Second Balkenende cabinet

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The second cabinet of Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands formed on May 27, 2003. It consisted of three political parties: People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), and Democrats 66 (D66), which is the smallest of the three. On June 29, 2006, D66 dropped its support for the coalition. The next day, Prime Minister Balkenende offered the resignation of the cabinet to Queen Beatrix.<ref>"Dutch Coalition Government Falls After D66 Withdraws", Bloomberg, 2006-06-29. </ref> Based on advice from the parliament, the Queen suggested a CDA-VVD minority cabinet should be formed. The Third Balkenende cabinet was installed on July 7, 2006.

Contents

[edit] Formation

On January 24, 2003, Queen Beatrix asked Piet Hein Donner (minister of Justice for the CDA in the previous cabinet) to lead the coalition negotiations. The negotiations for the coalition were lengthy. Initially the CDA preferred to continue its right-wing coalition with the VVD, but they didn't have sufficient seats in the Tweede Kamer without the support of a third party. Another coalition with Lijst Pim Fortuyn would be likely to be unpopular with voters, after the events of the first Balkenende cabinet, and D66 was unwilling to join a coalition. A government supported by the orthodox christian SGP and CU was opposed by the VVD. A long negotiation between CDA and PvdA followed. The PvdA and CDA had come out of the elections as equal partners. The negotiations were troubled by the War in Iraq, the bad economic forecasts and personal animosity between the leader of the CDA Balkenende and leader of the PvdA Wouter Bos. After a couple of months talks were called off by Balkenende. At this point, D66 decided to join the coalition after all. The cabinet is based on a very slim majority in parliament of 78 seats out of 150. When VVD MP Geert Wilders left his party on September 2, 2004 (continuing as a one man party), the narrow majority of the second Balkenende cabinet slimmed down even further to 77 seats in the Tweede Kamer.

[edit] Policy

The cabinet program is based around the slogan: "Mee doen, Meer Werk, Minder Regels" (Participation, More Employment, and Fewer Regulations). The cabinet seeks to address the problems of integration of ethnic minorities (participation), the economic recession (more employment) and the lack of trust in government (Fewer Regulations).

[edit] Migration & Integration Policy

The most controversial issue the cabinet addressed is the perceived lack of integration of ethnic minorities, especially immigrants from Morocco and Turkey. To solve this problem this cabinet has tried to reduce the influx of migrants, and to force migrants to take an integration course. The cabinet appointed a minister especially for this issue: Rita Verdonk. She is one of the most controversial ministers of the cabinet.

The number of immigrants allowed into the Netherlands was reduced by enforcing the asylum seekers law of 2000 rigidly. This law was created under the second cabinet of Wim Kok by the current mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen. Controversially, 26,000 asylum seekers who had lived in the Netherlands for over 5 years, but who were not granted asylum were deported. Furthermore, partners of Dutch citizens are only allowed to immigrate into the Netherlands if the Dutch partner earns more than 130% of the minimum income.

Every person who wants to immigrate into the Netherlands must pass an integration test. It tests the applicant's knowledge of the Dutch language, political system and social conventions. The test must be taken before entering the Netherlands, preferably in a Dutch Embassy in the country of origin. "Oudkomers", migrants who have lived in the Netherlands for a long time, but have not integrated into Dutch society, were requested by the Dutch Government to take the exam as well.

[edit] Economic Reform

The cabinet took power at a time when the Netherlands' economy was in poor shape, with increasing unemployment and slight economic contraction. In order to jump start economic growth, the cabinet has proposed tax cuts and reform of the system of social welfare.

The cabinet has implemented a new law for disability pensions. Most people enjoyed disability pensions under the old disability law received pensions even if they were only partially disabled and could still work. The pensions of these people have been cut, and so they are forced to return to the workforce. Furthermore the cabinet has limited the possibility of early retirement. Without exception all Dutch employees will be forced to work until they have become 65, possibly longer.

