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‘Formation issues mainly due to judgment culture in Dutch politics’

It was an unusual morning for Arco Timmermans, when the public affairs and politics expert was invited to advise informer Kim Putters early last week. ‘I told Putters: the only way to form a workable cabinet is if the parties in the House of Representatives take responsibility and show they are constructive.’

‘Under what conditions can you make an unusual cabinet viable? That is what the, very pleasant, conversation was about’, says Timmermans. Of course, he cannot share the exact content of the conversation, but he can tell us where he thinks things are going wrong and where the opportunities lie, more than three months after the elections.

According to Timmermans, what clearly does not help in the formation process, is comments of politicians on social media and elsewhere. Even though politicians score points with this, it also creates more division. ‘It is actually a very aggressive way of communicating, which in this way works very divisive instead of binding. We see the effect of it.’ It is also another self-discipline exercise, says Timmermans. ‘If they cannot restrain themselves on X, then they cannot take responsibility for maintaining a majority in a cabinet, can they?’

‘The bottom line is whether you want and can move forward together’


Continuing to take positions like this through X is unacceptable, according to Timmermans. ‘We all think this when Trump does it, but in the Netherlands, we do it too.’ He speaks of a ‘judgment culture’ that is score-oriented. ‘Are we living in the time where we are moving from a reflection model to a judgement model? That goes beyond the boundaries of decency. If you really want to be able to move forward in a constructive manner, the parties need to consider where they stand on this.’

The traditional majority cabinet, an extra-parliamentary cabinet, a minority or business cabinet: the different types have been all over the media recently. According to Timmermans, it is not so much about the form, but more about the political and social function. ‘It is about the circumstances and conditions that are necessary to function together. You can get married or sign a cohabitation contract: legally, it makes little difference. The bottom line is whether you want to and can move forward with each other: whether you want to start building, whether you can connect. That is the essence.’

Minority cabinet

Danish scholar Claes de Vreese joined the conversation with Putters as well. Adopting the Danish model of a minority cabinet, which was considered an option, is complex. ‘In Denmark, opposition parties are constructive,’ Timmermans knows. ‘That is because they have a deal on the subject and because they take responsibility. There is also less polarisation in Denmark. We can take inspiration from this.’

We can take inspiration from Denmark, where they take responsibility’

A minority cabinet is not new to the Netherlands: look at 2010, when the PVV had a separate support agreement with VVD and CDA. ‘That fell apart, because the PVV stayed in campaign mode and the CDA got goosebumps from that. It is not for nothing that Pieter Omtzigt is now very afraid to join forces with the PVV.’

In the Netherlands, we face all kinds of challenges, says the public affairs researcher. ‘The gap between policy and implementation is big, with all the scandals as we saw this week with the parliamentary inquiry committee. Tomorrow it can all happen again. We must make sure that with the new form, much broader parliamentary support is sought. The members of parliament who contribute ideas on policy and the quality of legislation, which is serious work, should be rewarded. That is not happening now. The role of the House of Representatives will be bigger than ever, whatever form it takes.’

Societal actors

Timmermans advises bringing societal actors, such as NGO's, companies, industry associations and students, closer. ‘Just making sure that they get involved is quite a job. It is an illusion that the cabinet and the House of Representatives are pretty much the cockpit of the Netherlands. A lot is happening in society and politics is also moving there. There is not only political lobbying: society is lobbying as well. If you do not know how to position yourself properly there and leave groups out of consideration, they are going to speak back very loudly.’

The current situation in the political arena, where agreement is currently the challenge, is exemplary, according to Timmermans. ‘It reflects the division and fragmentation in society. We really need to find a way out of that now.’

Text: Magali van Wieren

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