The Investigators

NOTE: This post was written earlier this week, before Annemarie Jorritsma and Kajsa Ollongren stepped down from their role as investigators. I will endeavour to put up something on that later this weekend. Suffice it to say, I have been wondering whether I should just have continued with my daily posts.

Even though we won’t know the full results, candidate by candidate, of last week’s election until later today (Friday), the number of seats per party are pretty much locked in, and the process of coalition negotiations can begin.

Historically, the leaders of each elected party would visit the reigning monarch one-by-one, carrying with them a letter explaining their interpretation of the election results. This practice was ended after the 2010 election, as part of the ongoing process of distancing the monarchy from the political scene. These days, a trusted figure (usually an ex-minister) from the party with the largest number of seats is appointed as the verkenner, which technically translates as scout or explorer, but in reality is closer to investigator. Their task is to investigate and suggest potential coalition configurations on the basis of their discussions with the party leaders. The same principle applies: party leaders present a letter with their advice to the investigators as they discuss the election and the next steps over a cup of coffee (or tea). Previous investigators were outgoing VVD Minister Henk Kamp in 2012 (who would continue in the cabinet for another term), and in 2017, outgoing VVD Minister Edith Schippers (who subsequently left politics).

This time, we’re in the unprecendented position of having two investigators: Annemarie Jorritsma (VVD) and Kajsa Ollongren (D66) – in some ways a reflection of D66 now being the second largest party in the Tweede Kamer, but also perhaps a play by the VVD to make them more accountable to this coalition. Ollongren is an outgoing Minister in the now-caretaker cabinet, while Jorritsma was a Minister in the Paars governments from 1994-2002, subsequently Mayor of the city of Almere from 2003-2015, and now sits as the leader of the VVD in the Eerste Kamer. Over two days, they spoke to all the leaders of the 17 parties in the Tweede Kamer, beginning with Mark Rutte (VVD) and ending with Caroline van der Plas (BBB).

So far, some of the more obvious options for the next coalition government include:

VVD / CDA / D66 / ChristenUnie

Tweede Kamer: 78 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 32 (no majority)

PROS: The parties have worked together for the last four years surprisingly well: plenty of political commentators weren’t sure whether Rutte III would even make it halfway.

CONS: The dynamic within the coalition will inevitably change. D66 will assert itself more, which will bring it into conflict with the ChristenUnie on matters such as end-of-life legislation. On the flipside, D66 and ChristenUnie will be able to work well together on addressing climate change, something the CDA and VVD are less enthusiastic about. These parties don’t have a majority in the Eerste Kamer, so they will need to find allies each time they put a bill through the Tweede Kamer, or put off contentious legislation and hope they win a majority between them at the next provincial elections in 2023.

VVD / CDA / D66 / PvdA / GroenLinks

Tweede Kamer: 90 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 42 (majority)

PROS: Clear majorities in both chambers, so passing bills shouldn’t be an issue. D66 will be relieved to have some allies on the left, while PvdA and GroenLinks both have a chance to atone for previous missteps.

CONS: Neither the VVD nor the CDA would be happy to see both PvdA and GroenLinks in the cabinet – one of them would be more than enough as far as they are concerned. VVD supporters in particular think GroenLinks is far too radical to govern with.

VVD / CDA / D66 / JA21

Tweede Kamer: 76 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 36 (no majority)

PROS: Mark Rutte could appease the more conservative VVD supporters. JA21 doesn’t look like it will be as loud and provocative and PVV or FvD, although their policies are remarkably similar.

CONS: Can’t see D66 agreeing with this unless JA21 throws out most of its policy platform. The two parties are each other’s polar opposites in so many areas it is hard to see where they could ever find much common ground. If D66 were forced to compromise too much, they would be crushed at the next election, as a fair number of their gains came from 2017 GroenLinks voters.

VVD / CDA / D66 / PvdA or GroenLinks

Tweede Kamer: 82 or 81 (majority)
Eerste Kamer: 34 or 36 (no majority)

PROS: Comfortable majorities with either party in the Tweede Kamer, but they’d still need to find another party in the Eerste Kamer. (Ideally, whichever one of PvdA or GroenLinks isn’t in the cabinet could be this fifth party.) D66 would be happy with either PvdA or GroenLinks. VVD and CDA would definitely prefer PvdA.

CONS: Before the election, PvdA and GroenLinks made a pact that they would go into coalition government together, or not at all. The PvdA wants to avoid a repeat of 2017, when they were reduced to a rump after governing a full term with the VVD. The thinking is that the greater the number of left-wing parties in cabinet, the more they can influence the direction of the government, hopefully leaving less for their competitors (i.e. SP, PvdD) to criticise.

Mark Rutte seems to be steering the conversation to “I’ve picked the CDA to join the coalition, now D66 gets to pick one party to join as well”, meaning that the end goal will be to have either PvdA or GroenLinks, and preferably the PvdA. The question will be which of those two parties will be more keen to govern.

Rutte came out and suggested that JA21 deserved to be considered, especially given their numbers in the Eerste Kamer. However, he also knows what D66 thinks about this. It will be more a case of being able to tell his supporters “look, I tried”.

Once Jorritsma and Ollongren have spoken to all the party leaders, they will compile a report which will suggest the configuration of parties that appears to have the best chance of forming the next government. It will then be up to the Tweede Kamer to appoint an informateur or mediator to begin convening negotiations between these parties.