July 19, 2024

The Netherlands will be getting a new prime minister, with the four right-wing parties that are forming a government finally naming their pick, more than six months after the elections.

The parties selected a top justice official, Dick Schoof, 67, on Tuesday. They will now continue work on forming a cabinet, naming ministers and state secretaries, with the aim of finalizing a government in about four weeks.

The choice of Mr. Schoof — the highest-ranking official at the Ministry of Justice and Security and a 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 Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s leadership.

While Mr. Schoof’s name had not been widely circulated as a potential prime minister, the four parties have said they agreed to set up a government that includes political outsiders, in order to create more distance between the Parliament and the cabinet.

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

His selection comes nearly two weeks after the four right-wing parties that together hold an 88-seat majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives agreed on a preliminary deal to form a government after months of negotiations prompted 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 biggest share of the votes. But his party still needed to form a coalition to govern, and after negotiations stalled, Mr. Wilders said in March that he would not become prime minister, in an effort to increase 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.

The coalition negotiations featured Mr. Wilders and his Party for Freedom; the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, a center-right party that has governed the country for the past 13 years; New Social Contract, a new, centrist party; and the Farmer Citizen Movement, a populist pro-farmer party.

In Mr. Schoof, the four parties appear to have found what they hope is a neutral leader to help work out thorny issues such as migration policy and the country’s housing shortage.

Mr. Schoof emphasized on Tuesday that he was asked to be prime minister by all four parties — not just by Mr. Wilders.

Mr. Wilders said on Tuesday that Mr. Schoof was “above the political parties” and “very sympathetic.”

“Congratulations Dick!” he wrote on X.

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

“He’s going to need a lot of political skills, which is something that isn’t part of his profile,” Dr. Stoker added. “That’s a bit of a gamble.”

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

“I am nonpartisan,” Mr. Schoof told reporters on Tuesday.

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

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

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

He said the choice of Mr. Schoof was a pleasant surprise, especially because of Mr. Schoof’s background in safety and cybersecurity.

“This isn’t a man who hides behind bureaucracy,” Dr. Bakker said.

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

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

“Our own government also poses 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 commit himself to the rights and safety of all citizens. And that he has learned from the past.”

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