The prime minister of the Netherlands has cancelled plans to attend a European summit in Brussels in order to focus his full attention on a domestic political spat that is threatening to cause the collapse of his two-year-old governing coalition.
The crisis was precipitated by the failure of a health care reform law to pass the upper house of parliament, where Mark Rutte’s conservative VVD party and left-leaning junior coalition partner Labour lack a majority.
Several Labour senators declined to back the law, which would restrict patients’ choice of doctors to those approved by their insurance companies.
The VVD believes the measure is vital to restrain rising healthcare costs.
The coalition has been an uneasy partnership from the start because of ideological differences but both parties have slumped in the polls since taking office and would not relish new elections early next year.
Anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party leads in polls.
Separate from the Cabinet crisis, prosecutors in The Hague announced yesterday they plan to press hate speech charges against Mr Wilders for remarks including a chant at a post-election rally in which he asked his supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands.
The announcement marked the second time Mr Wilders has faced charges linked to his anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric. He was acquitted of similar charges in 2011.
In a written statement, Mr Wilders insisted he said “what millions of people think and believe”. He claimed that authorities “should concentrate on prosecuting jihadis instead of me”.
Dutch government officials have acknowledged the country’s secret service sometimes taps the communications of lawyers who represent terrorism suspects.
A law firm specialising in human rights complained to the interior ministry in April that it suspected its lawyers were being tapped, violating lawyer-client secrecy.
The interior ministry responded by ordering the commission overseeing the agency to investigate.