New Dutch government sworn in with focus on climate

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said the coalition wants to 'lay the foundation for the next generation'

Dutch King Willem-Alexander, centre right, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte, centre left, with most of the new government at Noordeinde Palace in the Hague, the Netherlands, on Monday. AP

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's fourth coalition government took office on Monday, a record 10 months after elections, with pledges to spend up on climate change and the coronavirus.

The new government, formed after gruelling negotiations, has pledged to set aside €35 billion ($39.64bn) over the next 10 years for climate measures.

It has promised to build two new nuclear power stations and to become climate neutral by 2050, as one of the world's lowest-lying and most densely populated countries confronts rising sea levels.

The government includes the Netherlands' first Climate and Energy Minister, Rob Jetten, 34, who has the task of curbing emissions and the country's reliance on fossil fuels, especially gas.

"The government has to catch up on climate change," Mr Jetten told the Dutch news agency ANP, acknowledging the "considerable" task ahead.

Mr Rutte, who rides a bicycle, has said the coalition wants to "lay the foundation for the next generation", especially on climate as about a third of the Netherlands' land mass is below sea-level.

"Coronavirus is not gone yet, but of course there are other major issues as well," Mr Rutte said on Twitter after the new government's first Cabinet meeting.

He also highlighted housing and security issues.

On the pandemic, the new coalition faces the immediate task of deciding whether record Omicron cases mean it should extend Europe's toughest Covid-19 restrictions, which are due to expire on Friday.

New Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag was sworn in by King Willem-Alexander by video-link because she was in quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus.

Mr Rutte, 54, is this year on course to become the longest-serving Dutch premier, and is already the EU's second longest-ensconced leader after Hungary's Viktor Orban.

But the path to his fourth government since 2010 was a difficult one, taking a record 271 days of negotiations after elections on March 17.

The coalition also comprises the same four parties as the last government – Mr Rutte's centre-right VVD, Kaag's progressive D66, the centre-right CDA and the conservative Christen Unie.

The Dutch have set another unwelcome record by being under a caretaker government for almost exactly a year, after the previous coalition resigned in January 2021 over a child benefits scandal.

But new coalition has a record number of women, with 14 of the 19 ministers and secretaries of state being female.

Dubbed the "Teflon" prime minister for his ability to dodge scandals and stay in power, Mr Rutte said in December he wanted his new government to "restore trust".

Ms Kaag, 60, a former diplomat, is also tipped to smooth ties with debt-hit southern European states that have previously been lectured by the Dutch to cut deficits.

The Netherlands is regarded as one of the EU's "frugal four" member states alongside Austria, Denmark and Sweden, which clash with other nations over the EU's budget.

Her predecessor, Wopke Hoekstra of the CDA, known for his hawkish stance on spending, moves to the Foreign Ministry.

Ernst Kuipers, who was responsible for moving coronavirus patients around the country, will replace Hugo de Jonge as Health Minister.

Mr de Jonge will take on another key pledge of the coalition: tackling a chronic housing shortage.

Updated: January 10th 2022, 11:15 PM