Europe faces nervous wait after Dutch election surprise, Ukraine aid in balance


A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35 fighter jet in action (Netherlands Ministry of Defence)

BELFAST — As Dutch political parties attempt to form a new coalition government after a surprise election victory for Geert Wilders and his far right Party of Freedom (PVV), Europe waits to see if The Netherlands will withdraw support for Ukraine — as he has threatened.

After receiving 37 seats for the House of Representatives, PVV now holds the largest share of any party, and a commanding position to negotiate with other potential coalition partners, though 76 seats are needed for a majority government to be formed.

So far talks to form a coalition have been unsuccessful. The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) holding 24 seats, refused to join a majority government with the PPV, indicating that it would only be prepared to support a minority one. Similarly, New Social Construct (NSC), led by former Dutch Christian Democrat Pieter Omtzigt, backed away from partnering with PPV this week on constitutional grounds.

Holding 20 seats, the centrist NSC is seen as a possible “kingmaker” for the PPV to enter power, according to Patrick Bolder, a defense analyst at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies think tank and retired lieutenant colonel from the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Omtzigt suggested he was “unsure” about working with Wilders due to “a few of his proposals not in line with our constitution,” explained Bolder. The difficulties in forming a new government mean that other options could be explored for progress to be made, including new elections being called or the outside prospect of a minority government taking power, according to Bolder.

But he suggested that whatever choice is eventually made — despite the likely influence of Wilders — political consensus around support for Ukraine would mean military aid to Kyiv from The Netherlands will continue long term.

“I think the majority in parliament, really the big majority, more than 100 seats, are still in favor of sending weapons to Ukraine,” he said. The Netherlands House of Representatives holds 150 seats.

A “solid majority” of Dutch lawmakers also support 2 percent of GDP going toward defense spending, in line with NATO’s target, according to Bolder. He added that because Dutch civil servants, unlike in other countries in Europe, retain their jobs after a change of government, they are likely to encourage new ministers to stick with current defense programs and policies.

The Netherlands has been a vital weapons supplier to Kyiv, throughout the war against Russia, most recently pledging an additional €2 billion ($2.2 billion) in military aid for 2024. The new equipment package takes Amsterdam’s overall contribution to Ukraine to €7.5 (8.2 billion).

But not all analysts are so sanguine about the electoral twist. Armida van Rij, research fellow at the international security programme at Chatham House, wrote last week, “Regardless of who will actually become the next Dutch prime minister, a majority of seats for the Freedom Party is bad news for Ukraine.”

She focused on items like the PVV wanting to halt Dutch financial support for Ukraine, its opposition to European Union (EU) sanctions on Russia and its campaign against Ukraine joining the bloc. Additionally, she noted four EU countries being led by right wing political parties, making future support packages for Ukraine “increasingly difficult to negotiate.”

Alongside Denmark, the Dutch are leading a European F-16 fighter jet coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on the fourth generation aircraft. “The first five” aircraft sent to the European F-16 training center in Romania’s Fetești Air Base were “Dutch” said Bolder.

The Netherlands has previously supplied a wide range of equipment to Ukraine including Leopard 1 and 2 and T-72 main battle tanks, Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzers, Patriot air defense system launchers and missiles, Panzerfaust 3 anti-tank systems and Stinger air defense missiles.

Political debate over whether to invest in “two tank battalions” also continues, while lawmakers are interested in advancing plans for “deep precision strike capabilities,” added Bolder.

“With increasing defense budgets, the discussion in the Netherlands is still going on about where we should spend” new funding, he explained.

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Europe’s F-16 training center, located at an air base in Fetesti, southeast Romania, was officially opened in November. (Kajsa Ollongren on Twitter)

Other procurements are moving forward as normal. In August, The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) agreed to double an order for four MQ-9A Reaper medium altitude unmanned aerial vehicles to eight aircraft.

The Dutch also recently moved to become a member of Europe’s Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR), the agency in charge of joint procurement efforts like the large Eurodrone unmanned aerial vehicle, the A400M airlifter and the Boxer 8×8 armored utility vehicle. Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom are already members.

Netherlands Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren “informed” the Dutch House of Representatives of the intention to join OCCAR last month, according to a Netherlands Ministry of Defence statement, which stressed the war in Ukraine has shown “the importance of a strong European industrial base.”

“Through lower costs and better efficiency, the organization increases European cooperation between participating countries in the development and purchase of new weapon systems,” the notice said. “In this way, the Netherlands remains connected to the most important European partners and can realize equipment projects more quickly.”

Bolder said that OCCAR gives countries a means of securing “the right stuff, at the right price, at the right time,” and in the Netherlands’ case, “demonstrates that it is trying to get to grips with European sovereignty” and attempting to strike a balance between dependence on the US for military systems and European suppliers.

“That’s a good sign because we never know what will happen with NATO after President [Joe] Biden is replaced,” he added.

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