Europe Geopolitics – December 16, 2021

| December 16th, 2021

Germany is having issues with the Russian government. Not just because of Nord Stream 2, but also because of an assassination in Berlin. In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson is struggling to keep his party united. Meanwhile, Macron is going into campaign mode. In the east, Russia continues to put pressure on Ukraine. This time with support from the Chinese leader Xi Jingping.

1.  GERMANY

1.1 Scholz is under high pressure because of Nord Stream 2 – Frankfurter Allgemeine

When the leaders of the European Union arrived in Brussels on Wednesday, it was already clear that the following two days would be dominated by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. First at the meeting with the states of the Eastern Partnership, which also includes Ukraine, then at the consultations on 27 this Thursday. Right at the start, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj met on Wednesday to discuss the situation.

Certainly, the number one irritant came up: the future of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline, which is not only controversial within the German government itself, but also among Europeans. As Moscow increases its military pressure on Kiev, calls are growing louder to abandon the project – at least in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, but preferably before. For Scholz, dealing with this is the first foreign policy test.

In government circles, it was pointed out before the consultations that “at the moment there are neither political decision-making possibilities nor needs” anyway, because one is in a “legally very detailed regulated procedure”, which lies with the Federal Network Agency. The approval authority had suspended the certification of the completed second pipeline section in mid-November and required the Swiss-based Nord Stream AG to establish a subsidiary under German law. This would not be solved “within a few days”, it was said in Berlin. In addition, a national permit must be followed by a European permit. The EU Commission has to check whether the operation of the pipeline and the distribution of the natural gas are sufficiently separated.

[…] However, there is probably no clear political agreement with Scholz on this. Even the tough financial sanctions that Biden threatened are by no means fixed yet. There is talk of cutting Russia off from international payments. There have been several negotiations and talks in recent days, with Washington and London, according to government circles: “But this is still open-ended.” A senior EU official said they would not now specify which tools would be used. Accordingly, the European Council’s prepared conclusions on Ukraine merely state: “Any further military aggression against Ukraine will entail massive consequences and significant costs.”

Comment: Scholz is acting exactly as expected. He isn’t even willing to support Biden’s call to cut Russia off from Swift. The German position continues to be “if something bad happens, we won’t tolerate it and act accordingly”. That’s Germany’s stance on everything when it comes to foreign policy. It applies to China’s human right abuses as well. In both cases, Germany is protecting its economic relationships at the cost of EU/NATO stability.

It’s actually a good thing that Nord Stream 2 has not officially been approved yet. This way Scholz can delay any comments on the matter by simply referring to the regulatory process.

Going forward, Germany wants an explanation from Russia. That seems to be the strategy to create some clarity – trusting Putin:

“Berlin expects Russia to be transparent for the time being. Moscow should explain through the appropriate channels “what the troop concentrations on the border with Ukraine mean and what goal they serve”. This is necessary “to get out of the now very tense situation”, the government says. However, this calculation would only work if Moscow declared internally what it says publicly: that it is not preparing any invasion – and if Germany believed that. If Scholz really were to argue this way, he would have a lot to listen to in the circle of heads of government. For almost all states are convinced that the Russian deployment is at least intended to blackmail Kiev politically.”

1.2 Federal government summons Russian ambassador – Welt

As a consequence of the Berlin murder verdict against a Russian, the German government has declared two employees of the Russian embassy “undesirables”. This was explained to the Russian ambassador Sergei Nethayev during a meeting at the Federal Foreign Office on Wednesday, said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Berlin. This is tantamount to expelling the diplomats.

Earlier, the Berlin Superior Court had sentenced a 56-year-old Russian to life imprisonment for the murder of a Georgian of Chechen descent. The State Protection Chamber considered it proven that the accused was acting on behalf of Russian state agencies when he shot his victim in the middle of a Berlin park in August 2019. The court thus followed the argumentation of the federal prosecution.

Baerbock spoke of a “serious violation of German law and the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany”. She had already telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday – before the verdict – and reiterated that she wanted an open and honest exchange with Russia.

“This must take place on the ground of international law and mutual respect,” the Green politician stressed. She said it was clear that acts such as the murder in the Tiergarten put a heavy strain on this exchange. “The federal government will do whatever is necessary to ensure security in our country and respect for our legal system.”

