Explaining Geert Wilders abroad

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The Dutch Foreign Ministry has issued guidelines to its embassies on how to field questions about the role being played by the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) and its populist leader, Geert Wilders, in the formation of a new government. On Tuesday, the website of Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad published the ministry memo which gives six questions and their accompanying answers.

The ministry has declined "to confirm or deny" the authenticity of the guidelines. One question posed is how Mr Wilders can be taking part in negotiations on forming a government coalition when he has been indicted for inciting hatred and discrimination, and for insulting a group of persons? Other questions cover possible bans on the building of new mosques, on the Qur'an and on Islamic schools in the Netherlands. The memo stresses such measures wouldn't be possible because they would breach the Dutch constitution.

Common practice
Former foreign minister Ben Bot says this kind of internal memo is common practice. He can well understand why one on Mr Wilders and his PVV colleagues is thought necessary:

"Of course, if you refuse to comment, you don't help at all. But by giving detailed explanations and especially by stressing that the Netherlands will not be steering an anti-Islam course, you can ensure that things don't become too difficult. I think that's the aim of this memo."

Mr Bot believes people in the Islamic world are already worried about the influence of Mr Wilders may have on future Dutch policy.

"I think it's mostly the authorities in countries where Islam is the main religion which are worried about where Dutch policy is going. That's important for the Netherlands because we're about 70 percent reliant on foreign trade. And that includes many countries which are Islamic or Islamic-oriented."

Extra complications7
The guidelines explain that negotiations about a new cabinet are still ongoing. One possible outcome would be a minority government of Christian Democrats (CDA) and the conservative VVD with support in parliament from the PVV. It's difficult enough to explain to Dutch people themselves how such a government would work. Mr Bot says the job faced by diplomats abroad is even more of a problem:

"Yes, that's certainly the case, because away from the Netherlands it's impossible to keep abreast of every little move made by the cabinet or by Mr Wilders. That's a big problem for diplomats abroad. You've got to keep in constant touch with the Dutch authorities at home to be able to explain everything properly. And you've got to make it perfectly clear that the Netherlands stands firmly behind the constitutional state."

The foreign ministry guidelines state that the ongoing criminal proceedings against Mr Wilders don't restrict his activities as a politician. Judgement in the case is expected to be handed down on 2 November.