The coalition talks collapse is like a slow motion soap opera

A dramatic pause by Caroline van der Plas. Photo: Robin van Lonkhuijsen ANP

The end of the current round of coalition talks, which had been widely predicted despite the denials of those involved, was an long-awaited anticlimax, writes Robin Pascoe.

Watching the coalition talks over the past eight weeks has been like watching one of those soap operas in which nothing happens, only this one is in slow motion. The endless “good atmosphere” comments,  the purposeful strides by party leaders with files under their arm… they were all carefully scripted scenes leading to the dramatic showdown which everyone knew was coming.

When it came, it was almost entirely without drama. Pieter Omtzigt wrote to party members and quietly withdrew, pausing only to brief a few journalists in secret and appear on one television chat show before heading back to Enschede for a well-needed rest. For the rest of the cast, it was an anti-climax.

Nevertheless, soap end-of-season finales always have a cliff hanger, and in many ways, that is what the Dutch public have. The three parties left at the negotiating table are working from the same script. They were all “shocked and surprised” by Omtzigt’s departure. And no one knows what will happen next.

Omtzigt is very clearly the scapegoat. Telegraaf sources say he is “dead tired” and needs to rest – a hint back at his burnout in 2021. On Wednesday, the three other leaders and talks leader Ronald Plasterk posed for photos at the negotiations table, clearly showing the space that had been set for him, even though he said he would not be there.

Plasterk published his invitation for talks on Thursday, again including Omtzigt, despite knowing he would not accept. Omzigt, he told reporters later, had shown him a lack of respect. The message is clear – you, Pieter, have let us down, but we are keeping the door open unless you wish to sign up to season two.

The second plot thread involves Wilders himself. He has promised to become a milder version of himself and put three highly controversial, and old, draft bills on ice to prove that he is willing to compromise.

But none of those bills  – a ban on the Koran, the closure of Islamic schools – stood a hope in hell of getting through the parliamentary process. It was a simple way to give the appearance of a new look Wilders. But as in any soap, the reformed bad guy never turns out to be that way.

The old Wilders continued unabated on social media, hinting at the PVV’s priorities in the negotiations. “I hope we can manage it so that new elections are not necessary,” he signed off last weekend.


Wilders failed to condemn the radical farmers, who blocked motorways and set fire to piles of hay and tyres, when they threatened the agriculture minister and an NSC MP. “Support all the farmers in the Netherlands and Europe,” he said on social media.

He called for “no money of UNWRA, never again”. He re-posted a cartoon showing himself, Donald Trump and Javier Milei “turning back the tide” and including anti-Semitic tropes.

He told Elon Musk on X that the social media website is “so much better than the old traditional media, which is dominated by leftish liberal woke driven “intellectuals”, who live in a fake fantasy world.”

And while Wilders is venting his spleen on social media, PVV MP Joeri Pool told parliament that military aid to Ukraine leaves the Netherlands vulnerable to “a sudden and unexpected attack in response to the constant provocations by the Dutch government against the Russian Federation”.

Was it scripted? Given the tight control Wilders is known to have over the PVV, it probably was.

The third plot line in our coalition soap focuses on “what the country wants”. Wilders has said continually that the election results show the Netherlands wants a right-wing government and that is what it should get.

This is, of course, a nonsense argument. Some 75% of the population did not vote for the far right, and the phantom gains he has made in the polls since last November come at the expense of his erstwhile coalition partners.

Nevertheless, it is shocking how the idea of having a government involving a far right party with a racist and a nationalist leader has become normalised in the Netherlands by both the man in the street, and in the media.

In Germany, they are demonstrating against the Afd in their tens of thousands. Here there is a passive acceptance of the inevitable. Say “the people have spoken” enough times and they believe it. It’s a lesson we should have learned from long ago. Perhaps it is time for “Coalition talks, the prequel”.

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