Earlier, the Russian ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nethayev, had also announced a reaction to the murder verdict. However, he did not give details at first. “This is an obviously unfriendly act that will not go unrequited,” he said. “Nor will the timing of the verdict be chosen by chance. Obviously someone has an interest in the dialogue between Russia and the new federal government being overshadowed by this from the start.”

Comment (Welt): Now the verdict in the Tiergarten murder trial is in, and it is clear. A Russian has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a Chechen. The Berlin Court of Appeal found the accused guilty and sees the client in Russia.

So it is judicially recorded: The Russian state had a political opponent killed in the middle of Europe. Once again.

Two cases from Great Britain in particular remain in the memory. In 2006, the former FSB man Alexander Litvinenko was killed by radioactive polonium. A photo showing him aged and hairless on his deathbed went around the world.

[…] Putin is waging a war against enemies and traitors, also in Europe. So far, reactions from the West have not been able to stop him. After Skripal’s poisoning, Western states expelled more than 140 Russian diplomats. This did not stop the Russian secret services from poisoning the main Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny with a similar substance.

[…] Germany and Europe should admit to themselves that their course towards Russia has failed. The expulsion of two Russian diplomats in reaction to the zoo murder is no more than a gesture. Politicians should hit the Russian rulers where it hurts: with their money.

For example, tougher, more targeted sanctions could be adopted against people in Putin’s entourage. Their accounts could be frozen and the flow of money to Europe cut off. Because only when the regime’s supporters realise that Moscow’s course is doing them more harm than good will they increase the pressure on Putin – or turn away.

1.3 New German chancellor encourages more immigration – The Telegraph

Germany is “an immigration country” that must do better at integrating new arrivals, according to its new Chancellor.

Olaf Scholz confronted the topic in his first speech to parliament since replacing Angela Merkel, setting out an integrationist agenda six years after a wave of migration from Syrian refugees made the borders a controversial issue in Europe’s biggest economy.

He told parliamentarians: “It is high time we understand ourselves. Therefore it’s high time we make it easier to become a German citizen. It is only on this basis that we can make full integration and political participation possible.”

Migration into Germany soared in 2015 with more than 2.1m arrivals and 1m departures in the year, driven in part by refugee numbers. 

In 2016 Mrs Merkel admitted mistakes were made in the handling of the refugee crisis by failing to prepare more quickly for the mass exodus of people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East.

Flows fell back in subsequent years and dropped again last year in 2020 as Covid struck, lowering immigration to 1.2m and emigration to just under 1m, cutting net immigration to 200,000, its lowest level since 2010.

Mr Scholz said he would allow multiple citizenships, meaning immigrants could retain their existing nationality while also becoming Germans.

Comment: Immigration is, and will continue to be, a huge topic in Germany. According to a recent report:

“[…] the Skilled Worker Report of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce published in November shows how great the need has become: according to the report, every second company cannot fill vacancies in the longer term. 59 percent see the lack of skilled workers as their greatest business risk.”

Moreover:

“We have about 270,000 people in the skilled trades, technical and scientific skilled trades, who leave the labour market year after year for reasons of age. And about 130-140,000 people will join us in the next few years from the domestic potential. So that we have a huge gap, so many, many people who are technically qualified and retiring cannot be filled from the domestic potential at all.””

Needless to say, opening the EU’s external borders isn’t going to solve this problem. Germany needs qualified people. The immigration surge in 2015 did not achieve this. It was an uncontrolled influx of immigrants that triggered EU instability and the rise of populism. Without Merkel’s mismanagement, Brexit may not have happened.

Germany needs to invest in education and work with countries to allow for easier immigration of qualified employees. This is a long-term process that needs to be a top priority. 

1.4 Strobl warns against Telegram as a platform for terrorism – Welt

Baden-Württemberg’s Interior Minister Thomas Strobl (CDU) has issued an urgent warning against the planning of terrorist attacks via the Telegram network. In Saxony, people had already arranged to commit heinous acts of violence via Telegram, Strobl, who is also the CDU’s federal vice-president, told the state parliament in Stuttgart on Wednesday. “Do we really want to allow attacks and a new terrorism to be planned, arranged and possibly terrorist attacks to be prepared in dark channels?” asked Strobl.

