Cabinet of the Netherlands
Learn more about Cabinet of the Netherlands
 Composition and Role
The cabinet consist out of all ministers and secretaries of state. The cabinet is led by the Prime Minister. Most of the between 12 and 14 ministers are also head of government ministeries, although there are often one or two ministers without portfolio who is responsible for the portfolio of another minister. For instance there has been a minister of development cooperation for a long time, who worked within the minister of Foreign Affairs. Most ministeries also have one secretary of state, who also is responsible for part of the portfolio of a minister.
The policy of a cabinet is coordinated in the Council of Ministers in which all ministers and ministers without portfolio are part. This executive council initiates laws and policy. Note that state secretaries do not attend the Council of Ministers unless they are requested to do so and they do not have voting rights. The council of ministers meets every week on Friday in the Trêveszaal (the Room of Treaties) which forms part of the Binnenhof. It makes decisions by means of collegiate governance. All ministers, including the Prime Minister, are (theoretically) equal. These meetings are chaired by the prime minister. Behind the closed doors of the Trêveszaal, ministers can freely debate proposed decisions and express their opinion on any aspect of cabinet policy. Once a decision is made by the council, all individual members are bound by it and are obliged to support it publicly. If a member of the cabinet does not agree with a particular decision he will have to step down. Generally much effort is put into reaching relative consensus on any decision. A process of voting within the Council does exist, but is hardly ever used.
Together with the Queen the council of ministers forms Government, also known as the Crown, which makes all the major decisions. In practice the Queen does not participate in the daily decision-making of government, although she is kept up to date by weekly visits (on Tuesday) of the Prime Minister. It should be noted that the Dutch constitution does not speak of cabinet, but instead only of the Council of Ministers and Government.
The ministers, individually and collectively (as cabinet), are responsible to the States General for government policy and must enjoy its confidence. It is not possible to for a minister to be a member of parliament. Ministers or junior ministers who are no longer supported by a parliamentary majority are also expected by convention to step down. Unlike the British system, Dutch ministers cannot simultaneously be minister and members of parliament, although many ministers are selected from parliament and have to give up their seat as a result.
After the elections or the fall of a cabinet a process of cabinet formation starts. Because of the multi-party system of the Netherlands, no single party has ever had a majorty in parliament since 1900, the formation a coalition of two or often three parties is always necessary. This is a time-consuming process. The Queen takes an important role in cabinet formation. The entire procedure is regulated by tradition and convention and only the final appointment is regulated by law.
First the Queen has secret individual meetings with the chair of the Eerste Kamer and Tweede Kamer and the vice-chair of the Raad van State. Next she has a meeting with the chair of each parliamentary party in the Tweede Kamer, the political leaders of all parties. She continues to appoint an informateur who explores the options of a new cabinet. This process is called information. The informateur often is a relative outsider and a veteran politician, who has retired from active politics: a member of the Eerste Kamer or Raad van State. He conventionally has a background in the largest party in the Tweede Kamer. It is also possible to appoint multiple informateurs, with a background in other prospective partners. The informateur is given a specific task by the Queen, often to "seek a coalition of parties with programmatic agreement and a majority in parliament." The informateur has meetings with individual chairs of parliamentary parties and chairs sessions of negotiations between the chairs of parliamentary parties. During these negotiations the parties barter, letting go of some goals to achieve others.
If the informateur is succesful, a formateur is appointed otherwise, the information process is repeated with a new informateur. The formateur, who is also appoined by the Queen. He leads negotiations between parties willing to cooperate to form a cabinet. Conventionally he is the leader of the largest party in the prospective coalition and therefor also the prospective prime minister. He leads the talks about all the issues the informateur has not resolved, often this is the program of policies, the division of government portfolios and the personal composition of the cabinet.
If the formateur is successful the Queen appoints all ministers and state secretaries individually by Royal Decision (Koninklijk Besluit). In secret each minister declares an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. After this the entire Council of Ministers and the Queen are photographed on the stairs of the palace Huis ten Bosch. The new cabinet then proposes its plans to parliament.
Between the dissolution of parliament before the elections and the appointment of a new parliament after the elections, the incumbent cabinet remains a demissionary cabinet, a care taker government, limiting itself to urgent and pressing matters and traditionally not taking any controversial decisions. If the cabinet fell because one of the parties removed its support for the cabinet, it is possible that they leave the cabinet and the cabinet does not become demissionary yet: the other parties then continue to form a new cabinet, which is called a trunk cabinet, a minority government.
The formation is often considered as important as or even more important than the elections themselves. Because of the importance of negotiations, which can lead to policies that no party has promoted during the election, cabinet formations are sometimes seen as undemocratic. Recently it was attempted to make the process more democratic, with the formateur and informateur accounting for their actions before both the Tweede Kamer and the Queen. Another source of discontentment with this process is the role of the monarch in it.
For a list of historic Cabinets, see List of cabinets of the Netherlands
The first real cabinet was formed in 1848 after a constitution was adopted which limited the power of the King and introduced the principle of ministerial responsibility to parliament. Until 1888 cabinets lacked a real coordinating role, and instead ministers were focused on their own department. After 1888 cabinets became more political.
Of the [[List of cabinets of the Netherlands]|24 coalitions since the Second World War]], only 3 were without the largest party (all three times PvdA) and the largest number of parties in a coalition was 5 (in 1971 and 1973). After that, the three major Christian-democratic parties merged into CDA, and 2- or 3-party coalitions became standard.
Since 1945 there have been 25 cabinets, which were headed by 25 prime ministers. Willem Drees chaired the most cabinets (4) and Ruud Lubbers was prime minister the longest (between 1982 and 1994). The third Lubbers cabinet is the longest lasting cabinet since the Second World War (1749 days); only the cabinet led by Theo Heemskerk sat longer (2025 days). The first Balkenende cabinet is the shortest lasting normal cabinet since the Second World War (87 days); only the fourth cabinet of Hendrikus Colijn lasted shorter (10 days).fr:Gouvernements néerlandais d'après-guerre nl:Nederlands_kabinet