After the longest formation in Dutch history (271 days to be exact), the new Dutch government was sworn into office on 10 January 2022. The Fourth Rutte government, Rutte IV, is composed of the four coalition parties VVD, D66, CDA and CU. With the new coalition government comes a coalition agreement, which was recently debated and passed in the Tweede Kamer (the Dutch lower house of representatives). This agreement was notable because for the first time the government recognized the existence of institutionalized racism and seeks to eradicate it. Other notable entries into the coalition agreement include free childcare for lower-income families, aggressive plans and funding to mitigate climate change, special focus on tackling the current housing crisis in the Netherlands and, of course, continued attention to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
Mark Rutte will begin his fourth tenure as Prime Minister of the country, with the leaders of the other three coalition parties taking vice-minister roles as well as cabinet members. There are familiar and new faces in the cabinet and even new cabinet positions. Doctor Ernst Kuipers, who played a crucial role during the Covid crisis, is now heading the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, taking the place of Hugo de Jonge, who’s headed to the ministry for Housing and Spatial Planning.
The new cabinet has many members who are new to the political arena, including scientist Robbert Dijkgraaf (D66, Education, Culture and Science), Conny Helder (VVD, Long-term Care) and Henk Staghouwer (CU, Agriculture). These fresh new faces will hopefully bridge the trust and confidence gap between the government and its citizens], which has reached unprecedented levels in the last few years. The new government also has the largest representation of women in Dutch history, with an equal number of women and men in the minister and state secretary positions. There are also four new ministerial posts, including Minister for Climate and Energy, Minister for Nature and Nitrogen, Minister for Housing and Minister for Poverty Policy.
Here is a breakdown of the new Dutch government:
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister (VVD) – with his party receiving the most votes in the national election last March, Rutte will continue at the helm of the Dutch government and politics. His fourth term will prove to be the most challenging, with crises on the national and international fronts, as well as scandals lingering from his previous cabinet. Confidence in the government is at an all-time low, especially due to its Covid response and subsequent policies, as well as the childcare allowance scandal that made Rutte resign his previous government.
Sigrid Kaag, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance (D66) – sworn in via video due to a positive Covid test, Ms. Kaag moves from the Foreign Trade and Development Ministry to the Ministry of Finance. Her credentials in finance include serving on several boards of international banks and financial agencies. With a background in diplomacy before politics, it will be interesting to see her transition into her new role of leading the economic, monetary and tax policy for the country.
Wopke Hoekstra, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (CDA) – moving from the Ministry of Finance to being head of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Hoekstra will be the face of the Netherlands abroad. This is an interesting appointment, as his background in the private sector and in government has been primarily in finance and economics. Time will only tell how this will translate into foreign policy, meeting with foreign governments, settling trade deals and stimulating international development. One thing is for certain: Minister Hoekstra will have a very fast learning curve as there are no shortages of crises in the world today.
Carola Schouten, Third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Poverty Policy (CU) – the only other returning vice-minister, Ms. Schouten moves from the Ministry of Agriculture to one of the newly-created ministries whose focus is on poverty and pensions. Though her tenure in the Ministry of Agriculture was a rocky one, with farmers’ protests regarding the government’s attempt to limit the amount of CO2 emissions caused by farming scarring her record, she seems well poised to lead this new ministry. Her long-time membership in the Christion Union (CU) party, whose platform includes support for the welfare state and social services, makes her a logical choice.
Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, Minister of Justice and Security (VVD) – a rising star in the VVD party, Ms. Yeşilgöz-Zegerius takes over the Ministry of Justice from Ferdinand Grapperhaus and is now in charge of national justice, imprisonment and public security. New to a ministerial role, she already made a misstep in her new role, having given mixed messages as to the ministry’s support for the enforcement of Covid rules put in place shortly after the new government’s swearing-in. However, this is likely a new minister learning the ropes of her new role.
Hanke Bruins Slot, Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (CDA) – having been a member of the Tweede Kamer (Dutch lower house of representatives) and served in the Royal Dutch army, Ms. Bruins Slot will now be heading the department responsible for domestic policy, civil service, elections and intelligence. In the Tweede Kamer, she focused on armed forces, local government and health care sciences.
Robbert Dijkgraaf, Minister of Education, Culture and Science (D66) – another newcomer to government and politics, Mr. Dijkgraaf is a well-known theoretical physicist, who had appeared on many Dutch talk shows and has a monthly column in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. With an academic resume that includes professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and numerous awards, honours and advisory board memberships, he is well-equipped to lead the country’s top education post.
Kajsa Ollongren, Minister of Defense (D66) – moving from the ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations to Defense was unexpected for the previous vice-minister of the Rutte III government, but Ms. Ollongren assures that she is up to the task. This optimism will be needed as the new coalition government allocated less money to defense than what the Dutch armed forces requested; this will undoubtedly result in difficult decisions, something not to take lightly with tensions currently growing on the Ukrainian-Russian border.
Mark Harbers, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management (VVD) – a long-time member of the Tweede Kamer, Mr. Harbers will now head one of the most important ministries for the Netherlands. With a background in economics and a short term as State Secretary for Justice and Security in the Rutte III government, Mr. Harbers is again an interesting choice for the infrastructure position.
Micky Adriaansens, Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (VVD) – a former member of the Eerste Kamer (the Dutch equivalent of the Senate or House of Lords), Ms. Adriaansens has a background in law and health policy management. She’s pledged to make economic recovery from the Covid crisis a priority while continuing to make the Netherlands an attractive place for corporations to do business. Within her ministry is the Ministry of Climate and Energy, headed by Rob Jetten of D66. With the Netherlands lagging behind most of Europe, the ministry and its sub-ministry have set an ambitious goal of reducing the country’s CO2 emissions by 55% by 2050.
Henk Staghouwer, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food (CU) – another Christian Union member will be heading the ministry for Agriculture, taking over from Carola Schouten. As the world’s second-largest exporter of food, this ministry’s task is no small one. It seeks to support farmers and their economic welfare, while securing the Netherlands’ international standing as a high-quality food producer and sustainability of agriculture.
Karien van Gennip, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment (CDA) – the new minister in charge of relations between employers and employees, social security and trade unions has a long background in Dutch politics. She served in two cabinets of Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and was a member of the Tweede Kamer from 2006 to 2008. Ms. Van Gennip was also Director European & International Affairs of Dutch bank ING, which should serve her well in her new post.
Ernst Kuipers, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (D66) – probably one of the most exciting new ministers is the doctor/scientist Ernst Kuipers as the new Minister of Health. Dr. Kuipers, though new to the cabinet, is a familiar face from the onset of the Covid crisis, as he headed the National Network of Acute Care which keeps track of, among other things, the number of ICU beds in the Kingdom. He takes this position from former vice-minister Huge de Jonge, who stood alongside PM Mark Rutte during the dozens of press conferences throughout the pandemic. Now, with a scientist and doctor leading the government’s Covid response, many are hoping for a better overall response from the government. After his first press conference, he was lauded for his scientific approach and his update via easy-to-understand charts and statistics.
Along with the above ministers, there are also eight ministers without portfolios (meaning they do not head a specific ministry) and another either state secretaries (sub-ministers working within the primary ministries mentioned above). After such a long negotiation period and with challenges and crises at almost every turn, the new Dutch government has its work cut out for itself. Their optimism and enthusiasm run high, which is good – they will need it to navigate the plethora of issues facing the country, the continent and indeed, the world.
Written by Marla Thomson