“Telegram – that’s a problem because perpetrators feel they are in a safe space there and the access rights for our authorities are limited.” This must now change quickly, Strobl said in the direction of the traffic light government in Berlin. Telegram must be obliged to immediately hand over data of criminals and delete criminal content.

Comment: The state premier of Saxony received a credible death threat, organised by members of a Telegram chat group. Telegram is founded by Pavel Durov, a libertarian Russian, who found a market niche by offering a non-censored social media platform.

In times of social media censorship, it makes total sense that people start using alternative media. Death threats are not excusable, but horrible things happened way before the invention of the internet.

The German government is now asking Apple and Google to remove the Telegram app from their devices. While it is unlikely that Apple and Google will work with the government, people can easily circumvent these “bans”.

If anything, the German government needs to be careful here. Banning alternative social media after coming up with laws for mandatory vaccinations and other authoritarian things is not a smart move and will fuel further social division.

2.  UNITED KINGDOM

2.1 No 10 insists there are ‘no plans’ for further Covid restrictions as lockdown fears rise – The Telegraph

Downing Street has insisted there are “no plans” for any more Covid restrictions, despite fears growing that the measures will not be sufficient to control the omicron variant. 

Although the restrictions approved by Parliament last night attracted the largest rebellion in Boris Johnson’s tenure, experts continue to warn that they may not go far enough in dealing with the new strain.

However speaking to reporters this afternoon – ahead of another coronavirus press conference – the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted there was no change to Plan B. 

He said: “It remains our position that there are no plans to go beyond what Parliament voted for yesterday and we already have in place.

“The focus for us, now that we have these Plan B measures in, is on the booster programme and further increasing the delivery of jabs into arms.”

This morning Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, told BBC Breakfast that Plan B measures should “see us through to the new year”. 

He was unable to confirm what would happen after Christmas, although he did commit that Parliament would vote on any further steps.

Comment (The Telegraph): […] Tuesday night’s dramatic vote on Plan B measures left the Government flirting with Ramsay Macdonald territory; relying on political opponents to pass votes. Anthony Eden took considerable flak for Suez, but some historians are beginning to reassess his tenure, concluding that Eden, for all his faults and economy with the truth, was contending with events beyond his control. And unlike our current PM, he at least had well over a decade as an effective foreign secretary under his belt before the crisis hit.

What, I suspect, will most doom Johnson in the eyes of grassroots Tories is a sense of overwhelming disappointment after the triumph of defeating Corbynism and leading Britain out of the EU. He is arguably the first PM since Thatcher to have a meaningful chance to define his own form of Conservatism, yet “Johnsonism” remains amorphous. No Tory leader in recent memory has enjoyed such a unique opportunity to implement vital reform or make conservatism palatable to future generations – and none has squandered it quite so quickly. “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

3.  FRANCE

3.1 Macron steps into campaign mode as conservative rival Pécresse climbs in polls – France 24

After a rare two-hour press conference last week to outline his European ambitions, the 43-year-old head of state is to sit down for a long prime-time TV interview on domestic policy on Wednesday evening.

For a leader who has always kept the media at arm’s length and once theorised his role as acting like Jupiter, the Roman god of the sky, the sudden burst of transparency has not gone unnoticed.

Neither have a string of visits to small-town and rural France where he has wandered through picturesque cobbled streets, stopping to chat to shopkeepers or drink wine in local cafés.

When asked again by a reporter last week whether he would seek re-election, he initially employed humour, saying the question was “a sign of affection, a hidden desire, almost an appeal”.

“In the time we are living through, the most important thing is that our institutions continue to function in the most stable way possible,” he continued, evading the question.

Like his predecessors including former presidents François Mitterrand and Nicolas Sarkozy, Macron appears intent on playing for time, using the presidential megaphone and the benefits of his office until as late as possible.

[…] As the election campaign shifts in Pécresse’s favour, she has become the preferred target of Macron’s allies, who have been rehearsing different attack lines.

Some have portrayed her as posh and out-of-touch, or committed to an unrealistic programme of public sector cuts.

The danger posed to Macron from Eric Zemmour, a far-right pundit, appears to have waned after his dramatic entry into French politics in September.

Veteran far-right leader Marine Le Pen also risks being squeezed out of the race if Pécresse can maintain her momentum.

