Dutch parties seal coalition deal a record nine months after vote

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Dutch political parties agreed on Monday to form a coalition government that will hand Prime Minister Mark Rutte a fourth term in office, a record 271 days after elections in March.

Four parties – Rutte's centre-right VVD, the progressive D66, the centre-right CDA and the conservative Christen Unie – agreed on the text of a deal that will go before parliament on Wednesday.

But the Netherlands, facing challenges including a spike in Covid cases and riots over virus restrictions, will have to wait until January for its new government while the parties select ministers.

"The text is now agreed," a spokesman for Johan Remkes and Wouter Koolmees, the two officials overseeing the talks, was quoted as saying by the ANP news agency.

Broadcasters NOS and RTL also reported the deal.

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Negotiations have dragged on since the elections on March 17, taking until the autumn even to agree on which parties would form the coalition, let alone which policies they would adopt.

In late October the negotiations beat the Netherlands' previous record for coalition talks of 225 days as the parties wrangled still more.

That record was set in 2017 for the formation of Rutte's last cabinet.

The new coalition's policies are likely to include extending free childcare, investing billions of euros to tackle climate change and a housing shortage, nuclear energy research and road pricing, NOS said.

'Teflon prime minister'

Rutte and his third cabinet have stayed on in a caretaker capacity since they resigned en masse in mid-January over a scandal in which thousands of parents were wrongly accused, in some cases after racial profiling, of fraudulently claiming child allowance.

But the deal for a fourth coalition will confirm Rutte – dubbed the "Teflon prime minister" for his ability to dodge scandals – as Europe's second longest-serving leader after Hungarian premier Viktor Orban.

The four parties are now due to present the deal to their lawmakers on Tuesday before it goes to parliament for a debate on Wednesday.

The new Dutch foreign minister is likely to be Sigrid Kaag, whose D66 party came second in the March elections, Dutch media reported.

Kaag herself resigned from her position as caretaker foreign minister over the Netherlands' handling of evacuations from Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August.

Current health minister Hugo de Jonge, the public face of the government's increasingly unpopular coronavirus response, is unlikely to continue, meaning that a press conference with Rutte on Tuesday on Covid could be his last in the post.

The Netherlands has been hit by its worst riots in decades this year over its coronavirus restrictions, which now include a virtual nightime lockdown and limits on the numbers of home visitors.


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