February 20, 2010

The fall of the Dutch government--but what have they lost?

So the Dutch government collapsed—after more than 15 hours of talks that lasted until early this morning, and acrimonious exchanges throughout the week—over disagreements on whether or not to extend troop deployment in Afghanistan. The (former) ruling coalition was made up of Christian Democrats (center-right), Labour and the small Christian Union party.

To make it short, Jan Peter Balkenende, the Christian Democrat prime minister, had wanted to extend the deployment of Dutch troops beyond an August deadline, but the Labour Party was opposed.

It’s obviously a worrying sign for Nato: at this point, the inevitable withdrawal of Dutch troops from the country, expected to begin in August and be completed by December, will be a major blow to the efforts of the alliance to reassure Afghans that the West will stay and protect them. But, to see the glass half full, since general elections can be held as early as May under Dutch law, it must be also said that the big winner could be Geert Wilders:

Domestically, the shock general election is a gift to smaller parties who stand to make gains against both the Christian Democrats and Labour. The anti-immigration Party for Freedom of Geert Wilders, who was briefly barred from entering the UK last year, has consistently done well in polls, with the most recent surveys forecasting it could win 24 of the 150 parliamentary seats and become the second biggest parliamentary party after the Christian Democrats. Currently it has just nine seats.

After all, as a Dutch blogger puts it,

What have we lost? Geert Wilders calls this cabinet the worst ever (NL). Remember, this was the cabinet that conspicuously grovelled at the feet of the Islamic world in the run-up to the release of Fitna. The socialists, already in for a savage beating (if the polls are to be believed) have made a coalition with christian democrats impossible for years to come. And Jan-Peter Balkenende, already termed the weakest PM since WW2 back in 2008, will probably not return. All in all not a great loss.