Some in Pécresse’s camp believe the timing of Macron’s interview was deliberately chosen to clash with her scheduled appearance on a different TV channel, which has now been cancelled.

“Valérie Pécresse has become an obsession for Emmanuel Macron, even to the point of dictating when he plans his appearances,” an aide to Pécresse told AFP this week on condition of anonymity.

Comment (The Spectator): […] Pécresse, a former budget minister in the Sarkozy era, is presentable and respectable, but whether she’s really in tune with voters is a wide open question. Although Macron has the same problem. President of the Île-deFrance region, which includes Paris, Pécresse is in many ways hard to differentiate from Macron. They are both graduates of the École National d’Administration, the elite finishing school for politicians, civil servants and bosses. She was born in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, which is as posh as it gets. Among her talents, she speaks French, Russian, English and Japanese.

[…] She says the difference between her and Macron is that he’s fundamentally of the left and she’s of the right. In practical terms that doesn’t leave a huge gulf between them. She’s a believer in the big state and sees private enterprise mainly as a way to pay for it.

[…] As a detail, it’s worth noting that President Macron himself has yet to officially declare his candidacy but this is obviously merely expedient since he has been campaigning for months, flying around the country at taxpayer expense, promising billions of new spending for law and order, schools, the nuclear industry, space exploration, health care and in simple handouts to voters. Where the money is coming from is unexplained. Covid has left the public finances in tatters. There’s no longer much talk of structural economic reforms. Macron has been loyally supported by most of the media, but not all.

[…] If it remains difficult to predict who will ultimately be offered to French voters in the second round, it looks as if this election is unlikely to result in much of a mandate for the winner, or even a presidential majority in the National Assembly. Would Zemmour or Le Pen’s voters support the Républicains to oust Macron?

[…] This constitutional settlement is now facing a severe test as the field of candidates emerges to present French voters with choices that could potentially upset the political geometry. Zemmour and Le Pen combined still have the allegiance of more voters than either Macron or Pécresse. Pécresse will be hoping they’ll split the first round vote among the far right, leaving her to face Macron. But dodgy French polls may not currently be a reliable guide to prediction. Macron must still be counted as favourite, but perhaps no longer quite so much the sure thing.

4.  RUSSIA

4.1 Don’t fall into Putin’s trap, Estonian PM warns the West – POLITICO

Russian military pressure cannot be allowed to influence who can join the European Union and NATO, warned Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, ahead of two key meetings on the bloc’s relationship with its neighbors.

By amassing troops at the Ukrainian border, and then suggesting that NATO rescind a 2008 commitment to Ukraine and Georgia that they would one day become members of the alliance, Russian President Vladimir Putin “is trying to present himself as a solution to this problem that he has created himself. And I think we shouldn’t fall into that trap,” Kallas said in a phone interview on Tuesday in which she also discussed concerns about U.S. President Joe Biden’s outreach to Putin.

“I don’t think that Russia has any right to say anything about who has the right and who doesn’t have the right to join [the] European Union or NATO,” said Kallas, whose country of 1.3 million people borders Russia.

Russia will be high on the agenda of two high-level meetings this week. On Wednesday, it’s the sixth Eastern Partnership summit, in which the EU will meet with a number of its neighbors including Ukraine. Also taking part are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova (Belarus suspended its participation last June in the wake of sanctions imposed by the bloc following a disputed election).

A day later, EU leaders will meet for a European Council at which relations with Moscow, and the EU’s reaction to the military build-up on the border with Ukraine, will be discussed.

For Kallas, “it is very important that, first of all, we give the signal at very high level that any military pressure from outside to make NATO or Ukraine or the EU change its decisions or its process of making decisions is not acceptable.

“What we also should show [is] … that Ukraine has friends and allies and we are there with them. So if somebody would think of aggression towards Ukraine, you also understand that there are allies and friends behind Ukraine.”

Biden spoke to Putin last week, creating some concern in Eastern Europe that the U.S. president is open to listening to Kremlin calls to curb NATO expansion and deploying weapons near Russian territory.

“I hope I’m wrong but I smell ‘Munich’ here,” Marko Mihkelson, head of the foreign affairs committee in Estonia’s parliament, told the Financial Times, a reference to the 1938 agreement in Europe to try to avoid conflict with Adolf Hitler by ceding the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.

