It sometimes had something uplifting – the enthusiasm with which the outsiders of Rutte IV were received this week. But it was also inconvenient: you might as well see new evidence in it that the political system is on its last legs.
What was the case: three of the newcomers who received a lot of attention after the landing scene – ministers Ernst Kuipers (Healthcare), Robbert Dijkgraaf (Education) and State Secretary Gunay Uslu (Culture and Media) – were not D66 members when they were asked.
It contributed to the appreciation: outsiders confronting the closed stronghold with other realities. Although it also resulted in chagrin among passed D66 members – Sigrid Kaag is not afraid to take a risk sometimes.
But it mainly illustrated how the weakest link in the system, the political party, continues to decline: the country’s second party is apparently no longer able to recruit its most interesting politicians from within its own circle.
It fits in with a broader trend: more and more parties are arriving in The Hague – and fewer and fewer are coming out.
Because something similar is happening with the nineteen parliamentary parties: after just under a year it is clear that their higher number less delivers democracy.
Take Question Time. Up to this period, three themes were discussed every week. Due to the increased number of parties, there are now two more – because more parties report to the interruption microphone, where they repeat each other more often. Net result: less criticism of the cabinet.
In this way we seem to be on the way to a democracy in which the interests of parties shrink further and individuals become decisive.
And if you looked through all the excitement after this week – about the corona decisions, the CPB calculations, the debate about the government statement from next Tuesday – this also offered a harbinger of the direction that The Hague is going this cabinet term.
Rutte IV’s corona decision-making process, with all those new ministers, was certainly quite a spectacle. Lobbyists who had often struggled to argue their case effectively for two years, took to it with renewed vigor.
Small and medium-sized enterprises, the sports sector, the catering industry, universities and colleges, the broader entrepreneurial lobby, mayors, the cultural sector: they were all busy, with their position paperstheir complaints, their expectations.
It arose when signals circulated that the RIVM model offered room for relaxation. It ended in a partial interest bonanza. Directional politics, often driven by external information, with new ministers noticing that close colleagues were using lobbying information that they themselves had received.
In defense of the cabinet, you could argue that this type of heavy decision-making in the first week comes too early for ministers who are not yet used to their new position and their department.
But it also illustrated how vulnerable Rutte IV starts out: trust in the new cabinet is low, so the business community and social organizations intuitively feel that they increase their chances of gaining influence in The Hague with strong criticism in the media. Contradiction pays off.
You saw the same thing in the House – also there: partial interest bonanza. Parliament demanded that the debate on the government statement not start the day after the landing scene. Fractions needed more preparation time.
The result was that the cabinet watched in silence as MPs appeared in the media with criticism of cabinet plans. You could see that they looked up to that in the coalition.
The most interesting was the performance, Tuesday in news hour, by the Lilliane Ploumen (PvdA) and Joost Eerdmans (JA21), who together opposed freezing the state old age pension for people with a small pension. Argument: the state pension for this group should increase in line with the increased minimum wage.
An encirclement by the right-wing and left-wing opposition that will probably affect the cabinet next week.
And as it goes with counter-narratives: once it catches on, there is always a program that flies out of the way. day after news hour was senator Martin van Rooijen (50Plus) allowed to join On 1 also advocate the case of old-age pensioners with a small pension. 50Plus? You might say: you could perhaps skip the counter voice of a party that is so adept at internal conflicts that it lost all its seats in the House of Representatives.
More interesting was the criticism after the CPB’s calculations. The planning office rejects the notion that some (not all) funds that the government wants to form, such as the Climate Fund, are incidental expenditure that does not put pressure on the national debt. This will therefore be much higher in 2060 than the coalition foresaw (and the EU allows).
I had it explained to me that this CPB response was already anticipated at the formation table. But in coalition parties, EU standards for budget deficit and government debt are expected to ease under Franco-German pressure, and the EU is pushing to keep additional climate spending out of the national debt.
This has quite an impact on Sigrid Kaag’s position on Finance. Finance ministers generally become popular when they personify the national desire for thrift; Wim Kok (PvdA) became Prime Minister from Finance in 1994.
But if the Franco-German axis does indeed force these standards to be relaxed, Kaag can combine this with the claim that she will also show ‘new leadership’ at Finance on much-loved D66 themes such as climate and Europe.
Detail: the sugar daddy who surprised D66 in the campaign with a gift of one million, later also made a significant contribution to the campaign of German Greens, whose party leader is now foreign minister.
Even so, such an interpretation of Finance in The Hague would not just pass. Thrift is the most original characteristic of the conservative Netherlands, and anyone who undermines that desire usually reaps widespread opposition – from SGP to CDA, from JA21 to VVD.
Parties that easily get a majority in the Senate, where Rutte IV is in the minority.
It does not alter the fact that Rutte IV, despite the partial interest bonanza, started with a determination that has not been seen for a long time from a starting cabinet.
At the same time, it became clear that the advice of the Danish scientist Michael Petersen, published this week in NRC, that „as broad as possible [politieke] cooperation” is the best way to maintain confidence in the fight against corona, has fallen on deaf ears in The Hague of 2022. In a climate in which partial interests steer the policy debate and parties lose their position to individual politicians, self-sacrifice has long ceased to be a realistic concept.
Next week, in the debate on the government statement, a similar dilemma will arise. You can foresee that many parties criticizing the impending increase in the national debt also sympathize with the idea of increasing the state pension for people with a small pension.
But the reality is, of course, that an AOW increase without additional cutbacks would also be at the expense of the national debt.
The dilemma of dualism in this era: Now that self-sacrifice is out, claiming partial interests is just as obvious as forcing extra expenditures—and then granting the unpleasant choices to others.
Doesn’t matter – as long as the counter-sound is good.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 15 January 2022
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 15, 2022