What you need to know about the collapse of the Dutch government

A political crisis erupted in the Netherlands on Friday evening, with the prime minister offering the king the resignation of his government, meaning there will be new elections in the autumn. Here’s what you need to know.

Unable to convince the more centrist members of his four-party ruling coalition to support more restrictive migration policies, the Netherlands’ conservative prime minister, Mark Rutte, offered his resignation in writing to King Willem-Alexander on Friday evening and spoke with the king sat in the Hague.

The collapse underscores the power of immigration as the arbiter of European politics and how preventing far-right parties from taking advantage of it is a growing problem for mainstream politicians.

Rutte’s four-party coalition included his own party, the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, as well as the centrist pro-European D66 and two centrist Christian parties: CDA and Christian Union.

With his government feeling pressured on the migration issue by right-wing parties, Rutte had been talking for months with his coalition partners about measures to further control the number of refugees entering the country. On Friday evening the parties decided they could not reach a compromise and chose to dissolve the coalition, plunging the country into political uncertainty.

“It’s no secret that coalition partners have very different views on migration policy,” Rutte said on Friday. “And today, unfortunately, we have to draw the conclusion that those differences are irreconcilable.”

The government has discussed the terms of family reunification for refugees and also the opportunity to create two classes of asylum: a temporary one for people fleeing conflict and a permanent one for people fleeing persecution.

The goal of both proposals was to reduce the number of refugees, as right-wing parties outside the coalition were seeing political benefits in addressing growing voter concerns in the Netherlands about immigration.

While the other parties in the coalition were ready to agree to the two-tier asylum system, they would not agree to support Rutte’s proposal for a two-year waiting period before refugees already living in the Netherlands can be joined by their children.

Last year, more than 21,000 people from outside the European Union sought asylum in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch government. More than 400,000 people immigrated to the Netherlands overall in 2022, the office said, an increase from the previous year.

The large number of arrivals put a strain on the housing capacity of the Netherlands, which was already suffering shortage for the more than 17 million inhabitants of the country.

Though he resigned as prime minister, Rutte will remain at the head of a caretaker government until a general election is held.

Dutch voters will go to the polls in the autumn, probably in November. It is not clear whether Mr Rutte will remain as leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, but he indicated on Friday evening that it would be open and Dutch media speculated that he will.

Many party loyalists are still happy with Mr. Rutte, said Marcel Hanegraaff, an associate professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam.

If Rutte’s party – which can count on the continued support of around 20 percent of Dutch voters, according to Hanegraaff – wins the election, it will be tasked with forming a new coalition government, its fifth. But it may face the same set of coalition problems.

Mr. Rutte has already weathered many a political storm. He is the longest serving prime minister of the Netherlands, having come to power in 2010. For surviving at least one other government collapse and many other political hurdles, he has earned the nickname “Teflon Mark”.

But Dutch politicians from other parties have said the time has come for a new prime minister.

Caroline van der Plas, leader of the Farmer-Citizen Movement, a pro-farmer party that swept local elections in the Netherlands this year, said she wanted a new leader and welcomed the possibility for voters to go to polls this fall, two years ahead of schedule.

Analysts in the Netherlands expect the peasant-citizen movement, which currently has one seat in the 150-member parliament, to do well in the upcoming elections. Polls show they could come in as the nation’s second-largest party.

Dutch farmers are angry with Mr Rutte’s government for announcing reductions in nitrogen pollution to preserve protected nature reserves, a policy farmers feel is being unfairly targeted.

Attje Kuiken, the leader of the Dutch Labor Party, wrote on Twitter that “Mark Rutte has stopped governing”. She added that she wants new elections quickly, “because the Netherlands needs a government that shows vigor and takes decisions”.