The cabinet also has cut government spending by 5700 million euro, making a total of 11 billion euro, when combined with the cuts announced by the previous cabinet. Among other measures, free dental care, physiotherapy and anti-conception medication were cut, 12000 positions were to be eliminated in the armed forces and some of their bases closed, the link between benefit payment rates and salaries was to be broken, and the rental housing subsidy was reduced. At the same time, 4 billion euro in extra spending was made available, mainly in education and justice.

[edit] Institutional Reform

Another controversial issue is the reform of the Dutch political system. This was proposed in order to overcome the 'gap between politics and citizens', which became clear in the 2002 elections, which were dominated by the right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn. The cabinet also appointed a special minister for this, issue: Thom de Graaf, who proposed an ambitious reform proposal, but met much resistance. Two of the most important proposals were the directly elected mayor and the election system.

The Netherlands is one of the last countries in Europe not to have an elected mayor, instead he is appointed by the Crown. In order to change this the constitution has to be amended. A proposal to do this by Minister De Vries in 2001, under the Cabinet Kok-II, was rejected in second reading by the higher house. This was because it would allow the controversial plans of De Graaf to be implemented. This would involve a mayor, directly elected by the city's population, who would have considerable power to take care of security and public order.

The proposed election system would mirror the election system of Germany: proportionality would be preserved, but they would be supplemented by regional candidates.

Both proposals were withdrawn after the Easter Crisis (see below at mutations). The current minister of Institutional Reform, Pechtold, will institute two councils, one composed of specialists and one of citizens, who would propose a new election system.

[edit] Opposition to Policy

The cabinet is facing opposition, both from the official opposition in parliament, an extra-parliamentary movement, from international circles and from within.

The left-wing parties in parliament are critical of this government. They perceive the policy on migration and integration as too hard and causing polarization between Dutch people and immigrants, and the economic reforms and budget cuts as untimely, because of the recession.

The extra-parliamentary movement "Keer het Tij" (Turn the Tide) has organized mass demonstrations against the government. Important partners within Keer het Tij are the three main left-wing political parties, PvdA, SP and GroenLinks), the largest trade union, the FNV, environmental organisations like Greenpeace and Milieu Defensie, and organisations of migrants. In 2004 they orgainized a political demonstration in the Hague. At the time the negotiations between the cabinet, the employers and the unions on early retirement had broken off, with the union leaders promissing a "hot autumn".

Most international criticism comes from Belgium. Two ministers, the liberal minister of Foreign Affairs De Gucht and the socialist vice-prime minister Van den Bossche of the purple Cabinet Verhofstad, have criticized the style of Dutch cabinet, calling the prime minister Balkenende "Petty Bourgeois".<ref>De Gucht described Balkenende as een mix tussen Harry Potter en extreme stijfburgerlijkheid, een man in wie ik geen spoor van charisma kan ontdekken (different sources give slightly different versions of this quotation). Regarding Netherlands ministers he said Hebben jullie in jullie kranten soms personeelsadvertenties staan met: als je niet stijf, truttig en kleinburgerlijk bent, kom je niet in aanmerking voor een ministerspost?</ref>

Criticism also rose out of the ranks of the largest government partner, the CDA. The former Christian-Democratic Prime Minister Dries van Agt and former leader of the parliamentary party, De Vries, criticized the cabinet for its anti-social policy. Minister Pechtold has opposed cabinet policy on terrorism and drug law in the media, breaking the unity of cabinet.

[edit] Composition

The cabinet consists of 16 ministers and 10 state secretaries (junior ministers). These positions are divided among the coalition members according to their size in parliament: The CDA supplies 8 ministers and 5 junior ministers, the VVD supplies 6 ministers and 4 junior ministers and finally D66 supplies 2 ministers and 1 junior minister. 18 of these were also in the first Balkenende cabinet: they are marked with an * in the list below.

