Netherlands immigration dispute creates rift among political parties

Date:

  • Talks to form a new Dutch government with Geert Wilders, known for anti-Islam views, faced a setback on Wednesday.
  • A key political party, People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, supported legislation to house asylum-seekers, opposed by Wilders.
  • Senators backed the plan despite opposition from their leader, who is currently in coalition talks with Wilders.

Delicate talks to create a new Dutch government around anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders suffered a setback Wednesday when a lingering immigration issue divided the parties involved in brokering a coalition.

“We have a problem,” Wilders told reporters in The Hague, the morning after a decision by senators from a key Dutch political party involved in the coalition talks to back legislation that could force municipalities to house asylum-seekers.

People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) senators threw their support behind the proposal Tuesday night. The lower house of parliament already has approved the plan, known as the “Distribution Law,” that aims to more fairly spread thousands of asylum-seekers around the country. Wilders strongly opposes it.

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Wilders’ Party for Freedom, or PVV, won the most seats in the election, putting him in the driving seat to form a new coalition after four previous administrations led by outgoing VVD leader Mark Rutte.

Having Wilders in government would reinforce the far right in the European Union, where Giorgia Meloni is already leading the Italian government.

The VVD senators’ decision came despite opposition from the party’s new leader Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius — a former asylum-seeker who is in talks with Wilders and two other party leaders about the contours of a new coalition after Wilders’ Nov. 22 general election victory.

Wilders campaigned on pledges to drastically rein in immigration and he has long been an outspoken critic of the legislation that now looks set to be approved in a Senate vote next week.

Yeşilgöz-Zegerius and the two other leaders involved in the closed-door coalition negotiations also oppose the legislation that was drawn up by a junior minister from Yeşilgöz-Zegerius’ VVD.

The legislation aims to push municipalities across the Netherlands to provide temporary accommodation for asylum seekers who have a strong chance of being granted refugee status.

At the moment, many municipalities refuse to make space available. That has led to a crisis in existing asylum-seeker centers, most notably in the northern town of Ter Apel, where hundreds of new arrivals were forced to sleep outside a reception center in the summer of 2022 because of overcrowding.

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Yeşilgöz-Zegerius has said she does not want her party to be in a coalition with Wilders’ PVV, but is willing to support a Wilders-led government. The other two parties involved in the talks are the reformist New Social Contract and the Farmers Citizens Movement. Together, the four parties have a strong majority in the 150-seat lower house of the Dutch parliament.

But both Yeşilgöz-Zegerius and New Social Contract leader Pieter Omtzigt have expressed concerns that some of Wilders’ policies are unconstitutional. In a concession aimed at allaying those fears, Wilders last week withdrew legislation calling for a ban on mosques, Islamic schools and the Quran.

After a morning of talks Wednesday, Yeşilgöz-Zegerius sought to play down the divisions over her senators’ decision.

“Every problem can be solved,” she told reporters, without going into detail of the morning’s discussions.

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