New Dutch cabinet sworn in after record coalition talks

The Hague: The new four-party coalition of Dutch Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte was sworn in on Thursday, after it took a record 225 days to cobble together the new government. In a solemn ceremony in the sumptuous 16th century Noordeinde Palace in the heart of The Hague, the new cabinet of 16 ministers and eight deputies pledged their oaths of office to King Willem-Alexander.
Rutte’s business-friendly VVD party won the most seats in the March elections, but he fell far short of a majority with the country’s political landscape fractured by the rise of the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom Party and the collapse of the traditional Labour party.
After a first attempt to form a coalition failed over differences on immigration policy, Rutte finally managed to seal a deal which despite the presence of the progressive Democracy 66 (D66) party will pull his third government more to the right.
Joining the coalition are also the rightwing Christian Democrats (CDA), and the smaller and more conservative Christian Union.
Analysts have warned the new coalition — dubbed Rutte III — could prove fragile. It has just a one-seat majority in the 150-seat lower house, and is faced by the combative Freedom Party of Geert Wilders as the largest party in opposition.
The pragmatic Rutte, who has now run the lowlands country since October 2010, now has three deputy prime ministers — one from each party — who will also serve as ministers taking the homeland, health and agriculture portfolios.
The important foreign affairs post has passed from Bert Koenders to Halbe Zijlstra, Rutte’s right-hand man in the VVD, known for his straight-talking, but who has already been criticised for his lack of experience in international issues.
And the new finance minister is Wopke Hoekstra, an upcoming star within the ranks of the CDA, who takes over from Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
All eyes may also be on Sigrid Kaag, a member of D66 who is returning to domestic Dutch politics as minister for foreign trade and development after two decades abroad working for the United Nations.
Amid much pomp and strict protocol, it was also the first time the king had sworn in a new cabinet. Willem-Alexander took over from his mother, Queen Beatrix, as head of state in 2013 after she abdicated in his favour. Rutte was to hold his first cabinet meeting later on Thursday.
— AFP