Marathon talks to form next Dutch coalition near finish line

FILE - In this file photo dated Friday, April 2, 2021, caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte leaves after surviving a no-confidence motion in parliament in The Hague, Netherlands. The four parties negotiating to form the next ruling Dutch coalition in The Hague, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, plan to send a policy blueprint for the next term of government to lawmakers this week, marking another step toward the end of marathon talks that followed a March election. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, FILE) (Peter Dejong, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

THE HAGUE – The four parties negotiating to form the next Dutch coalition government agreed Monday on a policy blueprint, officials overseeing the talks announced, a major step toward the end of their marathon talks.

The deal, details of which were not yet released, was finally nailed down 271 days after the March 17 election — making it the longest coalition-building effort in Dutch history. It is now expected to reviewed by the four parties' parliamentary blocs before being sent to Parliament for debate.

The two officials steering the talks announced earlier that they were planning to send the blueprint, known as a coalition accord, to Parliament on Wednesday. Once lawmakers have debated the plan, the coalition formation process advances to the next stage — selecting ministers to make up the next Cabinet.

The March election was won by incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. If these talks produce a new coalition, Rutte is poised to begin a fourth term as prime minister after leading a caretaker administration since the election.

The four parties hammering out policies are the same four that made up the last Dutch coalition. That government, made up of Rutte’s conservative VVD, the pro-European D66, the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal and centrist Christian Union resigned weeks ahead of the March election to take political responsibility for a scandal in which thousands of parents were plunged into debt after being wrongly identified as fraudsters by tax authorities.

But despite that and other scandals that hit Rutte, the four parties now look set to return for what remains of the next four-year term in office.