[edit] Ministers

Portfolio Minister
Prime Minister,
Minister of General Affairs (CDA)
Jan Peter Balkenende*
Deputy Prime Minister,
Finance minister (VVD)
Gerrit Zalm
Deputy Prime Minister,
Minister of Economic Affairs (D66)
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst (resigned on June 30, 2006); Gerrit Zalm (ad interim)
Minister of Home affairs (VVD) Johan Remkes*
Minister of Foreign affairs (CDA) Jaap de Hoop Scheffer*; Bernard Bot.
Justice Minister (CDA)Piet Hein Donner*
Minister of Education, Culture and Science (CDA)Maria van der Hoeven*
Minister for Development Coordination (CDA)Agnes van Ardenne*
Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (VVD)Hans Hoogervorst*
Minister of Defence (VVD)Henk Kamp*
Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VVD)Sybilla Dekker
Minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management (CDA) Karla Peijs
Minister for Government Reform and Kingdom Relations (D66)Alexander Pechtold (resigned on June 30, 2006)
Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (CDA)Cees Veerman*
Minister of Social Affairs and Employment (CDA)Aart Jan de Geus*
Minister for Immigration and Integration (VVD)Rita Verdonk

[edit] Junior Ministers

Portfolio State Secretary
Junior minister of European Affairs (Foreign Secretary)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (VVD)
Atzo Nicolaï*
Junior minister of Education, Culture and Science(VVD)Annette Nijs*; Mark Rutte; Maria van der Hoeven (ad interim)
Junior minister of Culture and ICT
Ministry of Education, Culture and Science(D66)
Medy van der Laan (resigned on June 30, 2006); Maria van der Hoeven (ad interim)
Junior minister of Finance (CDA)Joop Wijn*
Junior minister of Defensie (CDA) Cees van der Knaap*
Junior minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (CDA)Pieter van Geel*
Junior minister of Transport, Public Works and Water Management (VVD)Melanie Schultz van Haegen*
Junior minister of Economic Affairs (CDA)Karien van Gennip
Junior minister of Social Affairs and Employment (VVD)Mark Rutte*; Henk van Hoof
Junior minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (CDA)Clémence Ross-Van Dorp*

[edit] Key events

In December 2003 Minister of Foreign Affairs De Hoop Scheffer was appointed secretary-general of the NATO. He was succeeded by former diplomat Ben Bot.

In June 2004 a personal conflict between Junior Minister for Higher Education Nijs and Minister of Education Van der Hoeven caused the departure of Nijs. This in turn caused a reshuffle: Junior Minister for Social Affairs Rutte became Junior Minister of Higher Education and Henk van Hoof (junior minister in previous cabinets) became Junior Minister of Social Affairs.

In March 2004 Minister of Institutional Reform and Kingdom Affairs De Graaf resigned after the rejection of the constitutional amendment that would allow for elected mayors. A government crisis erupted when all the three D66 ministers consided resigning. The plans for institutional reform were watered down in exchange for more money for education in the so-called Easter Accord (because it was signed on the day before Easter) and D66 continued to support the cabinet. De Graaf was succeeded by the mayor of Wageningen Pechtold. The position of Deputy Prime Minister was taken up by Minister of Economic Affairs Brinkhorst.

In February 2006 another crisis loomed when the D66 parliamentary fraction lead by Boris Dittrich refused to agree with a military ISAF mission in Uruzgan. When opposition party PVDA decided to change their vote and support the mission <ref>(Dutch) "Dittrich opgevolgd door Van der Laan", NOS News, 2006-02-03.</ref> D66 backed down and Dittrich resigned as parliamentary leader.

Junior Minister for Higher Education Mark Rutte left the cabinet to become parliamentary leader of the VVD on 28 June 2006. He was supposed to be succeeded by former The Hague Alderman Bruno Bruins, but the cabinet fell before he could be installed.

