Minority government or … something else?

In all the years that I’ve either written blog posts here or recorded podcasts, I’ve always had to reduce the list of topics to cover in order to meet the word/time limits I set for myself. This week has been the first I can remember where there has been very little to report. In fact, part of the reason I’m posting this Monday instead of over the weekend was in the event something interesting happened. Spoiler: something did, but it only worsened matters.

The Tweede Kamer may have returned this week to officially open the 2021/2022 parliamentary year, but all eyes were still on the deadlocked coalition negotiations. Between them, the VVD and D66 have rejected all feasible coalition options: VVD refuses to consider talking to the PvdA and GroenLinks unless they stop turning up as a bloc (they have no intention of doing this); D66 refuses to consider the ChristenUnie. Relations between Mark Rutte and Sigrid Kaag are said to be icy, which adds another layer of complexity to the situation. Kaag began the week with her delivery of the annual HJ Schoo address, wherein she clearly took a few indirect swipes at Rutte. The sense is that she is tired of Rutte’s intransigence and is looking to assert her position as the leader of the second-largest party in the Tweede Kamer.

Having now run through four sets of mediators, VVD stalwart Johan Remkes seems to be the last hope at some kind of breakthrough in negotiations. He has decided to follow the advice of his predecessor Mariette Hamer and begin by testing the waters for a minority government, starting with VVD and D66. This has had mixed responses from other parties. PvdA and GroenLinks have said they’re not inclined to provide much support to a minority government, especially if the CDA ends up joining in as a third party. Meanwhile, the ChristenUnie said they could imagine providing supply and confidence to a minority government of VVD, D66 and CDA – effectively a continuation of the previous government. Remkes has given himself a month to sort things out, indicating that he won’t hesitate to quit his role sooner if he doesn’t see any movement by the parties in question.

Over the weekend, the CDA held a party congress in which a motion was passed to declare the party’s opposition to the expansion of voluntary assisted dying laws to include a “fulfilled life”. This policy is the one D66 reluctantly set aside in order to convince the ChristenUnie to join the Rutte III coalition. It allows for people over the age of 80 to choose assisted dying for no other reason than that they consider their life to be complete or fulfilled. The CDA have made it clear they don’t see room for comprise in this matter, meaning they’ve effectively taken the same stance as the ChristenUnie. If D66 are going to apply the same response to the CDA as they did the ChristenUnie then they will have removed the CDA from consideration, meaning a minority government with the VVD is the only remaining option that hasn’t been rejected yet.

The alternative to all this would be to return to the voters – a new election could be organised well before the Christmas recess. However, the latest opinion polls suggest it won’t solve anything. The VVD would gain seats, but the CDA and D66 would be likely to lose ground, meaning that a coalition would need even more parties to reach a majority in the Tweede Kamer.

Of course, the first week back wasn’t just coalition manoeuvring – there were debates about the situation in Afghanistan, questions around why some newly-appointed secretaries were allowed to (temporarily) keep their Tweede Kamer seats in addition to joining the cabinet, and the usual clashes between far-right parties like the PVV and FvD versus almost everyone else. But in the context of the fact that this is now the third-longest period in parliamentary history where the country has been without a government, all these issues seem like sideshows.