Dutch political leaders meet amid stalled coalition talks

Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte jokes prior to Dutch King Willem-Alexander's speech which marks the opening of the parliamentary year outlining the government's budget plans for the year ahead at the Grote Kerk, or Sint-Jacobus Kerk, (Great Church or St. James' Church) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong) (Peter Dejong, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

THE HAGUE – Dutch political party leaders met Wednesday to force a breakthrough in deadlocked negotiations to form a new ruling coalition — efforts that came more than six months after a general election left a deeply divided parliament in the European Union nation.

After hours of discussions, the leaders of smaller parties left, while the leaders of the three main parties that are expected to form the core of any new coalition government kept talking.

“It’s up to them to decide what they want,” Jesse Klaver, leader of the Green Left party, told reporters.

“We have today again said that we are prepared to form a Cabinet and negotiate about that,” Klaver said, standing alongside the leader of the center-left Labor Party, Lilianne Ploumen.

The talks in The Hague come after attempts to form a majority or minority coalition to succeed the outgoing government of caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte failed, and amid speculation that a fresh election may be needed to break the impasse.

“Our country urgently needs a new Cabinet and, in view of the time that has passed since the March 17 elections, the time has really come for ... all parties from the broad and constructive center to take responsibility,” Johan Remkes, the official steering the talks, wrote in his invitation to nine party leaders.

A total of 17 parties from across the political spectrum won seats in the lower house of the Dutch parliament in the March 17 election. Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy emerged as the largest party, followed by the centrist D66 party led by former foreign minister Sigrid Kaag.

The most recent round of failed negotiations focused on a minority coalition of those two parties together with the Christian Democrats.

Those three parties were still talking Wednesday evening. While the Greens and Labor reiterated a willingness to join a coalition, the main parties have so far balked at such a broad coalition.

Rutte's current four-party coalition quit in January to take political responsibility for a scandal in which the country's tax authorities wrongly labeled as fraudsters many families who were claiming child welfare payments.