The Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende's coalition government has collapsed after the two largest parties failed to agree on whether to withdraw troops from Afghanistan this year as planned. The fall of the government, just two days short of the coalition's third anniversary, all but guarantees that Dutch combat troops will be brought home this year and will eventually prompt new parliamentary elections.
The collapse, the fourth for a cabinet led by Mr Balkenende in eight years, throws into doubt the scope and timing of planned budget cuts for next year as the Dutch economy battles to emerge from the global downturn. "I unfortunately note that there is no longer a fruitful path for the Christian Democrats, Labour Party and Christian Union to go forward," Mr Balkenende, who leads the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDA), told reporters.
The collapse occurred after more than 15 hours of talks that lasted until early today. Mr Balkenende wanted to extend the Dutch troop deployment in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan past an August deadline, but the deputy prime minister Wouter Bos's Labour Party opposed any extension. NATO had asked the Netherlands, among the top 10 contributing nations to the mission, to "investigate the possibilities and desirability of a longer stay in Afghanistan" as it tries to boost efforts to contain the Taliban insurgency.
Parliamentary elections could be held mid-year at the earliest, but would likely be followed by months of talks between parties to form a new government. A new government may prove difficult to establish, with opinion polls suggesting four or five parties may be needed to secure a majority coalition in the 150-seat parliament. *Reuters