Dutch king swears in a new government 7 months after far-right party won elections

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A new Dutch government was sworn into office Tuesday on promises to impose strict new limits on immigration, more than seven months after elections dominated by a far-right, anti-Islam party.

While its policies seem largely inward-looking, the new government pledges to maintain support for Ukraine. New Prime Minister Dick Schoof, a former intelligence chief, told the Associated Press he sees the biggest threat to the Netherlands coming from ‘’the east.''

Tuesday marked the first time the Netherlands has had a new prime minister in 14 years, as Dutch King Willem-Alexander swore in the country’s new government and Schoof took over from long-serving Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The anti-immigration party of firebrand Geert Wilders won the largest share of seats in elections last year but it took 223 days to form a government.

Schoof, former head of the Dutch intelligence agency and counterterrorism office, signed the official royal decree Tuesday at Huis Ten Bosch Palace. The 67-year-old was formally installed alongside 15 other ministers who make up the country’s right-leaning coalition.

The new coalition quickly faced criticism of its marquee anti-immigration policies — by its own party members, as well as opposition groups. Protesters gathered in front of the palace where the ceremony took place on Tuesday, with one woman carrying a sign asking: “Are we democratically getting rid of our democracy?”

The four parties in the coalition are Wilders’ Party for Freedom, outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, the populist Farmer Citizen Movement and the centrist New Social Contract party.

The formal agreement creating the new coalition, titled “Hope, courage and pride,” introduces strict measures on asylum-seekers, scraps family reunification for refugees and seeks to reduce the number of international students studying in the country.

Opposition from other coalition partners prevented the controversial Wilders from taking the prime minister’s job. During the monthslong negotiations, he backpedaled on several of his most extreme views, including withdrawing draft legislation that would have banned mosques, Islamic schools and the Quran.

The coalition agreement pledges to continue providing assistance to Ukraine, which has included billions in both military and nonmilitary support.

“This was one of the three pillars,” new defense minister Ruben Brekelmans told AP. Brekelmans said that despite previous comments by Wilders, who has expressed pro-Russia views, he was not concerned that the new government would change course on the subject.

Schoof was unequivocal. “The greatest threat is from the east. And I might be more worried about it than most,” Prime Minister Schoof told AP just after he took up his new office.

Schoof served as National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security when Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014. The passenger jet was traveling from Amsterdam to Malaysia, killing all 298 aboard, including 196 Dutch citizens. A Dutch court convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian in 2022 of involvement.

Although the November elections were widely seen as a win for the Dutch far right, political youth organizations are already pushing back on the ambitions of the new government. Ahead of the swearing-in ceremony, youth groups from six parties, including two of the coalition partners, called for a softening on asylum plans.

“Although the influx must be limited, it is of great importance that we receive people here fairly and with dignity,” Eva Brandemann, chairperson of the youth wing of the New Social Contract, told Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

The head of the youth wing of Rutte’s party, which brought down the government last summer over concerns about the number of family reunifications for refugees, said that problems stemmed from administration, not migration.

“The problem will only get bigger if you don’t fix it,” Mauk Bresser, the chair of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy youth organization told AP.

The new agreement slashes the country’s education budget by nearly 1 billion euros — about $1.06 billion — prompting pushback from universities. “Students will not get the education they deserve,” Nivja de Jong, a languages professor at Leiden University, told the AP. She’s part of a group of academics pushing back against the proposed cuts by delivering lunchtime talks about the importance of their research.

The new government will now spend the summer firming the coalition agreement into a governing plan.

The Netherlands isn’t the only country seeing a rise of anti-immigration, far-right views. Last month's EU elections saw a similar shift, and French voters face a decisive choice on July 7 in the runoff of snap parliamentary elections that could see the country’s first far-right government since the World War II Nazi occupation.