2006 Dutch cabinet formation

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After the 2006 general election, held on November 22, a process of cabinet formation has started. It involves negotiations about which coalition partners will form a common program of policy and will divide the posts in cabinet.


[edit] Background

[edit] Conventions of Formation

Dutch coalition negotiations are conventionally conducted in two stages:

  1. Information: An informateur, a relative outsider and a veteran politician, is appointed by the Queen, after consultation with all chairs of parliamentary parties that have seats in the Tweede Kamer. He explores the options for new cabinets, which have both a majority in parliament and programmatic agreement.
  2. Formation: A Formateur is appointed by the Queen. He leads negotiations between parties willing to cooperate to form a cabinet. He leads the negotiations on exact agreements, the division of government portfolios and the personal composition of the cabinet. He is traditionally the leader of the largest party in the coalition and the prospective prime minister.

[edit] Election Results

The Dutch Tweede Kamer has 150 seats. In the 2006 elections the coalition partners of the cabinet in power before the fall of that cabinet earlier that year lost a total of 12 seats. Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) lost 3 out of 44, the right-wing liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) lost 6 out of 28 and centre-left liberal D66 lost 3 out of 6. Nevertheless the CDA remained the largest party in the parliament with 41 seats. The main opposition party, the social-democratic Labour Party (PvdA) lost 9 of its 42 seats; getting 33 seats in the new parliament. The largest winner in seats was the Socialist Party (SP), which won 16 seats, going from 9 to 25 seats. Two previously unrepresented parties were also successful; the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) of former VVD MP Geert Wilders, winning 9 seats, and the animal rights party Party for the Animals, winning 2 seats. The social, and orthodox, ChristianUnion (CU) doubled its seats from 3 to 6. GreenLeft (GL) lost 1 seat out of 8, while the orthodox Reformed Political Reformed Party (SGP) remained stable with two seats.

A week after the elections, the new parliament members were sworn in, so until a new cabinet is formed, the Balkenende III caretaker cabinet has to take this into account because it can no longer assume its proposals will get a majority in parliament. This also goes for existing policy, so if a motion to change that is accepted the cabinet has to implement it. A caretaker cabinet can not be decommssioned, but a minister can. If a minister does not implement such a motion, that may result in a motion of distrust against the minister, who would then have to step down if it is accepted.
For example, on 30 November, a majority in parliament voted in favour of a motion to grant illegal immigrants a general pardon (as was done in Spain earlier), which went against exiting policy and resulted in a clash with the minister of immigration.

[discuss] – [edit]
Summary of the 22 November 2006 Netherlands Second Chamber election results
Parties List leader Votes Seats Vote % Seat %
Christian Democratic Appeal
(Christen-Democratisch Appèl, CDA)
Jan Peter Balkenende 2,608,573 41 26.5 27.3
Labour Party
(Partij van de Arbeid, PvdA)
Wouter Bos 2,085,077 33 21.2 21.3
Socialist Party
(Socialistische Partij, SP)
Jan Marijnissen 1,630,803 25 16.6 17.3
People's Party for Freedom and Democracy
(Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD)
Mark Rutte 1,443,312 22 14.6 14.7
Party for Freedom
(Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV)
Geert Wilders 579,490 9 5.9 6.0
(GroenLinks, GL)
Femke Halsema 453,054 7 4.6 4.7
(ChristenUnie, CU)
André Rouvoet 390,969 6 4.0 4.0
Democrats 66
(Democraten 66, D66)
Alexander Pechtold 193,232 3 2.0 2.0
Party for the Animals
(Partij voor de Dieren, PvdD)
Marianne Thieme 179,988 2 1.8 1.3
Reformed Political Party
(Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, SGP)
Bas van der Vlies 153,266 2 1.6 1.3
Other / Blanco
Total 9,838,683 150 100.0 100.0
Source: Template:Cite web

[edit] Current Negotiations

On 24 and 25 November the chairs of parliamentary parties of the Tweede Kamer gave advice to the Queen on who should be appointed informateur and who should be involved in the first information talks. Sometimes the information and formation is fairly straightforward. However, after the November 2006 elections an elongated and complicated information and formation period is foreseen by most commentators.

