Why Rutte IV collapsed and what it means for the future of Dutch politics
At around 8pm on Friday, July 7, news broke that Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet - dubbed Rutte IV - had collapsed after discussions surrounding the government’s asylum policy broke down. Here’s what we know so far about the fall of Rutte’s coalition, and what this means for the future of Dutch politics.
What did Rutte IV disagree on?
Last week, the four coalition parties - the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), D66, Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), and ChristenUnie (CU) - held numerous talks in order to settle on a national policy for the arrival of new asylum seekers in the Netherlands with the main goal of reducing migration. Rutte’s party, the VVD, proposed a new system that would split asylum seekers into two separate groups.
Asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home country, for example because of their sexuality, would fall into one group and would receive so-called full status (or A status). The second group, consisting of those fleeing a country deemed generally unsafe due to war or other threatening circumstances, would receive subsidiary status (or B status).
This distinction would result in different sets of rules for the two groups. Those with B status would receive only a temporary residence permit, as the goal would be for them to return to their home country once it is deemed safe. There would also be tougher rules about how many relatives a B-status asylum seeker would be able to bring with them.
Why and when did the Dutch cabinet collapse?
While similar systems exist elsewhere, the VVD’s plan led to significant pushback from some members of Rutte’s coalition, specifically members of D66 and the CU. The CU, in particular, took issue with the policy, raising concerns about how the rules for B-status asylum seekers restrict family reunification and infringe on the rights of families.
While the VVD’s main aim was to reduce the number of asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands, both the D66 and CU felt that the proposed plans were too extreme. Rutte’s approach to tackling these disagreements led to further issues among ministers, with some complaining that the Prime Minister’s attempts to put pressure on the discussion by setting a deadline had led to a loss of trust.
In spite of Rutte’s attempts and days of consultations between cabinet members, the parties could not reach an agreement. At 8pm on Friday, July 7, news broke that, just a year and a half after VVD and D66 reached an agreement to form the new coalition, the cabinet had collapsed.
Is Mark Rutte still Prime Minister of the Netherlands?
In a letter late on Friday night, Rutte offered his official resignation and that of all cabinet ministers and state secretaries to King Willem Alexander. In response, the king “requested the Prime Minister, Ministers and State Secretaries to continue to do whatever they deem necessary in the interest of the Kingdom.” In the wake of the news on Saturday, July 8, the Prime Minister visited King Willem-Alexander, who had cut his holiday short and returned to Huis ten Bosch in The Hague, in order to explain the collapse of his cabinet
As was the case in 2021, when Rutte and his cabinet resigned as a result of the toeslagenaffaire, Rutte and his fellow cabinet members will remain in their positions as part of a demissionair cabinet, or caretaker government.
However, a number of members of the political opposition have called for Rutte’s immediate resignation, with both the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) and GroenLinks advocating for the inauguration of a temporary independent Prime Minister.
What does this mean for the future of Dutch politics?
But what does a demissionair Prime Minister and cabinet mean for the future of Dutch politics? Generally, during this period ministers are only allowed to handle day-to-day issues and are not able to take any action with regards to larger, more controversial policy.
However, during a press conference on Friday night, Rutte emphasised that the fall of his cabinet will not affect the handling of certain issues - namely the topic of earthquakes in Groningen, support for Ukraine during the ongoing war, and the toeslagenaffaire. September will mark another Prinsjesdag - or budget day - for the government, which the caretaker government will still be responsible for.
Will there be another national election?
It’s been a little over two years since the last general election, but the latest developments regarding Rutte IV mean the country is headed to the polls once again. A snap election will be called, but the Electoral Council has said the vote won’t be taking place until November 2023 at the earliest.
Will Rutte be re-elected Prime Minister?
During his press conference on Friday, Rutte indicated that he would like to stay on as leader of the VVD, meaning he could once again be voted Prime Minister of the Netherlands, but emphasised that this decision was ultimately in the hands of his party.
On Monday morning, however, Rutte announced that he would be stepping away from politics and would no longer stay on as the leader of the VVD. Addressing the House, Rutte said he had "mixed feelings" about his departure, but emphasised that "it also feels good to pass the baton."
This means that, after 17 years as the head of the VVD, and almost 13 years as Prime Minister, Mark Rutte will not resume is position following the next election. In the mean time, he does intend to stay on as demissionair Prime Minister.
Thumb: Jeroen Meuwsen Fotografie via Shutterstock.com.