Small Christian party to join talks on forming Dutch govt

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The Hague (AFP)

Four parties agreed Friday to try to form the next Dutch coalition government, on the 100th day of tortuous stop-start negotiations following March elections.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose Liberal VVD party emerged as the largest in the Dutch parliament in the March 15 polls, said late Friday he was confident he would be able to work with the other three parties, Dutch media reported.

A first attempt to include the left-wing ecology GroenLinks party in a four-way coalition broke down in May amid differences over immigration, leaving a political stalemate and causing the first person tasked with trying to form a government to step down.

New experienced pointman, Herman Tjeenk Willink, has since then led weeks of closed-door talks to try to find a fourth partner needed to ensure a parliament majority.

Rutte's VVD won 33 seats, far short of the 76 needed for a majority in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

But he has already agreed to work with the progressive Democracy D66 party, and the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) both of which have 19 seats.

Now the small, more conservative Christian Union (CU) is to sit at the negotiating table next week and try to hammer out a common agenda to govern the lowlands country, one of the EU's leading economies.

"We have determined that we can go forward with these conversations," Rutte said, according to the Dutch news agency ANP, as he emerged from the first talks between all four parties.

The CU's five seats would give the new coalition exactly 76 seats.

D66 leader Alexander Pechtold had been reluctant initially to work with the CU, fearing the party could pull a new coalition more to the right.

Waiting in the wings though has been the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom party of Geert Wilders, which came second in March winning 20 seats. To his frustration, the other parties have refused to work with him, turned off by his incendiary agenda.

Coalition governments and arduous negotiations are common in The Netherlands. Rutte took 54 days in 2012 to form his coalition, while the record stands at 208 days in 1977.