Survival of Rutte's fourth Cabinet uncertain amid asylum policy infighting
The future of the fourth Cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte is uncertain, unnamed sources from both the Cabinet and the coalition parties told RTL Nieuws, AD, ANP, the Telegraaf and NOS on Thursday. This comes in the wake of discussions held on Wednesday night among the coalition parties regarding the influx of asylum seekers and other migration issues. A new round of talks is scheduled for Thursday evening. If a compromise cannot be reached during this meeting, it might lead to the immediate dissolution of the coalition.
Debates about migration policy have been ongoing within the coalition for months. Rutte's VVD party and the CDA are calling for a strict set of measures to restrict the number of asylum seekers who enter the Netherlands, while D66 and ChristenUnie are more reluctant to implement strict measures on these matters.
A major point of disagreement centers around the development of a “two status system” for asylum seekers, in which incoming asylum seekers would receive either an “A” or “B” status at the start of their application process, and that would determine what rights they get. The A-status would be a permanent residence permit; the B-status would be temporary. The contention arises over whether people under B status are also entitled to family reunification rights.
The sources said this issue has notably caused a rift between the VVD and the ChristenUnie. The VVD aims to distinguish between refugees who face personal threats and those escaping from war. The party wants to make it more difficult for relatives of refugees in the latter group to enter the Netherlands. Sources also revealed to NOS that the VVD wants a monthly limit of 200 returnees from that group, along with a mandatory waiting period of two years before they are permitted entry into the Netherlands.
The ChristenUnie found the proposal unacceptable. D66 leader Sigrid Kaag is also said to have immediately indicated that the proposal is unacceptable.
Unnamed sources who spoke to RTL Nieuws said the current relationship between coalition parties is poor and toxic. This was evident during last night's discussions. It was reported by RTL Nieuws that members from D66 and ChristianUnie were taken aback and annoyed by Rutte's attitude. In the meetings, the prime minister was described as "unreasonable," with one member from D66 commenting, "He seemed to no longer want to listen. His approach towards the Cabinet is reckless."
"Rutte seems to be on a collision course,” a high-ranking source from the CDA said. "I've never seen him like that. It looks like he is pushing toward a crisis."
However, this viewpoint was disputed within the VVD. They argue, "Rutte is not seeking conflict. The decision simply needs to be made now." From the VVD's perspective, Rutte is eager to reach a conclusion after seven months of discussions.
Sources revealed to NOS that Rutte himself came up with the new proposal a few days ago, fully aware that it would be unpalatable to both the ChristenUnie and D66. Some also suggested that the VVD leader's hardline position might be a strategic negotiation maneuver.
Rutte expressed his intention during the talks on Wednesday night to bring the migration proposals to a roll-call vote on Friday during the weekly Council of Ministers meeting, AD reported. Such a vote rarely takes place in the Council of Ministers, as the governing parties typically strive to reach a compromise that satisfies everyone involved. If a proposal goes to a vote, it usually signifies a breakdown in the confidence to continue working together.
Multiple Dutch media outlets quoted sources expressing a gloomy outlook on the potential for the four parties to find common ground. According to sources, the only chance for success is if Rutte withdraws his strict demand on Thursday. "Even so, the relationships have been damaged," a source from The Hague revealed to De Telegraaf.
All four party leaders stated after the Wednesday night meeting that there is still a possibility of reaching an agreement on stricter rules by Thursday night in order to avoid a showdown in the Council of Ministers meeting on Friday. A new round of consultations is scheduled for Thursday at 9 p.m.
The asylum crisis was already a contentious topic during the formation of the Cabinet. The governing parties, VVD, D66, CDA, and ChristenUnie, have diverging principles and perspectives on this matter.