Labour leader Wouter Bos has said a final no to any further role for Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan, forcing a potential cabinet crisis.
Nato has asked the Netherlands to stay past the August 2010 deadline in a training role. But, after a meeting with other ministers on Wednesday morning, Bos said Labour would definitely oppose an extension to the Dutch mission at Friday’s cabinet meeting.
Bos said his no vote is keeping the Labour party’s promise to voters. ‘That means there must be a negative response to Nato’s request. That decision can be taken on Friday,’ he said.
Bos refused to say if the decision meant the cabinet was close to collapse.
Labour’s coalition partner, the CDA, supports the Nato request.
CDA prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende said after Wednesday’s meeting all the options are still on the table. ‘We have a major international responsibility to seriously examine the Nato secretary general’s request,’ he told reporters.
Foreign minister Maxime Verhagen (CDA) said after the meeting he did not expect a decision to be taken on Friday. ‘There are different standpoints,’ he said.
MPs had asked the cabinet to take a decision by March 1, just ahead of the local elections on March 3.
Commentators said Labour’s pressure for a speedy decision can be seen as a political tactic ahead of the local vote. According to opinion polls, the party is heading for serious losses.
The issue of Afghanistan is the second to divide the two governing parties within a few weeks.
In January, Bos and Labour MPs were furious when Balkenende appeared to dismiss the conclusions of a critical report on the Dutch role in Iraq. Labour opposed the invasion.
A cabinet crisis was narrowly averted with the publication of a carefully-worded report stressing that lessons had to be learned.
Is Labour right to say no now? Take part in our poll