NETHERLANDS

Dutch government falls over extension of Afghan mission

Reuters

The Dutch government collapsed on Saturday, after a number of resignations over a Nato request to extend Dutch military operations in Afghanistan. Despite 16 hours of crisis talks, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende failed to save his coalition government.

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“I will offer to her majesty the Queen the resignations of the ministers and deputy ministers,” said Balkenende. 

Q&A - Correspondent Hans de Vreij

"You were able to see in the past few days that the coalition’s unity was eroded by fait accompli, and by statements at odds with recent decisions taken by the government - those statements undermined our ability to discuss issues in a collegial spirit."

He had been trying to save the three-year-old coalition, but the failure of discussions about extending the presence of troops beyond their August deadline will force the return of 2,000 Dutch soldiers.

“There was a concrete request by the Secretary-General, and it is believed that such a request would not have been made, unless the government, in its entirety, would have agreed beforehand,” says correspondent Hans de Vreij.

“The Queen will now decide what form of government will continue," de Vreij told RFI. "But this will definitely be a caretaker government, which will not, under the Dutch constitution, be able to take any new decisions.”

Balkenende, who leads the Christian Democrats, told reporters that, “there is no longer a fruitful path for the Christian Democrats, Labour Party and Christian Union to go forward”.

His announcement will mean next year’s March elections will be brought forward, probably to around mid-year at the earliest.

However it is thought a new government could be difficult to form, with some polls suggesting that four or five parties may be required to create a majority coalition.

“Dutch governments are by definition coalition governments, there is not a single party in the Netherlands […] which attracts enough voters to be in government on its own,” says de Vreij.

Reuters

Deputy Prime Minister Wouter Bos and his Labour party opposed any extension to Dutch troop deployment in Afghanistan, angering colleagues and eventually forcing the government to crumble.

 "When we extended it two years ago, we made a promise to the Dutch population that this was the last time to extend it," said Bos. "So it wouldn’t have been very credible if we’d had changed that date again." 

"That’s a very heavy burden on the Dutch armed forces," added Bos, despite answering that he did not know how it would change relations with the US and Nato.

The Hilversum-based defence correspondent for Radio Netherlands Worldwide is not sure whether August's troop withdrawal will factor into election campaigning.

“That remains to be seen. I don’t think that public opinion has been excited by the the mission in Afghanistan, in a positive or negative way. And in a general election people will look much more to topics closer to home, such as the economy, pension age," he says.

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