DThe previous explorations into a right-wing government in the Netherlands have led to common ground on questions of the rule of law, but “major differences” remain on substantive issues. The negotiator Ronald Plasterk announced this to the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday afternoon after two months of talks. Whether there is a real prospect of agreement on the issues “cannot be affirmed for any of the points at this point, as consultations on this matter have not been continued due to the departure of the chairman of the NSC group,” Plasterk wrote in his report the parliament, which had appointed him at the suggestion of election winner Geert Wilders. NSC chairman Pieter Omtzigt broke off the talks last week. Plasterk further writes that “an agreement cannot be ruled out and could very well be achieved.”

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

It is now up to the parties how they react to this. This Wednesday, Parliament will discuss the report. It could then, as Plasterk recommended, order a new round of exploratory rounds to gain clarity on the shape of a future cabinet. The former Social Democratic minister recommended the appointment of a new negotiator “with extensive administrative and political experience”. It is likely that Wilders' PVV, the right-wing liberal VVD and the farmers' party BBB will negotiate a minority government that would have to seek alternating majorities in parliament. To do this, VVD leader Dilan Yesilgöz would have to correct her decision after the November election not to join a government under the right-wing populist Wilders.

NSC boss Omtzigt was fundamentally prepared to tolerate such a cabinet. “The NSC will continue to constructively seek opportunities to contribute to a national government that addresses the major issues facing our country,” he wrote to members in a letter, “and promotes good governance.” The former Christian Democrat justified his withdrawal from the explorations by saying that the gap in questions of the rule of law was too great despite the “baseline” and that the “distance between political wishes and financial reality was (still) too great”. He also pointed to a persistent lack of trust over the leaking of confidential and personal information to the press. The wording provides scope for Omtzigt to return to the negotiating table at a later date. However, he is currently not even seeking a toleration agreement.

Before Omtzigt's exit, the four partners had signed a seven-point declaration on fundamental rights, which Plasterk has now disclosed. Accordingly, they undertake not to propose any changes to fundamental rights (Articles 1 to 23 of the Constitution), to comply with court decisions and to guarantee freedom of religion, including for Muslims. This is a major concession from Wilders, who wanted to ban the Koran and mosques. The PVV chairman had withdrawn several proposed laws that contradicted the constitution. The statement expressly states: “Independent institutions such as the judiciary, science and the media are of great importance for the functioning of the democratic constitutional state. The parties will protect and strengthen them.”