In the interview, Kallas distanced herself from the Munich comment but said she didn’t like the Biden outreach to Putin. “I personally also don’t like the steps that have been taken towards Putin. But it is not up to me to say, who consults with whom,” she said.

Comment (The Times): […] It is expensive to keep such a large force out of barracks for so long (some were already exercising in the area in the spring and summer) and a decision — start hitting the contested areas of Ukraine or get out — has to come soon. Spreading troops across Ukraine’s borders is perhaps an attempt to keep one element of surprise, its timing and its direction.

My bet is that such a trumpeted military concentration is bluff. Large-scale exercises this year nudged Biden into talks. Now Putin wants more. Those troops haven’t gone home, and are looking edgier, while the Ukrainian government is sounding the alarm. War draws Biden’s attention and he regards Ukraine as one of his specialist subjects. Great presidents have sometimes been defined by their ability to outwit their Russian counterparts. This may be the moment when he can redeem the messy Afghan exit by showing that he can bring peace to the troubled eastern borderlands. More likely though is that Putin tries to hoodwink him.

Putin’s bluffs often have two or three dimensions. His first aim this time round will be to present Russia and the US as equal co-managers of global crises, excluding west Europeans and spreading dissension in Nato. Then he will want the so-called Russian sphere of interest to be formalised. Finally, he wants the Ukrainian leadership to lose credibility and perhaps fall apart in the face of his growling military presence. Only then will he let his soldiers go home. Along the way, this poker play might be interspersed with escalation — a cyberattack, say, on the Ukrainian power grid. But ultimately Russia’s soldiers are more useful to him just looking tough rather than losing their lives, bogged down in a winter war.

4.2 Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping united against the West – L’Opinion

[…] Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are putting up a united front against the West. On Wednesday, during a video conference summit, the Russian and Chinese leaders showed their firmness against any Western interference, defending each other’s security interests. The conversation comes against a backdrop of high diplomatic tensions between Washington, Beijing and Moscow on a number of issues – particularly Taiwan and Ukraine – and after Joe Biden warned against any Russian aggression in Ukraine.

“Some international forces, under the guise of democracy and human rights, are interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia, trampling on international law and the accepted norms of international relations,” Xi Jinping said.

The Chinese president gave his support to Vladimir Putin in his quest with the West for “security guarantees” for Russia’s western flank. The two leaders also disapproved of the creation of new military alliances such as the Aukus, between Australia, Britain and the United States, or the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) in the Indo-Pacific region (Australia, India, Japan and the United States).

Comment (L’Opinion): The temperature is rising between the European Union and Russia. The EU is indeed ready to amplify its sanctions and take “unprecedented” measures against Russia in the event of an escalation of aggression against Ukraine, declared Wednesday 15 December the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

The president of the European executive explained to the European Parliament that the EU had worked closely with the United States to define possible options for extending existing sanctions targeting the Russian financial, energy and defence sectors in particular. “Our response to any further aggression could take the form of a robust deepening and broadening of the sanctions regimes already in place,” she said, adding that the EU was ready to take “unprecedented additional measures with serious consequences for Russia”.

Leaders from the EU, EU member states and Eastern Partnership countries are meeting in Brussels on Wednesday for the sixth Eastern Partnership summit. They will use the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the face of Russian threats, the Elysée Palace said on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron also met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss this issue, as well as Belarus and the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Eastern Partnership countries attending the summit include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, but not Belarus, which suspended its participation last June.

5.  EUROPEAN UNION

5.1 Europe’s sharper edges: EU migration policy after Lukashenko – ICMPD

Despite seemingly eternal gridlock over European asylum procedures, 2021 was still significant for EU migration policy. Skillful Portuguese diplomacy saw the Union pass its first migration-related legislation since 2016, in the form of revised rules to attract more highly skilled workers to Europe. A surprise compromise with the so-called Med 5 countries ­– Italy, Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Greece ­– gives new powers and status to the EU asylum agency from next January on. More unlikely still, Greece finally brought the migration crisis on its islands under control. Only 12 months after the over-crowded Moria refugee camp burned to the ground, less than four thousand asylum seekers remain on Lesbos, Chios, Leros and Samos, with irregular sea arrivals down to a handful year-on-year.

