Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dutch Government Collapses

THE HAGUE, Feb 20: The Dutch premier tendered his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix on Saturday after a spat over the country’s Afghan military mission scuppered his ruling coalition.

“Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende this morning offered the resignations of the (12) ministers and deputy ministers of the PvdA (Labour Party) to Her Majesty the Queen,” an official statement said, paving the way for early poll.

In a telephone conversation with the queen who is on vacation in Austria, the premier also offered the 12 cabinet positions of his own Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the majority partner in the coalition, as well as the three held by the smaller Christian Union (CU).

Mr Balkenende announced the collapse of the government in the early hours of Saturday after coalition parties failed to agree on a Nato request to extend the Netherlands’ military mission in Afghanistan by a year.

“As the leader of the cabinet, I came to the conclusion that there is no fruitful path for the CDA, PvdA and Christian Union to take into the future,” a dejected Balkenende said after more than 16 hours of talks failed to save his three-year-old centre-left coalition.

“For days we have seen that unity has been affected by ... statements that clash with recent cabinet decisions. These statements place a political mortgage on collegial deliberation.”

Matters were brought to a head when the PvdA Labour Party withdrew from the government after insisting that the mission in Afghanistan must end this year as planned, and that the Nato’s request should be rejected.

His public statements this week caused the latest in a string of rows with CDA and CU coalition partners who insisted the matter was still under discussion.

Wouter Bos, who is finance minister as well as vice-premier, said “no good reason” for an extension of the mission had been forthcoming in the coalition talks and that he hoped for speedy elections.

“Under the circumstances, the PvdA could no longer credibly form part of this cabinet,” Mr Bos argued.

Parliamentary elections, scheduled for March next year, will now have to be brought forward with polls predicting Mr Balkenende’s CDA and the Labour Party to lose about seven seats and 13 seats respectively in the 150-seat assembly. The CDA currently holds 41 seats and the PvdA 33.—AFP


Dutch soldiers have been deployed since 2006 in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan on a two-year stint that was extended until next August. Balkenende's party wanted to keep a trimmed-down military presence in the restive province, where 21 Dutch soldiers have been killed, but Labor was adamant that the Dutch troops leave Uruzgan as scheduled.

"A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan," said Labor Party leader Wouter Bos. "Our partners in the government didn't want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal, we have decided to resign."

The Dutch government split came after weeks of tension between Balkenende and Bos, the finance minister, mainly over Afghanistan and the government's earlier political support for the war in Iraq.

Balkenende's allies argued that a pullout from Afghanistan would damage the Netherlands' reputation as a nation that carries more than its weight in international peacekeeping missions, and could encourage other wavering countries to also withdraw.

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