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Dutch coalition talks falter as party leader walks out

Weeks of negotiations to form a new ruling coalition in the Netherlands led by Geert Wilders appeared to end fruitlessly on Tuesday as one of the four party leaders involved in the talks walked out without an agreement.

“Incredibly disappointing. The Netherlands wants this cabinet and now Pieter Omtzigt is throwing in the towel while we were still in discussions until today. I don’t understand it at all,” Mr Wilders said on X, formerly Twitter.

Mr Omtzigt declined to appear on Dutch television to explain his decision, national broadcaster NOS reported. He was reportedly unhappy about the state of government finances and the lack of funds to make good on election pledges.

The official who has been leading the negotiations, former Labour Party government minister Ronald Plasterk, invited the four leaders to more talks on Wednesday evening.

He will then write a report that is expected to be debated in Parliament before any decision is taken on how to proceed and end the political uncertainty that has gripped the Netherlands since the November 22 election.

Amid reports of rising tensions at the negotiating table in recent days, Mr Plasterk said that he urged the four leaders earlier on Tuesday to “look one another deep in the eyes and decide, yes or no, if there is perspective” to form a coalition.

If new efforts to form a government fail, the country could face a new election.

Mr Wilders stunned the political establishment by becoming the largest party in last year’s election, winning 37 of the 150 seats in the lower house of parliament and putting himself in the driving seat to form a coalition.

Since the election, Mr Wilders’ Party for Freedom has since risen even further in polls, with some suggesting he could win 50 seats if new elections were held.

He has been negotiating behind closed doors since late last year with the reformist New Social Contract led by Mr Omtzigt, and the leaders of two other parties — the centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and the Farmer Citizen Movement led by Caroline van der Plas.

“I’m shocked. We were in the middle of constructive talks,” new VVD leader Dilan Yeşilgoz-Zegerius posted on X. “I hope that we can sit down at the table again soon to hear what exactly is going on.”

Ms Van der Plas also said she was shocked.

“It is a total surprise to us that Pieter Omtzigt (NSC) has decided to leave the table and stop talking. Even though we spoke constructively in a good atmosphere until today. This is astonishing,” she said on X.

The four parties that were involved in the talks hold a total of 88 seats — a comfortable majority in the lower house. Talks, however, have been tough, with Mr Omtzigt voicing reservations from the outset about some of Mr Wilders’ policies.

In an apparent attempt to ease those concerns, Mr Wilders in January announced that he was ditching legislative plans dating back to 2018 that call for a ban on mosques, Islamic schools and the Koran.

Mr Plasterk had said the parties needed first to agree on issues around the constitutionality of some of Mr Wilders’ proposals before advancing to talks on whether there is a “real perspective” for them to co-operate on issues that dominated campaigning for the election — including reining in migration, good governance, climate change and agriculture.

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