An extra complicating factor is that provincial elections will be held in March 2007, only four months after the general election. These elections are also indirect elections for the Eerste Kamer and any coalition will be stronger if it has a majority in both chambers. However, with many voters afloat, the result for those elections might be significantly different from these general elections. This is even more the case since disagreement with any formed coalition cabinet may directly reflect upon the results in that upcoming election.

Some politicians have already expressed their views on what the options should be if it is impossible to forge a CDA-PvdA-SP cabinet. Prominent VVD-members Gerrit Zalm and Atzo Nicolaï proposed a parliamentary minority cabinet; while Party for the Animals leader Marianne Thieme indicated that she preferred a minority PvdA-SP-GL cabinet which may be supported by several environmentalist, liberal and social parties. This would be a novum in Dutch politics. Nicolaï stated that a minority cabinet would be the most democratic option because for each proposed law a proposal-specific majority has to be gathered for it to pass the chamber vote.

[edit] Information phase

The CDA offered to provide the informateur which should explore as many possible coalitions as possible. The PvdA proposed that someone unconnected to a political party should provide the informateur, and that the first negotiations should be focussed on the SP besides the CDA who won the elections. The PvdA has stated it doesn't want to form a coalition without the SP.<ref>(Dutch)"PvdA wil niet zonder SP in kabinet", NRC Handelsblad, 2006-11-23.</ref> GreenLeft also advised that SP should be involved and recommended Doekle Terpstra, former chair of the Christian trade union CNV as informateur. The SP advised the Queen to appoint D66 Minister of State Hans van Mierlo as informateur and examine the possibilities for a SP, PvdA and CDA coalition. The VVD, D66 and ChristianUnion gave the advice to appoint a CDA informateur. The SGP proposed a coalition between the CDA, PvdA and ChristianUnion, explicitly suggesting CDA member Rein Jan Hoekstra as the informateur who was involved as informateur in the formation of the second Balkenende cabinet. In the late afternoon of 25 November 2006, Queen Beatrix appointed Rein Jan Hoekstra as informateur.

Hoekstra had his first discussion with the larger parties on November 28. He held talks with the smaller parties the next day. Rouvoet, of the ChristianUnion, made clear that a cabinet of CDA-PvdA-SP looks like the most obvious coalition.<ref>(Dutch)"CU pleit voor coalitie CDA, PvdA en SP", Reformatorisch Dagblad, 2006-11-29.</ref> Subsequently Hoekstra continued his talks with a CDA-PvdA-SP coalition in mind .<ref>(Dutch)"Hoekstra bekijkt coalitie met SP", Volkskrant, 2006-11-29.</ref>

On november 30 2006 the new parliament was sworn in, including several members of the current demissionair cabinet (Balkenende, Verdonk, van der Hoeven, Wijn, van Geel, Kamp, Remkes among others). The change in the chamber lead to a majority vote on December 1 to stop evicting a certain group of asylum seakers. This group originally 26.000 then 38.000 people had been in an administrative process since 2001 and Rita Verdonk had made it her policy to decide their future:either an eviction or permanent residence. Balkenende reacted annoyed as he stated that this ad-hoc left wing coalition (including PvdA and SP) was no good basis for negotiations for a stable government<ref>(Dutch)http://www.nu.nl/news/905211/11/Balkenende_maakt_links_fors_verwijt.html</ref>. NOS News speculated on December 2 that Rita Verdonk would be forced to resign as a cabinet minister as a result of this parliamentary vote and that the other VVD ministers would follow suit leaving the CDA as only party left in the demissionary cabinet. Political columnist Ronald Plasterk interpreted this issue as an indicator that he could only imagine two cabinets, the large CDA-PvdA-SP or a left wing minority cabinent of PvdA-SP-GL-CU may seriously be considered as approval from D66 and PvdD would give them a majority in parliament.