[edit] 2006 cabinet crisis

On June 29 2006 a cabinet crisis erupted after cabinet member Rita Verdonk lost the support of the coalition party D66 over the Ayaan Hirsi Ali identity fraud controversy.<ref>"Dutch coalition under threat in row over Hirsi Ali", MSN Moneyline, 2006-06-29.</ref><ref>"D66 withdraws support from coalition; confusion reigns", Expatica, 2006-06-29.</ref>

Hirsi Ali had signed a statement in which she expressed regret that she had misinformed the Minister regarding her name. On June 28 she made it known this statement was coerced. In a parliamentary debate on June 28 extending into the next day Verdonk and the Prime Minister maintained that the purpose of this statement was a legal one: Hirsi Ali was required to declare her intention to keep the name Hirsi Ali in order for her to retain her passport. However, in a crucial moment during the debate, the Prime Minister, in reply to a question by member of parliament van Beek asking about the purpose of the apology, answered that "it was a statement that the Minister for Integration and Immigration had to be able to live with".<ref> (Dutch) Official Tweede Kamer transcript of this session www.tweedekamer.nl Link, warning: large file</ref> This statement was interpreted widely as political deal making by Verdonk at the expense of Hirsi Ali and not just a legality.

As a result, coalition party D66 supported the motion of no confidence against the Minister initiated by opposition party Groen Links in very strong words, stating that either the minister had to go, or that D66 would leave the cabinet. This motion did not get a majority vote. Later in the day on June 29 the Prime Minister issued a statement declaring that the ministers unanimously declared that the rejected motion did have no consequences for the cabinet (as it was not supported, the minister was not forced to go). The chairman of the parliamentary D66 group, Lousewies van der Laan then declared in a new parliamentary session that D66 could no longer support the entire cabinet <ref>(Dutch) "Voltallig kabinet in crisisberaad", NOS News, 2006-06-29.</ref>.

The apparent differences between the D66 cabinet minister opinion (that the rejected motion did not mean that Verdonk had to go), and from the D66 parlaimentary group (that D66 support to the motion meant she had to) resulted in some tense hours where it appeared that the two D66 cabinet ministers Laurens Jan Brinkhorst and Alexander Pechtold had broken away from their party, supporting the cabinet but not their party member Lousewies van der Laan. However in a reconvened parliamentary session later that evening Laurens Jan Brinkhorst announced that he and Alexander Pechtold had resigned and supported their parliamentary fraction in this issue. The apparent difference was based on legality. As the VVD and CDA members of the cabinet did not want to fire minister Verdonk, as members of the cabinet the D66 ministers could do nothing but state the obvious legal fact that an unsupported motion has no legal consequence. The political decision to leave the coalition was subsequently made by the parlaimentary group.

Shortly after Prime Minister Balkenende announced that all remaining members of the cabinet would offer their resignations (portfolios) to Queen Beatrix.<ref>"Dutch coalition falls after resignation of D66 ministers", Expatica, 2006-06-29.</ref><ref>(Dutch) "D66 laat kabinet vallen", De Volkskrant, 2006-06-29.</ref>

At the conclusion of that day it was expected that new elections would be called for, which could be held in October 2006 at the earliest. Unlike the election process in for instance the United Kingdom where elections take place 4 weeks after its announcement, in the Netherlands it can take months between announcing elections and election day itself.

In the meantime VVD and CDA blamed D66 for the cabinet's demise: they argued that Verdonk did in fact respect the wishes of parliament when she ordered the re-examination of Hirsi Ali's passport position.<ref>(Dutch) "CDA en VVD leggen schuld bij D66", NOS News, 2006-06-29.</ref> Mark Rutte on his first day as parliamentary leader of the VVD was especially furious with D66, labeling their actions as scandalous. Lousewies van der Laan countered that she wanted only Verdonk and not the entire cabinet to resign, and that it was about the coerced statement, which she interpreted as abuse of power by the minister. She blamed VVD and CDA for deciding to keep Verdonk as minister.

The newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad (FD) on June 30<ref name=fd300606>Het Financieele Dagblad June 30 2006</ref> commented that it was highly unusual for a cabinet to resign even when they had survived the June 29 motion of no confidence. According to the FD, Balkenende made an expensive miscalculation and the coalition was not able to cope with accumulation of governmental screw ups, ego maniacal told-you-so attitude and political profiteering. As Prime Minister, Balkenende should have steered his cabinet around the pitfalls.

The Volkskrant on the same day commented <ref name=vk300606>Volkskrant June 30 2006</ref> that D66 never was a strong supporter for this center-right cabinet and least of all a supporter of Verdonk. The newspaper described Balkenende as a poor leader with his ministers failing to acknowledge him. In short the cabinet slipped over a banana peel according to this paper.

