Deadlock continues in the formation of the new cabinet

Marriëtte Hamer

The formation of the new Dutch cabinet continues to be at a stand-still with no viable solutions in immediate sight. Since the mid-March elections, the top two parties – the VVD and D66 – have been trying to put a coalition government together with enough of the other parties to create a majority in the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer). Though not entirely onboard immediately after the elections, the CDA has since joined in with the VVD and D66, bringing the foundation of what will be the new cabinet to 74 seats in the House. With the House having 150 seats, these three parties need at least two more seats to have a coalition majority in the Tweede Kamer. Only then they will be able to form the cabinet government, consisting of the Prime Minister, the department Ministers and the Secretaries of State, chosen from the coalition parties.

If you think this is tricky to understand, it gets even tricky when considering the remaining parties which the VVD, D66 and CDA could ally with to create the majority. The VVD and CDA have both been traditionally center-right, while D66 is slightly more liberal on the political spectrum. With 74 seats between the three, most political analysts believed a coalition majority would not be difficult to achieve. So far, however, it has proven to be a very ‘complex puzzle’, as VVD leader and current Prime Minister Mark Rutte puts it. Though there are more than a dozen remaining parties, their ideologies are either too far right or too far left for all three leaders of the coalition parties to accept.

D66 leader Sigrid Kaag believes the Netherlands should be as progressive as possible and has been a strong advocate of one or more of the remaining left-leaning parties to join the coalition. Initially Rutte and CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra did not rule out a left-leaning coalition majority, but they have since said that the ideologies of GreenLeft (GL), the Socialist Party (SP) and the Labour Party (PvdA) are too far removed from those of the VVD and CDA to be considered viable partners. Furthermore, even if GL or PvdA were accepted into the coalition, both parties have said they will not join without the other.

This entire process has been hampered by the numerous scandals and crises the government has experienced in recent years, not the least of which is the corona crisis and the recovery plan needed to get the country back on track economically, financially and socially. However, homegrown scandals have made the process of bringing together potential coalition parties more difficult. Crisis such as the childcare allowance scandal and the ‘Peter Omtzigt’ memo scandal (where an accidental flashing of notes by minister Kajsa Ollongren showed questionable discussions of CDA MP Peter Omtzigt’s role in the new government) have damaged the trust and confidence that other parties have in Mark Rutte. Crucially, the fourth party in the outgoing coalition, the Christion Union (CU), has stated that it does not want to work with Rutte again. Therefore, a repetition of the current coalition, VVD, D66, CDA and CU, is no longer possible.

In the 2017 elections all eyes were on the far-right party, the Party for Freedom (PVV) and its outspoken white-headed leader Geert Wilders. Polls leading up to the 2017 elections showed Wilders gaining popularity with the party winning the second most votes in the election. The focus then for the VVD – which won the most votes in the 2017 elections – was to avoid a coalition majority that was too far to the political right. The same consideration is still in force, so that the PVV and other, smaller far-right parties are ruled out as acceptable coalition parties. Even back in 2017 the formation of a coalition and subsequent government proved to be very challenging and took a full six months after the election. Such a long time between election and new government is something everyone is trying to avoid this time around.

Since the election three negotiation teams have already been tasked with meeting with all parties and negotiating terms and plans for a new government. The current person in charge of the negotiation is independent ‘informateur’ Mariëtte Hamer. However, she has not yet been able to bring enough parties together for the coalition. She has asked for more time, but it’s not clear how much time would be needed. Until there a new government and ruling coalition in the Tweede Kamer is created, the previous government will continue its job. However, the outgoing cabinet is not allowed to bring in new laws, so that important issues can only be tackled by the new government – whenever that will take office.

Written by Marla Thomson