AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch coalition government collapsed on Saturday after the two largest parties disagreed over whether to withdraw the 2,000 Dutch troops from Afghanistan as planned this year.
Following is a look at the consequences of the collapse.
Elections will be called and could be held mid-year at the earliest. Talks aimed at forming a coalition may take several months. Polls suggest four or five parties may be needed to gain a majority coalition in the 150-seat parliament.
The fallen government would operate in caretaker mode until a new government is installed. Minority-rule governments are possible, however.
If elections are held mid-year, a new government could be installed in time for a budget for 2011 to be unveiled as scheduled in September.
Polls show public opposition to extending the Dutch mission in Afghanistan and a television survey showed 76 percent of those polled have little or no confidence in the government.
Struggling in polls, Labor could regain some electoral support by its stance over Afghanistan.
Labor did not want to extend the Afghanistan mission because it was agreed in 2007 to end it in 2010 and there was no longer majority support in parliament to extend. Labor is willing to continue the Dutch deployment of F16s in Afghanistan and give training and development aid to the country.
A poll on Friday showed the PvdA could count on an extra seat in the Parliament compared with the previous poll, while the CDA would lose two if elections were held now, but both would still be below the number they won at the 2006 election.
The Freedom Party of right-wing MP Geert Wilders, which had called on the government to end the Afghan mission, could be the big winner at the next election. Polls tip his party to either become the biggest or second biggest party, campaigning on mistrust of the government and an anti-immigration ticket.
Dutch troops will most likely return home from their mission in Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province from August as planned. It is unlikely that an interim government would take a large policy decision such as extending the mission.
BUDGET CUTS IN DOUBT
A government collapse will add uncertainty to up to 40 billion euros in budget cuts called for by the Finance Ministry. Some 20 panels are due to present recommendations in March on austerity measures to rein in a budget deficit that is expected to top 6 percent of gross domestic product this year.
Some of those measures were expected to be implemented in September for the 2011 budget, but the worst of them were expected to be delayed until after the next scheduled general election in the spring of 2011.
The new government will have to do something, though, as the finance ministry pledged EU counterparts last December that the deficit would be cut by 50 to 75 basis points a year every year from 2011 through 2013.
Among the various contentious proposals on the table are a rise in the retirement age, changes to international aid programs and a new 60 percent income tax rate for anyone who earns more than the prime minister.
DUTCH RELATIONSHIP WITH NATO
A Dutch withdrawal from Afghanistan is not expected to influence how NATO is perceived within the Netherlands, but it may sour relations with the military alliance.
The Netherlands will also loose visibility as one of the players in the Afghanistan issue, which could in turn have a negative influence on the nation's international standing.
The Netherlands can, however, claim they have participated in NATO actions on a much higher level than can be expected of a relatively small country.
IMPACT ON NATO MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN
The withdrawal will have a limited impact on NATO's Afghanistan mission, but will deliver a blow to U.S. hopes to boost international troop numbers.
In Uruzgan Province it could mean a different approach, such as a more confrontational stance if the United States takes a lead role in the province.
Most NATO members only have a symbolic presence in Afghanistan and the fact the burden is on only a few shoulders is considered harmful to NATO