islamic one. Jesus sends 1000s of swines to the abyss, millions of animals are slaughtered in the Bible, slaves were normal, women rights were pretty much absent (as if a women might not have multiple guys for example in the N.T.) or worse the story at the end of Judges, a guy cutting up his concubine ( Anyway, said enough.

If Wilders thinks that the Dutch judeo-christian tradition is so good, he should reconsider some things. At least it is obvious where his xenophobia originates....

We need a new age of enlightenment. With real liberty, equality and fraternity!

Pankaj Saksena 27 March 2010 - 6:46am / India

You want liberty, equality and fraternity? And you support Islamic societies which differentiate on the basis of religion, gender and race? You support Muslim society which so discriminates against women? You support the terrorist supporting societies which kill people just because they are non-Muslim?

Breathtaking double standards!

ADutchGuy 22 February 2010 - 11:22am / The World


Where you say that you hope to see the day that everyone is considered equal for real, you must realise that that day will not come if the handfull of extremists of whatever faction comes to power.

There are more then enough examples in the world to show that also the islamic culture is corrupted by those who say fight for their religion and believes, and even though it's a very small part of the entire group, they are the ones that seem to make the rules by force and supression.

Also handing them the power they want results in numerous examples that they can not deal with it as well. Islamic schools in the Netherlands, plagued by corruption, schandals and a very low degree of quality with the unwillingness to change. Islamic Cultural groups in the Netherlands, lots of scandals and theft of funding and unwillingness to change the image and punish the ones responsible.

I am not saying that christians or judes or any other religious group is not having these problems (the vatican and the child abuse by priests etc.), in my personal opinion religion is keeping people in the dark ages as they see stories thousands of years old as the one and only thruth, which is a bad thing, and those who wants to change it are heretics or not true believers and have to be silenced or killed. My biggest concern is however the lineage of people that go by the words 'My religion is the only religion and if you do not want to follow that, you have to die'

I'm rather glad that this indecisive government has quit and we all can think long and hard on the subject for who we are going to vote for.

I'm not sure wilders, as stated by your post, is a real follower/fan of the judism tradition, but atleast he fights for something i value very highly and that is total freedom of speech. It's really ridicilous that one gets stigmatised or looked down at by voicing a personal opinion about certain subjects which has been the case in atleast the past 2 decades in this country.

My 2 cents

Anonymous 20 February 2010 - 11:46am / Netherlands

This is what the Netherlands was waiting for. The worst government we've ever seen has fallen. Thank god for that matter. Now it's time for Geert Wilders to make the changes that are so needed and wanted for our country and our culture.

It's time to open a bottle of champaign and make this day "one big celebration".

Anonymous 26 February 2010 - 10:26pm / netherlands.

reading this message made me laugh. -its obvious that you have never opened a bottle of bubbly! cheers to you are your 'champaign'! i think i will open a bottle of champagne now knowing pretty much for certain that wilders followers really are stupid. thanks for the reassurance.

Anonymous 26 February 2010 - 10:28pm / netherlands


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