Who is Dick Schoof and why did Geert Wilders choose him as new PM?

Who is Dick Schoof and why did Geert Wilders choose him as new PM?

Former spy chief Dick Schoof is set to become the new prime minister of the Netherlands, awaiting formal approval set for late June or early July.

While Schoof is widely known in his home country for his high-ranking roles in the Dutch administration, he remains a stranger to most other Europeans.

Schoof's apparent lack of political experience starkly contrasts with that of his liberal predecessor, Mark Rutte, who has led the Netherlands since 2010 and played an influential role in the EU.

However, he has extensive expertise as head of the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) and secretary-general at the Ministry of Justice and Security.

While he is not a member of a political party, Schoof was associated with the social-democrat PvdA for 30 years before quitting the party five years ago, stating he no longer felt close to their views.

The 67-year-old fanatic marathon runner is set to lead a coalition dominated by Geert Wilders’ radical right-wing Freedom Party, which is joined by the liberal VVD, conservative NSC, and farmers' party BBB.

Schoof told Dutch media in a press conference yesterday that he aspired as a Prime Minister to represent everyone in the Netherlands, making it clear that he is not linked to the PVV alone.

In the coming weeks, Richard van Zwol, who is leading the formation of the new government, will put together a team of ministers with input from the four parties. The government will then work out the plans from the previously agreed document that set out key steering points for the coalition.

Schoof, who studied urban planning and started his career at the Association for Dutch Municipalities, said that with the agreement in hand, an "excellent" government program could be created "for all Dutch people".

Schoof did not comment on how he wanted to implement the program at the press conference. "My plans for the Netherlands are what the party leaders have agreed,” he said, adding that the coalition agreement is "ambitious".

What will happen to Geert Wilders?

Wilders, who has been leading his party PVV since 2006, could have become prime minister himself since his party emerged as the biggest from the November 2023 national election.

The leaders of the four parties all renounced ministerial posts, however, and agreed to sit in parliament instead. Having a prime minister who is not linked to any of the governing parties, a technocratic government, is a Dutch first.

Opposition parties gave a mixed reaction to the surprise announcement of Schoof as the next leader.

Denk, a party mostly representing the rights of minorities, said it strongly opposed the nomination. During his leadership at the security service, Schoof kept a close eye on mosques and other Islamic organisations.

“The NCTV did not see Muslims as an ally, but as a potential danger,” Stephan van Baarle, leader of Denk in the national parliament, told Dutch media. “He seems to be someone who does not take the concerns of Dutch Muslims seriously,” he said.

Another topic of concern could be fake accounts allegedly used by NCTV to spy on citizens under the leadership of Schoof in 2021.

Forum for Democracy, another right-wing party, questioned Schoof’s role in this. "The Netherlands voted for Geert Wilders, and we are getting a former PvdA official who has been spying on people for years," far-right Forum for Democracy leader Thierry Baudet told media yesterday.

The nomination is nevertheless expected to be formally approved by the Dutch king in a few weeks. All eyes will be on how a top civil servant with little political leadership experience can keep the far-right government on track.