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'We are already going to see this effect of the coalition agreement in the coming weeks'

Few details, relatively few words. The coalition agreement presented is one of the shortest in the past 20 years, Arco Timmermans knows. Consequently, the outlines were not negotiated for very long, which has its advantages and disadvantages. 'Over the next few weeks, we are mainly going to see the morning-after effect. I have big doubts whether they are going to make it.'

'Mostly buttoned-up agreements'

'Only' 11,000 words comprise the outline agreement, put together by PVV, VVD, NSC and the BBB. Only Balkenende II in 2003 delivered fewer words, says Arco Timmermans. He has been coding the text by topics since Friday. The public affairs expert, who once did a PhD on coalition politics, saw mostly detailed agreements over the past 40 years. 'There was a lot of objection to that, it was boarded up and the parties in parliament had nothing more to say. That had to change.'

Yet these buttoned-up agreements did limit conflict, he notes. 'It had a function. You make a formula to find a way with the parties, now there is mostly a lot of uncertainty. In terms of content, this was hammered out in four weeks. A lot still needs to be worked out and that will cause friction. Do all four parties support the direction to make it more concrete? Given the legal and financial limits, some plans will not be feasible. That means they will have to go back to the negotiating table.'

Public affairs-expert Arco Timmermans.

Apologies from Plasterk

Timmermans sees signs that high stakes will be played when the cabinet is soon sworn in and ministers are appointed. 'Look at Ronald Plasterk's public apologies now to Pieter Omtzigt and the relations therewith. It will be another exciting adventure. That's why I talk about the morning-after effect: you find each other, have a shared dream and on waking up the next day you end up in reality. That is the period we are entering now. I have serious doubts that they are going to make it, there is enough personal and substantive friction to cause major problems. The party leaders will start making their contributions from the Lower House and they will go full steam ahead.'

Three parties leave and three new parties help form the new coalition. There will be a major change in asylum policy, for instance. 'This is a break with habit, but then you need all the more mutual trust to sustain this together. Not to mention the new ministers. If you are going to get half from outside politics, you also have to accept that they are not on the leash of the parties in parliament. Again, that poses explosion risks.'

Hard to concede

People need to find a way to tame conflicts over the direction of policy, says Timmermans. 'You cannot negotiate agenda items only in plenary debates, because then everyone is watching and the pressure to stand firm only increases. So you need other ways, which are almost always informal and often invisible. Parties will find that very difficult: admitting they need it. They will really need the proverbial back rooms - at a distance from media and fuss in Chamber - to do business. 'But surely there would be more openness?', everyone then asks again.'

Timmermans again calls for self-discipline. 'We will continue to see the social media behaviour of politicians, as we have seen in recent times. Whether the cabinet will stay afloat despite the spectacle is the question. There is a huge task ahead.'

Text: Magali van Wieren


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