Still at Square One

It’s been almost five months since my last post here, but to be honest, the overall picture hasn’t changed much. There is no new Dutch government, and in fact, negotiations for a new coalition haven’t even begun. The previous configuration of VVD/CDA/D66/CU continues in caretaker mode, with a new parliamentary year mere days away. The Rutte III coalition will have to deliver a caretaker budget on Prinsjesdag, scheduled for 21 September.

In my last post, I wrote how it looked like former PvdA Senator Herman Tjeenk Willink was about to be appointed as the new mediator. This did indeed occur, and on 30 April Tjeenk Willink reported back to the Tweede Kamer, having held meetings with all the party leaders. His report summarised the lay of the land among the parties in the context of the “Pieter Omtzigt, position elsewhere” revelations and the motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Rutte. A couple of weeks later, Mariette Hamer, former PvdA MP and current Chair of the Social and Economic Council, took over as mediator, with the aim of moving the process forward towards actual negotiations. With the summer recess lurking and little movement in this area, Hamer suggested that VVD and D66 should sit down and write an outline of a potential governing accord, which could then be used as a starting point for negotiations.

The problem is as follows: VVD and CDA would prefer that the current coalition with D66 and ChristenUnie continue for a second term, as the numbers are there for this to happen. However, D66 does not want to continue with ChristenUnie, given the disagreements between the two around medical-ethics. D66 agreed to put its policies in this area on ice last term, but does not want to do so again. Instead, D66 has advocated for PvdA, GroenLinks, or both, to take the ChristenUnie’s place. Before the election, PvdA and GroenLinks made it clear they would go into government together, or not at all. The VVD and CDA have refused to consider the option of both PvdA and GroenLinks, pointing out that they only need one of these parties for a majority in the Tweede Kamer. Attempts to separate the PvdA/GroenLinks bloc have been unsuccessful, and in an attempt to appease the VVD and CDA, they declared they would operate as one party in any negotiations, even floating the idea of merging their caucuses in parliament to ensure stability. This was still not enough for the VVD and CDA, who refuse to even enter talks with PvdA and GroenLinks, in the same way that D66 has refused to enter talks with the ChristenUnie.

Given the lack of other options to investigate, Mariette Hamer, now holding the unwanted record for longest-sitting mediator (106 days), handed over her final report a few days ago and stepped down, suggesting that the next mediator should come from the VVD. At this stage, it looks like Johan Remkes is most likely to be that person. Remkes has been in politics for decades, serving in the Tweede Kamer, as minister in three different governments, and various other positions at provincial and local government levels.

Unless Remkes can somehow break the stalemate between these parties, there are only two options left: a minority government (as suggested by Mariette Hamer in her report), or new elections. The latter won’t do much to change the numbers in the Tweede Kamer, and Dutch politicians tend to be wary of minority governments. If a minority government ends up being the way forward, it would most likely be VVD/CDA/D66 or VVD/D66. The VVD would probably prefer the former option, and D66 probably the latter, given the last time they were in coalition with both the VVD and CDA (2003-2006), the party was almost wiped out at the next election.

Some smaller stories from the spring and summer:

Pieter Omtzigt resigned from the CDA in June and will continue as an independent once he returns from sick leave. This occurred after his submission to a CDA post-mortem on the election was leaked, meaning that his frank but confidential commentary on what had gone wrong for the party was now public. His submission included a claim that he had been promised the position of lead candidate should Hugo de Jonge step down (Omtzigt was runner-up to de Jonge in a leadership race in mid-2020). Instead, Wopke Hoekstra was offered the role.

After yet another bout of infighting, Liane de Haan quit 50PLUS in early May, continuing as an independent and leaving the party without any representation in the Tweede Kamer.

Wybren van Haga, who joined Thierry Baudet’s Forum voor Democratie (FvD) some months before March elections, quit the party mid-May and formed a new group in the Tweede Kamer, taking two other FvD MPs with him. Apparently the “last straw” for van Haga was a poster the FvD released comparing the pandemic restrictions with the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. He has since started up a new party called Belang van Nederland (Netherlands Interests).

The Tweede Kamer has moved house while much-needed renovations are undertaken at the Binnenhof. The new building is about a kilometre away – the old offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs at Bezuidenhoutseweg 67. The Eerste Kamer has also moved, to Kazernestraat 52, the former location of the Dutch Supreme Court. It is a bit closer to the Binnenhof, but in another direction to the new Tweede Kamer location. It is estimated that parliament will not be able to return to the Binnenhof for 5-6 years.

Back again next weekend for an overview of the first sitting week of the 2021/2022 parliamentary year.