Former intelligence chief chosen as next Dutch prime minister

The Netherlands will have a new prime minister, and the four right-wing parties that are forming a government will finally name their candidate, more than six months after the election.

The parties on Tuesday selected a senior judicial official, Dick Schoof, 67. They will now continue working to form a cabinet, appoint ministers and secretaries of state, with the goal of finalizing a government in about four weeks.

The election of Mr. Schoof, the highest-ranking official in the Ministry of Justice and Security and former counterterrorism chief, who has no political experience or party affiliation, reflects an attempt to govern the Netherlands differently after more than 13 years under the Prime Minister’s government. Mark Rutte’s leadership.

While Schoof’s name had not been widely circulated as a possible prime minister, the four parties have said they agreed to establish a government that includes people outside politics, in order to create more distance between Parliament and the cabinet.

“The step I am taking now is unexpected but not illogical,” Schoof told reporters at a news conference Tuesday in The Hague, saying he wanted to be prime minister for all Dutch people.

His election comes almost two weeks after the four right-wing parties that together hold an 88-seat majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives agreed to a preliminary deal to form a government after months of negotiations fueled by a surprise election result. in November. .

Geert Wilders, a longtime populist leader known for his anti-Muslim stance, shocked the Dutch political system when his party won the majority of the vote. But his party still needed to form a coalition to govern, and after negotiations stalled, Wilders said in March that he would not become prime minister, in an effort to boost the chances of forming a right-wing coalition. The leaders of the other three parties agreed to do the same and excluded themselves from the country’s highest political office.

Coalition negotiations included Mr Wilders and his Freedom Party; the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy, a center-right party that has governed the country for the last 13 years; New Social Contract, a new centrist party; and the Peasant Citizen Movement, a pro-farmer populist party.

The four parties seem to have found in Schoof what they hope will be a neutral leader who will help resolve thorny issues such as immigration policy and the country’s housing shortage.

Schoof emphasized Tuesday that all four parties asked him to be prime minister, not just Wilders.

Wilders said Tuesday that Schoof was “above political parties” and “very understanding.”

“Congratulations Dick!” wrote in X.

But entering the political fray could be inevitable for Schoof once he occupies the highest office in the Netherlands, said Janka Stoker, a professor of leadership and organizational change at the University of Groningen.

“He will need a lot of political skills, which is not part of his profile,” Dr Stoker added. “That’s a little risky.”

Mr. Schoof does not belong to any political party. After being a member of the Dutch Labor Party for about 30 years, Schoof said, he canceled his membership in 2021 because he no longer felt connected to the party.

“I’m not partisan,” Schoof told reporters Tuesday.

He began his long career in public service as an official in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in the late 1980s. From 2013 to 2018, Mr. Schoof served as national security and counterterrorism coordinator, during which time he was involved in the investigation into the downing of flight MH17. He later became director general of the Dutch intelligence service and since 2020 has served as a senior official at the Ministry of Justice and Security.

Edwin Bakker, a professor of terrorism studies at Leiden University, predicted that Schoof’s lack of political experience would not be a problem because he has been close to politicians throughout his career and served as a sort of national security adviser. of Mr. Rutte, the outgoing prime minister.

“He has a lot of experience in crisis communication,” Dr. Bakker said. “I think it’s a prerequisite for a prime minister.”

He said Mr. Schoof’s selection was a pleasant surprise, especially given his experience in security and cybersecurity.

“This is not a man who hides behind bureaucracy,” Dr. Bakker said.

Mr. Schoof’s career has not been completely without controversy: in 2021, the Dutch newspaper NRC reported that the national security and counterterrorism coordinator, under Mr. Schoof’s leadership, used fake Twitter accounts to follow citizens. Schoof declined to comment when asked about the matter during Tuesday’s news conference.

Bits of Freedom, an independent Dutch organization that focuses on privacy and freedom on the Internet, said it was concerned about Schoof’s selection because of what it called an invasion of privacy by Dutch officials under his leadership.

“Our own government also represents a threat to the rule of law,” Evelyn Austin, the organization’s director, said in a statement. “We hope that Dick Schoof, as Prime Minister, will be committed to the rights and safety of all citizens. And that he has learned from the past.”

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