Center-right team to lead Dutch

By Ben Birnbaum-The Washington Times

A four-month political impasse ended in the Netherlands on Thursday, as the country’s first postwar minority government took office promising deep budget cuts and tightened immigration rules.

The new prime minister, Mark Rutte of the pro-market Liberal Party, will lead a coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal, another center-right party. But the two parties, short of a majority, will rely on support in the lower house of parliament from anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom.

Mr. Wilders is on trial in Amsterdam for “inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims,” who constitute an estimated 5 percent of the Dutch population. While he could not win support for his more radical platform items — a Koran ban, a head-scarf tax — Mr. Wilders managed to extract a number of concessions from the Liberals and Christian Democrats, including a promise to ban the burqa and to tighten the country’s historically lax immigration policy.

“It is absolutely necessary that we in the Netherlands tighten the immigration rules,” Mr. Rutte said at a news conference Thursday after being sworn in by Queen Beatrix.

But he said that, unlike Mr. Wilders, “I am not concerned with Islam,” noting that the Party for Freedom’s anti-Islam agenda is “the reason [it] is not in the government.”

Mr. Wilders won big in the country’s June 9 elections, upping his party’s seat count from nine to 24 — three more than former Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrats, whose 2006 landslide had given them 41 seats. Mr. Rutte’s Liberals won 31, edging out the Labor Party’s 30.

The Christian Democrats initially refused to enter talks with Mr. Wilders, calling him a threat to the Dutch tradition of tolerance, and Mr. Rutte was forced to pursue weeks of fruitless negotiations with Labor and two smaller left-wing parties.

After those talks collapsed over the budget, a right-wing minority government emerged as the most viable option, giving Mr. Rutte a de facto parliamentary majority — 76 out of 150 seats — while allowing Mr. Wilders to continue his anti-Islam campaign outside the confines of the government.

To read more, visit: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/oct/14/center-right-team-to-lead-dutch/

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