[edit] Possible coalitions

Plausible coalitions election results
official forecast
CDA-PvdA-SP 99
CDA-PvdA-CU 80
CDA-PvdA-GL 81
PvdA-SP-GL-CU-D66-PvdD 76
Grand coalition

With the current results there are arguably four options for a stable majority coalition: a centre-left coalition, a right-wing coalition, a left-wing coalition and a centrist coalition. All of these options would present historically unique coalitions. Also, since the three major Christian parties united in the CDA in 1977, all cabinets have consisted of only two or three parties. This time, no two-party coalitions are possible and few of three party options are plausible.

A centre-left coalition would consist of CDA, PvdA and SP. Variations may include swapping the SP for either the ChristianUnion or the GreenLeft; or the PvdA for both of these smaller parties. However, there are some problems with this formation: PvdA-leader Wouter Bos and CDA-leader Jan Peter Balkenende were unable to form a two party coalition in 2003, because of personal problems, which are unlikely to have diminished. Furthermore, in the previous half century CDA-PvdA coalitions have proven to be unstable. Furthermore both the PvdA and the SP had pointed out during their campaign that the differences between CDA and PvdA have never been so great. Another issue is the in the CDA-PvdA-SP coalition, the largest party (CDA - 41 seats), which has profiled itself as a winner of the election, would be a minority compared to the two left wing parties (together 58 seats). Finally, although the SP has dropped its most extreme plans, it still has large programmatic differences mainly with the CDA but also with the PvdA.

A left-wing coalition would consist of PvdA and SP supported by the ChristianUnion, the GreenLeft, D66 and the Party for the Animals. This seems unlikely because D66 has already announced that it will not enter in any coalition and the ChristianUnion has already excluded a cabinet without the CDA. The Party for the Animals has, however, announced that it considers a minority PvdA-SP-GL cabinet as a serious option that may count on its support.

A right-wing coalition would consist of the CDA and VVD, supported by either Party for Freedom and the ChristianUnion or the ChristianUnion, D66 and the SGP. The ChristianUnion has announced that it will not cooperate with prominent VVD-member Rita Verdonk because of her strict immigration policies.

A centrist or large coalition would consist of the CDA, PvdA and the VVD, which would constitute a large cabinet. This may prove to be the final option, but due to immense differences both on left-right and conservative-liberal dimensions any such cabinet is likely to be a caretaker cabinet only, which will not propose any significant policies. A similar coalition currently forms the Flemish government.

All possible (minimal) coalitions
CDA-PvdA (73)
CDA-PvdA-SP 99
CDA-PvdA-GL 80
CDA-PvdA-CU 79
CDA-PvdA-D66 76
CDA-PvdA-PvdD-SGP 79
CDA-SP (66)
CDA-VVD (63)
PvdA-SP (58)
PvdA-SP-VVD 80
PvdA-SP-PVV-GL-D66 77
PvdA-SP-PVV-GL-PvdD 76
PvdA-SP-GL-CU-D66-PvdD 76
PvdA-SP-GL-CU-D66-SGP 76
PvdA-VVD (55)
PvdA-VVD-PVV-GL-D66-PvdD 76
SP-VVD (47)

The table to the left shows the possible majority coalitions, ie coalitions with at least 76 seats. The table shows only options with as few parties as needed to reach those 76 seats. Other coalitions could be formed by adding more parties to one of these combinations. This might be done to either make too narrow a majority bigger, to give a party that could otherwise be overwhelmed a like-minded partner, or to introduce a neutral referee in an otherwise tense combination. Such larger-than-needed coalitions have been constructed 7 times since WWII. At the other extreme there is the option of a minority cabinet, with less than 76 seats. This has so far only happened in caretaker cabinets that were in power between the fall of a majority cabinet and subsequent (early) elections.

All coalitions require at least two of the four major parties, but neither of the six combinations have a majority. These are shown in bold, with the number of seats between brackets.

[edit] References

2006 Dutch cabinet formation

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