Parties edge closer to finish line in Dutch cabinet negotiations

Caroline van der Plas of the BBB and Pieter Omtzigt of NSC outside the talks on Friday. Photo: ANP/Remko de Waal

The parties trying to form a right-wing government in the Netherlands are said to have settled their differences on migration, days before the talks reach a crucial deadline.

The two negotiators leading the third round of negotiations, Richard van Zwol and Elbert Dijkgraaf, are due deliver their conclusions to parliament by 11.55pm on Wednesday and have said there will be no extension.

Last week there were signs of progress as the four parties sat around the negotiating table for up to 10 hours a day and met again on Saturday, after several weeks of mostly separate discussions with Van Zwol and Dijkgraaf.

The four parties have also submitted their financial plans to the economic planning agency CPB, another sign that the talks have moved onto the substantive issues.

Public spending is said to be one of the main sticking points in the negotiations, with the right-wing Liberal VVD demanding an austerity plan to keep the national deficit within the EU limit of 3%, while Geert Wilders’s far-right PVV wants to boost spending on social security and healthcare.

Van Zwol and Dijkgraaf were cautious about the prospect of a breakthrough as they arrived at the talks on Monday morning.

“Constructive” talks

Dijkgraaf said he was “a little more optimistic”, but added: “You never know what will pop up. We’re taking it day by day.”

Wilders was more bullish about the chances of reaching an agreement, as the AD newspaper quoted sources saying that the four parties had concluded their discussions on immigration.

“All I can say now is that we’re all doing our best and the finish is in sight,” Wilders said. He described the negotiations as “constructive”.

Prime minister

Wilders also said he had found and contacted a suitable candidate for the role of prime minister, but gave no hints as to who it might be.

Conventionally the leader of the largest party in the coalition becomes prime minister, but the four party leaders agreed in an earlier stage of talks that none of them would take up the post.

Caroline van der Plas, leader of the farmers’ party BBB, said she was “hopeful” of an agreement, while VVD leader Dilan Yesilgöz and Pieter Omtzigt, of the centre-right NSC, were tight-lipped.

Omtzigt struck a less optimistic note last Friday when he said there were still “significant differences” in the parties’ positions.

The NSC leader has said the new cabinet must uphold international treaties, court judgments and the terms of EU membership, but has also called for labour and student migration numbers to be cut drastically.

Omtzigt left the first stage of talks early in February, but was brought back to the negotiating table after the parties agreed to form a “programme cabinet”, half of whose members will be appointed from outside the political parties.

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