THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands announced his resignation on Friday amid a dispute in his ruling coalition over how to curb migration.
The decision by the country’s longest-serving leader means the Netherlands will face a general election later this year for the 150-seat lower house of Parliament.
“It’s no secret that the coalition partners have very different views on migration policy,” Mr Rutte told reporters in The Hague.
“And today, unfortunately, we have to draw the conclusion that those differences are irreconcilable,” he said.
Mr. Rutte said that he would immediately “propose in writing the resignation of the entire Cabinet to the king.”
The coalition government, which collapsed on Friday, had been trying for months to work out a deal to reduce the flow of new migrants arriving in the country of nearly 18 million people. Proposals reportedly included creating two classes of asylum – a temporary one for people fleeing conflicts and a permanent one for people trying to escape persecution – and reducing the number of family members who are allowed to join asylum seekers in the Netherlands.
Reuters reported that tensions came to a head this week when Mr Rutte called for support for a proposal to limit entry for children of war refugees who are already in the Netherlands and make families wait at least two years before they can be reunited.
This latest proposal went too far for the small Christian Union and liberal D66, triggering a crisis.
Last year, hundreds of asylum seekers were forced to sleep outside in poor conditions near an overcrowded reception center as the number of people arriving in the Netherlands exceeded the available beds. Dutch aid agencies provided assistance.
The discussions highlighted ideological divisions in the coalition between the partner parties that do not support a strict suppression of migration – D66 and fellow centrist party ChristenUnie, or Christian Union – and the two that favor more severe measures – the conservative People’s Party for Freedom of s Mr. Rutte. and Democracy and the Christian Democrats.
Mr Rutte’s Cabinet met late on Friday in a hastily scheduled meeting. “We have spoken for a long time, we are coming here tonight because we have not succeeded,” Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told reporters as she entered the cabinet meeting.
Mr Rutte, the Netherlands’ longest-serving prime minister, presided over late-night meetings on Wednesday and Thursday that failed to produce an agreement. More talks took place Friday night, and he declined to answer questions about the issue at his weekly news conference ahead of the discussions.
“Everyone wants to find a good, effective solution that also does justice to the fact that it’s about human lives,” Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag, a member of the centrist D66 party, said before the talks began.
Just over 21,500 people from outside Europe sought asylum in the Netherlands in 2022, according to the country’s statistics office. Tens of thousands more moved to the Netherlands to work and study.
The numbers put a strain on housing, which was already in short supply in the densely populated country.
Mr Rutte’s government has been working on a law that could force municipalities to provide housing for newly arrived asylum seekers, but the legislation has yet to pass both houses of Parliament.
The prime minister also promoted efforts by the European Union to curb migration to the 27-nation bloc. Mr Rutte visited Tunisia last month with his Italian counterpart and the president of the EU’s executive commission to offer more than 1 billion euros in financial aid to save the North African nation’s faltering economy and stem migration from its shores to Europe.
Rutte’s coalition government, the fourth he has led, took office in January 2022 after the longest coalition negotiations in Dutch political history.
An election for the 150-seat lower house of the Dutch parliament is likely to be held later this year amid a polarized and fractured political landscape. Rutte’s cabinet would likely remain in office as an interim administration until a new government was formed.
During provincial elections earlier this year, a populist pro-farmer party put Rutte’s party in second place. The defeat was seen as a possible incentive for Rutte to do his best to hold his coalition together until its term ends in 2025.