20th Jan 2022

Longest-ever Dutch cabinet formation reaches climax

  • Prime minister Mark Rutte will be forming his fourth government. At the earliest, the new cabinet will be sworn in the week of January 10 - after the Christmas recess (Photo: NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
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The longest government cabinet formation in Dutch history - 271 days as of Monday (13 December) - is finally approaching its denouement.

Outgoing, incoming, and current caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte's liberal party (VVD) will form a government with left-leaning liberals D66, the Christian Democrats (CDA), and the small protestant Christenunie (CU).

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"We are well on our way, so we hope we can come out soon," Wouter Koolmees, who is charged with forming the new government, said on Monday.

But meetings for the concluding touches are expected to last well into Monday night.

If the party leaders agree, the political groups will get the chance to propose amendments, with a public unveiling of the new government expected on Wednesday or Thursday.

However, at the earliest, the new cabinet will be sworn in in the week after the Christmas recess, in the week of January 10.

New money

Several new policy plans have been leaked to the press in recent days.

Billions of new investment in education and housing are outlined in leaked drafts, with a dedicated minister for housing to be created.

After years of spending cuts, the defence ministry will get a substantial budget boost of 25 percent.

"If we are going to let our people do dangerous work, they must be well-trained and well-equipped," outgoing minister of defence Henk Kamp (VVD) said last month. Currently, many Dutch marine vessels are unable to fulfil maritime missions due to personnel shortages.

The new cabinet will also replace the current child-benefit system with a straight income-based subsidy, which will mean free childcare for low-income groups.

This change follows a scandal in which tax authorities falsely accused thousands of families of cheating the state, forcing them to pay back years of subsidies.

In January, it forced the Dutch government to resign two months ahead of the election, with the price of compensating the 20,000 victims expected to exceed €5bn in 2022.

Rough ideas for a climate investment fund have also been floated, which will be paid for by loans, according to draft documents.

The new government will also reserve money to buy-out farmers to battle nitrogen pollution.

Finally, the student loan system will be revamped - although there are no details yet.

Old problems

Rutte told press in November that he expects this new cabinet will be one of "big transformation" and "momentum."

Yet the new coalition consists of the same four parties, with many of the old cabinet ministers keeping their position - plus the same prime minister.

And opinion polls show public trust in the group of ministers likely to be in the cabinet at an all-time low.

Research by the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) shows support for the government's handling of Covid-19 at 16 percent - the lowest point since the pandemic's start.

Rutte has highlighted change over continuity, promising voters "a very different cabinet."

But this fourth Rutte government will inherit many of the politically incendiary crises from his third.

With three parliamentary inquiries (the most potent instrument parliament has at its disposal to scrutinise the government) over its handling of the pandemic, the child-benefit scandal and gas extraction in Groningen planned, many political commentators doubt the longevity of the cabinet.

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