In his final report, informateur Tjeenk Willink gives three benchmarks for a new cabinet in which VVD, CDA and D66 will form the engine block. The question is: which party will help these ‘inevitable three’ to a majority?
‘My conclusion is: the substantive information can start.’ Informator Herman Tjeenk Willink sees no major obstacles to the formation of a new cabinet after 3.5 weeks of formation, he makes clear on Friday during the presentation of his final report. He looked at the parliamentary debate on the minutes of the ministry on Thursday and saw that it was good. The political parties most likely to form a new cabinet have come closer together during Tjeenk Willink’s cooling-off period.
A new administrative culture, a coalition agreement in outline and a restoration of confidence: these are the three benchmarks for the continuation of the formation, Tjeenk Willink concluded from his discussions with group chairmen. The formation veteran was flown in by the House to break the deadlock after a large part of the House had lost confidence in Prime Minister Mark Rutte by calling into question the position of CDA MP Pieter Omtzigt.
There is little doubt that VVD, CDA and D66 will form the engine of the new cabinet, as they already were in the Rutte III coalition. The inevitability of this combination forced itself from the beginning on the party leaders Mark Rutte, Wopke Hoekstra and Sigrid Kaag. With that reality in mind, the latter two did not want to build the drawbridge for the person of the prime minister, especially after the VVD rallied squarely behind the party leader.
The real obstacle to a successful formation is finding a fourth (and possibly fifth) party that can help the “inevitable three” get a majority. The ChristenUnie and the SP closed the door by declaring Rutte persona non grata. GroenLinks and the PvdA supported a motion of no confidence against the prime minister on 1 April, but emphatically did not write him off as a cooperation partner. It is then up to the VVD leader to show that he is serious about this new administrative culture, as could be heard in the corridors of those parties. PvdA leader Ploumen says in her conversation with Tjeenk Willink that ‘as far as trust is concerned, the ball lies with Mr Rutte’. On the other hand, the Social Democrats realize that some of the supporters are more concerned about the corona crisis and its economic consequences. Those voters want a new cabinet to come quickly.
Jesse Klaver is now ready to place his trust in Rutte, according to the minutes debate on Thursday. The GroenLinks leader tries to persuade the prime minister to make an admission of guilt while courting. The Prime Minister says: trust us now. I am inclined to do that, but then I ask him to listen carefully to us, ‘says Klaver on Thursday evening. A clearer overture to formation negotiations is hardly conceivable. Later in the debate, Klaver seems frustrated because the VVD member does not grasp his outstretched hand. “I’ve already made four or five attempts to see if we can get closer to each other … I’m trying to find a ground with which we as parliament and government can move on.”
At the end of the debate, Rutte finally addresses Klavers advances. He acknowledges that the cabinet ‘could have done more to obtain information (in the benefits affair)’. The fledgling romance between the current coalition parties and the potential coalition partners is crowned with a wide-ranging motion. GroenLinks and PvdA propose that the House should make extra money available for social advocacy, end discrimination and provide all legislation with an escape hatch to prevent trapped citizens from being crushed between the cruel jaws of the state. All outgoing coalition parties embrace the motion.
Tjeenk Willink follows the debate with great pleasure. The fact that VVD, CDA and D66 supported the motion of GroenLinks and PvdA is a breakthrough, according to the éminence grise. ‘I have noticed that the willingness to break with the existing administrative culture has increased in recent weeks. The broadly supported motion by Klaver and Ploumen is an expression of this’, the informateur wrote to Chamber chairman Vera Bergkamp on Friday.
National ‘transition plan’
The former vice-chairman of the Council of State now envisions the information period in three phases. First, the House of Representatives must agree on a national ‘transition plan’. This should ensure that the Netherlands is dealing with the corona crisis properly. Subsequently, the House of Representatives must designate five or six themes that can form the core of a coalition agreement in outline. Only when sufficient parties have agreed on those points for attention, they can form together. Tjeenk Willink warns in advance that this will demand a lot from the House of Representatives, because this is an ‘unnatural’ process.
His successor must be someone ‘with a distance from current politics and with a broad, socio-economic profile’, Tjeenk Willink writes in his final report. A frequently mentioned candidate is Kim Putters, the director of the Social and Cultural Planning Office. On May 12, the House of Representatives will debate Tjeenk Willink’s advice. Then parliament must also appoint a new informateur and formulate his task.
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