Most spectacularly, Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko tried to use some 20,000 asylum seekers to rush the EU’s eastern frontier. Targeting first Lithuania and then Poland from August onwards, Lukashenko lured Iraqis, various African nationals and Syrians with single entry visas to Minsk via Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia. (Small numbers of Afghans, Iranians, Indians and even Cubans were among the cohort, too.) Having paid up to €12,000 each for passage to Germany the travellers were then pushed towards the frontier by the Belarussian regime, in now all-too-familiar scenes, to force a confrontation with border guards, and tip the EU once again into panic and division over the issue of asylum rights.

Lukashenko assumed the Europeans would cave into pressure to open the border, especially given the inevitable media circus when authorities were obliged to use force to restore order. To up the ante, Belarussian servicemen tried to dazzle Polish border guards with green lasers and strobe lights, destroyed infrastructure and even trained migrants as militias to charge the frontier. A border collapse would gift Lukashenko both a new weapon of political coercion and a badly needed revenue stream from smuggling fees. (A forthcoming study from DGAP estimates the regime pocketed over €40 million from the desperate travellers.) After a few months of profitable chaos, Lukashenko’s envisaged endgame was to demand some relief from EU economic sanctions: a de facto recognition of his authority at home after disputed elections in 2020.

Comment: Maybe Lukashenko’s attempt to blackmail the EU using immigrants was what the EU needed to work on a common response. The EU is fearful that 2015 could be repeated, which is why it worked hard to avoid a disaster on the Polish border last month. This included talks with foreign governments to halt immigrant flights to Minsk. The EU will blacklist any company that engages in immigrant flights to Belarus.

The EU is also not afraid to escalate. There has been a fifth round of EU sanctions against Belarus in December, including cutting the fleet of planes to Belarus by half and suspending visas. 

It also resulted in the EU developing a crisis response. It further developed its nascent crisis management intelligence system, the blueprint network. Using migrants as a weapon is not new, and the EU wants to be better prepared in the future.

And last but not least, there is a new sense of the importance of border security. Macron is to accelerate the project of an EU that knows how to protect its border under France’s upcoming EU presidency. He also needs it to win next year’s election as politicians on the right are answering the French calls for more autonomy and border security.

6.  NETHERLANDS

6.1 Coalition agreement presented today: what we know so far – RTL Nieuws

[The agreement, including annexes, consists of approximately fifty pages. Yesterday, the VVD, D66, CDA and Christian Union parties cleared the way for the formation of the Rutte IV Cabinet by agreeing to the Agreement. The political parties still wanted to adjust the agreement on ‘a few points’, which will be done this morning.

The four parties have agreed to set aside approximately EUR 3 billion for tax relief, especially for the middle class. In addition, the minimum wage will be raised substantially.

The coalition follows a bill from PvdA MP Gijs van Dijk. According to the parties involved, the link between the minimum wage and benefits, such as social security and the AOW, will be maintained. This means that the social assistance and the AOW will also increase.

There will be extra ministers at the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Social Affairs. These ministers will focus on the big problems, such as housing, climate and nitrogen.

It is striking that the coalition agreement is more pro-European than the previous agreement. That was one of the demands of D66 leader Sigrid Kaag, when she decided to negotiate with the Christian Union after all.

Comment: Finally, after 274 days, the Netherlands have a new coalition. The parties in the coalition did not change, it’s still the (formerly liberal) VVD, the left-wing D66, the CDA, and the Christian Union.

The new coalition will address some issues when it comes to spending plans. The Netherlands aims to build 100,000 homes per year to solve the country’s massive housing crisis. The new coalition also aims to set up a EUR 35 billion climate fund, to be spent over 10 years. The goal is to reach net zero by 2050 and a 55% emissions reduction by 2030. EUR 25 billion of it will go to a nitrogen fund. The country’s dense agriculture sector produces a lot of nitrogen. This money will be used to compensate farmers.

Next month, the new coalition will divide the 20 cabinet positions.

Also bear in mind that the new coalition is off to a rough start. According to current polls, the coalition parties are at a combined 39%. Especially the annihilation of the CDA is contributing to this.

It should be assumed that a coalition that gives the EU more power and forces its climate policies on a population suffering from high inflation will have a hard time in the polls. It will likely be easy for the opposition to score points in the years ahead.