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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Women get parity as Dutch government sworn in after record delay

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The new government has been sworn into office in the Netherlands, a record 299 days after the country’s last election.

Mark Rutte is now set to become the Netherlands’ longest-serving prime minister as he leads a fourth separate executive.

Rutte has already headed three coalitions and only narrowly survived a no-confidence motion in parliament last April.

The 54-year-old — and his entire cabinet — had resigned in January 2021 after accepting political responsibility for a scandal involving the nation’s tax office, which wrongly labelled as fraudsters thousands of parents who claimed childcare benefits.

A subsequent general election in March also highlighted deep divisions in the splintered Dutch political landscape and led to record-breaking coalition talks.

Nevertheless, Rutte will lead a coalition made up of the same four parties that quit to end his third term.

Rutte’s conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy — together with the centrist, pro-European D66, the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal, and centrist Christian Union — hold a narrow majority in the 150-seat Dutch parliament.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander swore in the new ruling coalition in a socially-distanced ceremony at the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague on Monday.

For the first time in Dutch political history, half of the 20 senior Cabinet ministers are women. Fourteen of the 29 ministers and secretaries of state will also be led by female politicians.

One of them, D66 leader Sigrid Kaag, the new finance minister, took part in the swearing-in by videoconference because she is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.

“It’s a slightly different start than I’d hoped for, but I am going to begin full of energy,” Kaag tweeted on Sunday.

The new Dutch coalition also includes Health and Sports Minister Ernst Kuipers — a physician who moves into politics after only previously holding senior positions in the health care sector.

Willem-Alexander congratulated the new ministers and wished them “good health and wisdom” in their new jobs.

The new coalition — dubbed “Rutte IV” — faces an upsurge in coronavirus infections, and will also be tasked with setting policy housing shortages and the future of agriculture.

Plans were announced to build two nuclear power plants and plans to spend €35 billion over 10 years on climate change.

The new government had also outlined plans to cut taxes, offer almost free childcare for working parents, bring back grants for higher education students, and build about 100,000 new homes each year.

The new coalition also has vowed to work to win back public trust in government that has been eroded by scandals and frustration at the drawn-out ten-month coalition negotiations.

Rutte said the coalition would seek to work together with “society and with our political colleagues” in parliament to implement reforms.

The 54-year-old is the second longest-serving European Union leader after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

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