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Watch out Brussels, Geert Wilders’ new Dutch government is coming

Watch out Brussels, Geert Wilders’ new Dutch government is coming

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Geert Wilders’ far-right party is set to become part of the Dutch government — and the shockwaves won’t take long to hit the EU machine in Brussels.

After six months of wrangling and painful negotiations, the Netherlands finally has a governing agreement for a new right-wing ruling coalition. Since Wilders startled Europe with his election victory last year, the chances of the veteran firebrand becoming prime minister and joining the EU summit table have faded.

He has also softened some of his toughest anti-Islam policies, and his earlier pitch for a referendum on leaving the EU, in an effort to reach an agreement to share power with other parties.

But Brussels is still braced for a shock.

If the coalition deal is confirmed, a new government will star Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) along with the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the right-wing populist Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) and the centrist New Social Contract (NSC). It is unlikely to represent business as usual.

The most immediate headache for the EU establishment will likely be the new Dutch migration plans. The coalition wants to have the “strictest asylum policy ever” via a temporary crisis law. It wants to opt out of certain EU migration rules, setting The Hague on a collision course with Brussels, which has just agreed a new pact on migration and asylum.

A second thorny issue is enlargement of the 27 country bloc. The Netherlands was already one of the stricter players in the EU, arguing that countries should move toward European accession based on internal reforms, not geopolitical considerations. The new coalition will focus even more on this merit-based process.

That’s potentially bad news for countries like Ukraine, which has been pushing for a fast track to EU membership.

There are also wider political implications.

Wilders’ Euroskepticism and fiscal frugality will tie the hands of the new Dutch prime minister and Dutch diplomats in the EU — who have a reputation for punching above their nation’s weight in the negotiating room. They’re unlikely to have the same flexibility to wheel and deal as under outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, such as on joint borrowing for defense or expanding the EU’s upcoming budget.

POLITICO breaks down what the new government will mean for EU policy in the coming years.

EU finances: Shallow pockets

Rutte was already known as “Mr No” in Brussels for opposing EU joint borrowing in any form. Things will only get worse with Wilders as kingmaker of the new Dutch government.

When Rutte grudgingly approved the EU’s €700 billion post-pandemic recovery fund in 2020, Wilders accused him of throwing away Dutch taxpayer money to bail out the tax-dodging Italians. The new government wants to reduce payments by the Netherlands to the EU. This goes directly against calls from European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron to expand the bloc’s budget or increase joint borrowing to finance defense.

These discussions will take center stage during upcoming negotiations on the EU’s new multi-year budget, which will take effect in 2028. Last time around, the talks culminated in a five-day marathon summit of leaders. Given the EU’s current challenges — from defense to the green transition — the talks were already likely to be more difficult, and that was before a demand by the Netherlands to pay less into the pot.

Climate action: A paler shade of green

Under Rutte, the Netherlands became one of Europe’s most ambitious countries on climate. The new right-leaning coalition is putting a stop to that.

Under Mark Rutte, the Netherlands became one of Europe’s most ambitious countries on climate. The new right-leaning coalition is putting a stop to that. | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Wilders’ PVV, which downplays the dangers of global warming, didn’t win the approval of its coalition partners for its demands to rip up the country’s climate targets and exit the Paris Agreement: “We stick to existing [climate] agreements,” the four-party agreement reads. 

But the text gives no indication of how the new government plans to meet its commitments under national, European or international law. 

Instead, the coalition agreed to scrap a host of climate measures — including a planned increase in the country’s CO2 tax and a requirement to replace fossil gas boilers with electric heat pumps. It also wants to expand gas drilling in the North Sea, while ideally avoiding new wind turbines on land. 

The text does mention supporting homeowners with energy-efficient renovations, as well as investments in hydrogen and carbon capture. 

Yet much like the PVV’s election manifesto, the coalition’s climate policy focus is almost exclusively on “adaptation” — preparing the country for extreme weather and other effects of global warming. There’s only a vague mention of reducing planet-warming emissions: “With the right measures, green growth is promoted and harmful emissions are reduced.”

Trade: Protectionist pivot

After a strikingly domestic-themed campaign, topics like trade and foreign affairs are still somewhat black boxes. The four-way agreement pays lip service to strategic autonomy and “reducing strategic dependencies, for instance when it comes to China on critical raw materials.” At the same time, the chapter on trade is tellingly short and much less detailed than the ones on housing, migration and agriculture.

After a strikingly domestic-themed campaign, topics like trade and foreign affairs are still somewhat black boxes. | Koen Van Weel/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Two coalition parties — NSC and BBB — are new to the scene, while Wilders’ PVV has never been fully on board in a coalition. Brussels, however, will no doubt be relieved to read that “the Netherlands will remain a constructive partner inside the EU,” and that its “political, military, financial and moral support for Ukraine to resist Russian aggression” will continue.

With farmers more prominently represented in the new Cabinet, however, The Hague will likely be more critical of free-trade agreements. The last parliament in March 2023 criticized the long-delayed trade agreement with the Mercosur bloc of South American countries, and a BBB agriculture ministry would certainly resist any such deal.

The agreement explicitly links trade agreements (notably not “free-trade agreements”) to “conserving” wealth domestically. “Equal and reasonable standards” are key here, the parties write.

Agriculture: Fights over farming

Dutch cows poop a lot, and that has made the future of the country’s farmers uncertain — and left the Wilders coalition with a potentially impossible task.

To meet EU limits on nitrogen pollution, the Netherlands will have to reduce its livestock numbers and even close some of its farms. Efforts by the previous government to comply with the rules led to mass protests by farmers

In their coalition accord the new government said it would overhaul nitrogen pollution rules to allow farmers to spray more manure on their fields and prevent forced farm takeovers.

It also plans to lobby Brussels to renegotiate the EU’s nitrogen policy and get a new derogation from the rules, as well as to soften the definition of the most polluted areas.

“The Netherlands has designated the whole country as vulnerable, so this can be revised,” reads the agreement, adding that the government will “demonstrate in Brussels that certain areas are no longer vulnerable.”

Digital: Spotlight off tech

The Netherlands has prided itself on being a digital front-runner in Europe, with its open data economy and promotion of innovation-friendly (read: soft-touch) tech policies. The country hosts the European headquarters of Uber, while microchips printing giant ASML is the crown jewel of its vibrant tech scene.

Under the new government, that image could suffer. In their list of 10 priorities, party leaders made no mention of digital or tech leadership; the few new tech policy proposals support broader issues such as national security and growing the economy. Tech watchers worry less that a right-wing, populist government would reverse Dutch positions on tech, than that it doesn’t seem overly interested in tech at all.

One reason to celebrate: An expatriate tax break that served to attract knowledge workers was initially in the line of fire from government hopeful New Social Contract, but the coalition text made no mention of scrapping or easing the measure. That will come as a major relief to ASML, which earlier this year threatened to move its investments elsewhere if the expat regime was scrapped.

Reporting by Barbara Moens, Gregorio Sorgi, Zia Weise, Koen Verhelst, Bartosz Brzeziński and Laurens Cerulus

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