NRC Handelsblad's <ref>Geen regie in Torentje June 30 2006 NRC Handelsblad</ref> main editorial praised D66 and put the blame with Balkenende for not being able to limit the damage to a single minister, the paper questioned wether the CDA should maintain him as their political leader.

The timing of the cabinet collapse was poorly chosen for the two remaining coalition parties:<ref name=vk300606/> the economy was improving after 3 years of harsh reforms and little growth; finally more people were working and unemployment rates showed a decline. The reforms initiated three years ago (one of them a 20 billion euro spending cut) were also starting to deliver results. It was felt that CDA and VVD have not been able to benefit from it to its full potential.<ref name=vk300606/>

The polls already showed improved voter support for VVD and CDA compared to the record-low results the year before.<ref name=vk300606/> The June 29 Nova poll allots 38 seats to the CDA, 31 seats to the VVD and 3 seats in parliament to D66; a majority requires 76 seats.

With the collapse of the cabinet new initiatives that were jeopardized were a proposed economic liberalization for gas utility companies, new regulations and new rules for competition regulators and liberalizations in the subsidized housing market. A Demissionair cabinet would no longer be able to tackle these issues but a minority government still could.

On June 30 2006 the Prime Minister met with Queen Beatrix offering the resignation of the two D66 ministers and offering the Portfolio of the other ministers.<ref>(Dutch) "Balkenende biedt ontslag kabinet aan", Nu.nl, 2006-06-30.</ref> Balkenende expressed his preference for a minority government, a so-called rompkabinet.<ref>(Dutch) "CDA en VVD adviseren rompkabinet", NOS News, 2006-06-30.</ref> Maxime Verhagen of the CDA and Mark Rutte (VVD) also gave their support for this solution when they were invited for consultation with Beatrix. Two important considerations for them were the imminent Dutch military NATO mission to Uruzgan Afghanistan and Budget Day in September 2006 which decides much of policy making for the year 2007.

The main opposition leaders were in favor of a Demissionair cabinet (without authority for new policies) and elections as soon as possible.

On July 1, Alexander Pechtold in an interview with NRC Handelsblad <ref> (Dutch) Pechtold: CDA en VVD wilden verder zonder D66 July 1 2006 www.nu.nl Link </ref> raised his suspicion that VVD and CDA had already for a long time been prepared to drop D66 from the coalition in favor of the support of List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) in a minority cabinet. According to Pechtold it would explain the reluctance of VVD and CDA ministers to offer constructive solutions at the heigth of the crisis. The LPF on numerous occasions expressed their support for a minority cabinet adding the irony that after the first Balkende cabinet failed in 2003 because of the destructive attitude of LPF, it seems again the same LPF to replace D66.

[edit] 2006 Information round

Also on July 1, Queen Beatrix (as a non-elected Head of State) appointed Minister of State and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers as so-called informateur to see if a so called 'rump cabinet' could be formed. This would be a cabinet of CDA and VVD with a minority of seats in parliament. This cabinet would therefore have to seek support from one or more opposition parties for every decision. General elections at this stage were planned to take place in November 2006 <ref>(Dutch) Lubbers werkt aan Balkenende III Juli 2 2006 www.nos.nl Link</ref>. According to Lubbers the prospective Third Balkenende cabinet should be based on the Regeerakkoord of 2003 and the more recent Easter Accord.

This information was expected to take until July 7 with elections set at November 22 2006 <ref>(Dutch) "Lubbers: verkiezingen 22 november", NOS News, 2006-07-03.</ref> but Lubbers was able to present his final conclusions to the Queen already on July 5 <ref>(Dutch) "Balkenende vormt zijn derde kabinet", NOS News, 2006-07-05.</ref>. Balkenende was then appointed as the so-called formateur with the actual task of forming a new cabinet, appoint new ministers and presenting a formal cabinet statement to parliament, completed on July 7 2006.

[edit] References

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Second Balkenende cabinet

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