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Dutch government collapses over immigration policy, new elections expected

The Dutch government led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte has collapsed on Friday after failing to reach a deal on restricting immigration, which will trigger new elections in the fall.

The crisis was triggered by a push by Rutte’s conservative VVD party to limit the flow of asylum seekers to the Netherlands, which two of his four-party government coalition refused to support.

Rutte said differences among the cabinet had become “insurmountable” and he would tender the resignation of the entire cabinet to the king. He said the coalition partners had differing opinions about immigration policy, especially on a proposal to limit the entrance of children of war refugees who are already in the Netherlands and to make families wait at least two years before they can be united.

This latest proposal went too far for the small Christian Union and liberal D66, causing a stalemate.

Rutte’s coalition will stay on as a caretaker government until a new administration is formed after new elections, a process which in the fractured Dutch political landscape usually takes months. The national elections committee said elections would not be held before mid-November. A caretaker government cannot decide on new policies, but Rutte said it would not affect the country’s support for Ukraine.

The Netherlands already has one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies but under the pressure of right-wing parties, Rutte had for months been trying to seek ways to further reduce the inflow of asylum seekers. Asylum applications in the Netherlands jumped by a third last year to over 46,000, and the government has projected they could increase to more than 70,000 this year – topping the previous high of 2015. This will again put a strain on the country’s asylum facilities, where for months last year hundreds of refugees at a time were forced to sleep in the rough with little or no access to drinking water, sanitary facilities or health care.

Rutte last year said he felt “ashamed” of the problems, after the humanitarian group Medecins sans Frontieres sent in a team to the Netherlands for the first time ever, to assist with migrants’ medical needs at the center for processing asylum requests. He promised to improve conditions at the facilities, mainly by reducing the number of refugees that reach the Netherlands. But he failed to win the backing of coalition partners who felt his policies went too far.

Rutte, 56, is the longest-serving government leader in Dutch history and the most senior in the EU after Hungary’s Viktor Orban. He has been in power since 2010 and won three consecutive elections. His popularity has been boosted by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen him impose strict lockdown measures and ramp up vaccination efforts. However, his immigration stance has alienated some of his allies and voters, who see him as too harsh or too soft on the issue.

The collapse of the government could open up an opportunity for other parties to challenge Rutte’s dominance in Dutch politics. The main opposition party is the far-right Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, who advocates for banning Islam and leaving the EU. Other contenders include the GreenLeft party, which has gained support among young and urban voters, and the pro-European D66 party, which is part of Rutte’s outgoing coalition but disagrees with him on immigration.

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