x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dutch government on brink of collapse after anti-Islam politician pulls out of coalition

Geert Wilders' right-wing Party for Freedom pulls out after talks over budget cuts demanded by the European Union and austerity measures became deadlocked.

AMSTERDAM // Geert Wilders, a Dutch anti-Islam politician and right-wing leader, has withdrawn his support for the minority government in the Netherlands, bringing it to the brink of collapse and possibly precipitating early elections later this year.

He pulled his party out on Saturday after talks over budget cuts demanded by the European Union and austerity measures became deadlocked.

Mr Wilders cited the Brussels-based EU rather than his better-known anti-Islam policies for his decision. He said that he refused to bow to "the diktats of Brussels bureaucrats." The EU is insisting that the Netherlands bring down its projected budget deficit for 2013.

The agreement under which Mr Wilders' right-wing Party for Freedom supported a minority coalition of conservative Liberals and Christian Democrats lasted just over 18 months. In Denmark, a similar arrangement with the right-wing People's Party lasted 10 years and came to an end last year.

The reason for the break-up of the Dutch coalition appears to be the drastic budget cuts that have to be made for the Netherlands to limit its deficit to within the EU-mandated 3 per cent. The coalition and Mr Wilders had been negotiating for seven weeks to find more than €14 billion (Dh68bn) in savings.

The Netherlands had earlier this year been one of the EU countries most critical of Greece and its financial difficulties, insisting on strict conditions and targets for the European bailout. Mr Wilders resisted the bailout and has suggested that Greece should leave the single currency, the euro. He has also said that the Netherlands would be better off outside the single currency.

His party has been down in the opinion polls in recent months. The polling determined that his party has fallen from the 24 seats it captured in 2010 to 19 in the 150-seat parliament.

The decline signals the cost to Mr Wilders of supporting the government without being seen as having much influence over its policies. Apart from his anti-Islam rhetoric, Mr Wilders and his party have tried to tap into anti-EU and anti-austerity sentiment.

He scandalised Poland in February when he started a complaints hotline and website targeted at Eastern Europeans, mostly Poles, who can work legally in the Netherlands under EU rules but who are seen by some as taking away Dutch jobs and flouting tax and labour codes. The European parliament censured the Dutch government for not distancing itself strongly enough from Mr Wilders' initiative.

By withdrawing his support for the coalition over unpopular budget cuts that are set to raise the retirement age and affect health care, housing subsidies and salaries, Mr Wilders may hope to restore his flagging electoral fortunes. He said he would campaign, "against Brussels, against the 3 per cent, against the euro."

He may also be focusing once again on the anti-Islam vein that served him so well in the past. An autobiographical book aimed at his numerous American admirers is set to appear in the US on May 1. It is titled "Marked for death, Islam's war against the West and Me," a reference to the numerous death threats he is said to have received for his anti-Islam remarks.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

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