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Netherlands veers sharply to right with new government as Geert Wilders strikes coalition deal

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Anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders and three other party leaders agreed on a coalition deal early on Thursday that veers the Netherlands toward the hard right, capping a half year of tumultuous negotiations that still left it unclear who will become prime minister.

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

“Deport people without a valid residence permit as much as possible, even forcibly,” the 26-page document says.

Wilders cried victory on what he called “a historic day”, claiming he had made sure the three other coalition parties, including the one of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, had accepted the core of his programme.

“The strictest asylum policy ever,” Wilders exulted. “The Dutch back at No 1,” he added, insisting his campaign theme how immigrants and asylum seekers had all too often been granted preferential treatment over others.

With hard right and populist parties now part of or leading a half-dozen governments in the 27-nation bloc, they appear positioned to make gains in the June 6-9 election for the European Parliament.

Wilders had already reluctantly acknowledged that he will not succeed Rutte at the country’s helm. The parties still have to agree on a prime minister, who is expected to be a technocrat from outside the party structures.

Speculation has centred on Ronald Plasterk, from the Labour Party, who shot back to prominence this year when he became the first “scout” to hold talks with political leaders about possible coalitions.

The deal said the next government will continue with existing plans to combat climate change, including continuing to pay for a climate change fund established last year. But the Farmers Citizens Movement is part of the coalition and the deal includes soothing language and concessions to farmers that have blocked cities with tractors during disruptive protests.

Other points in the agreement include increasing social housing, stricter sentences for serious crimes and capping property taxes.

The group intends to continue supporting Ukraine and wants to enshrine the Nato requirement to 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence into law.

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