Negotiations to form a right-wing Dutch coalition collapsed today after anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders walked out of the talks.
The failure after nearly three months of negotiations left the Netherlands in deep political confusion, with no easily apparent way out of the deadlock resulting from elections on June 9.
Mr Wilders’ walkout followed a rebellion in the Christian Democrats among influential members who said they had deep reservations about working with his Freedom Party because its hardline anti-Islam policies conflicted with their party’s openness toward all religions.
Mr Wilders faces a hate speech trial in October for his criticism of Islam, which he has branded a “fascist ideology”. He has advocated a “headscarf tax” on Muslim women who wear modest attire, and a ban on the Koran.
Mark Rutte, leader of the liberal VVD party who was in line to be the next prime minister, acknowledged that the talks had reached an impasse.
“I respect his decision, but I don’t agree with it,” said Mr Rutte. “And I regret too... that this political co-operation is not possible.”
The VVD was negotiating to join with the Christian Democrats in a minority government, with Mr Wilders lending his support without formally joining the coalition or taking seats in the Cabinet.
Mr Wilders said he ended negotiations because he could not trust the Christian Democrats. He said three rebels among the Christian Democrats were unwilling to promise to adhere to a governing pact, making further negotiations pointless.
It was unclear what the next step would be, and no further political talks were immediately scheduled.
Mr Rutte had already explored a broad coalition among left-leaning parties, but the sides were too far apart on economic policy.
Mr Wilders said he “deeply regretted” the breakdown of talks. He said his party, which grew to 24 seats from nine in the 150-seat Parliament, “very much wanted to support a stable coalition of the VVD and CDA”.
He said he did not expect his party to play a role in the next government.
“What next? I don’t know,” he said. “We unfortunately will have to fulfil the role of opposition party.”
Mr Rutte said he would recommend to Queen Beatrix that he now write a policy blueprint for the next government and seek parties prepared to work with him to form a coalition.
Leaders of the main political party are expected to visit the queen to tell her what they believe the next step should be.