Governance and Politics of the Netherlands

by Rudy B. Andeweg & Galen A. Irwin

Update 1: Premature end of Balkenende IV government

On February 20, 2010, after 1094 days in government, the coalition of Christian Democrats, Labour, and the orthodox Protestant Christian Union fell apart in a conflict over the Dutch military operations in the Afghan province of Uruzgan.

In 2006 the decision to join NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan by sending 1,400 soldiers for two years to Uruzgan was already controversial: one of the coalition parties at the time, D66, was opposed to the mission, but the major opposition party at the time, the Labour party, supported it (see p. 233 of Government and Politics of the Netherlands). As a side effect, the decision provoked a crisis within D66 that contributed to the early demise of the Balkenende III coalition a few months later.

When, after two years, NATO proved unable to find a successor to the Dutch Task Force in Uruzgan, the Balkenende IV government decided to prolong the mission for another two years. When this second term neared its end, NATO, and the US government in particular, mounted pressure on the Dutch to agree to yet another extension. Within the Dutch government the CDA, led by foreign minister Verhagen, was most positive while Labour stuck to the 2007 cabinet decision that the second term would be the final one. The conflict quickly escalated; according to diplomatic cables later made public by Wikileaks, Dutch civil servants working for CDA ministers advised American diplomats how to put maximum pressure on the Labour leader, Finance minister Wouter Bos. When the two Christian Union ministers eventually decided to side with the Christian Democrats, Labour lost a vote in cabinet and left the government. CDA and Christian Union continued in a caretaker capacity to prepare early elections on June 9, 2010. The Dutch troops were withdrawn from Uruzgan, although the Dutch later have become involved in a police training mission in another Afghan province, Kunduz.