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Dick Schoof: Ex-spy chief sworn in as Dutch prime minister

July 2, 2024

The Netherlands has a new prime minister, seven months after right-wing populists came out on top in the general election. Succeeding Mark Rutte, Schoof is promising a strict asylum policy.

King Willem-Alexander and future Prime Minister Dick Schoof at the signing of the Royal Decrees in the Huis ten Bosch Palace
Dick Schoof signed Royal Decrees with King Willem-Alexander in the Huis ten Bosch PalaceImage: Remko de Waal/ANP/picture alliance

Former Dutch intelligence chief Dick Schoof was sworn in as prime minister on Tuesday at the head of a coalition government promising to implement the Netherlands' "strictest ever" asylum and immigration policy.

The 67-year-old Independent candidate is succeeding departing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is set to become the next secretary-general of NATO after 14 years in office in The Hague.

Schoof instead of Wilders

Schoof's inauguration comes seven months on from a general election in which far-right populist Geert Wilders' PVV (Freedom Party) emerged as the Netherlands' largest party.

Traditionally, the leader of the largest party would be the favorite to become the Dutch prime minister. But the anti-Islam and Eurosceptic Wilders, 60, renounced the role to appease coalition partners from the Famers Party (BBB), the liberal-conservative VVD and the new anti-corruption NSC, whose leaders also agreed not to stand for PM.

Instead, they settled on Schoof as a compromise to be sworn in by King Willem-Alexander.

Schoof has insisted that he wants to be "a prime minister for all citizens of the Netherlands" and that he won't allow himself to be "held on a string by Mr. Wilders."

He has nevertheless promised to implement the country's "strictest-ever admission policy for asylum and the most comprehensive package for getting a grip on migration."

Who is the new Dutch prime minister?

A former Labor Party member, Schoof has won the approval of left-wing opposition leader Frans Timmermans, who has described him as "emphatically Wilders' candidate."

As spy chief, Schoof led the Dutch probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014 over separatist-held eastern Ukraine.

All 298 people on board – including 196 Dutch citizens – were killed when the plane was taken out by a Russian-made BUK missile fired from territory held by pro-Moscow militants.

Schoof, an amateur marathon runner in his spare time, will need to summon all his experience and powers of endurance to keep his coalition together and resist the inevitable public pressure he is likely to come under from Wilders, who is no stranger to populist pronouncements on social media.

"He will have a lot of work to do keeping ideological and personal conflicts under control but, given his vast experience at the head of various government agencies, he'll be well equipped to defend himself," said Sarah de Lange, a politics professor at the University of Amsterdam.

"It remains to be seen how he will react if Wilders tries to put him under pressure by criticizing him on X [formerly Twitter]," she added, speaking to the AFP news agency.

mf/fb (AFP, dpa)