By Luuk Kuiper
— On 10 January 2022, almost ten months after the elections, a new Dutch government was sworn in by the king; Rutte IV. This article will go through the most important aspects of the conclusion to the historic 2021 election cycle.
For a refresher on the profiles of the mentioned parties, the layout of the Dutch government, or the drama that happened during the formation, check out The Herring’s previous coverage of the 2021 election cycle.
A Historic Formation
The Netherlands is infamous for its drawn-out formations being on average the slowest country to form a government in the entirety of post-WW2 Europe, edging out number two Austria by quite a large margin. Coming in at 299 days, Rutte IV had the longest formation period in Dutch history. With Rutte III (2017) coming in second at 225 days, and Van Agt I (1977) third at 203 days.
The New Old Government
Despite the considerable length of the formation, the resulting cabinet is very familiar: VVD, D66, CDA, and CU, the same four parties that made up Rutte III, will continue their governance.
This came somewhat unexpectedly as after the ‘Position Omtzigt, Function Elsewhere’ debacle Gert-Jan Segers, party leader of the CU, stated that he would not work together with Rutte in a coalition. Later Segers walked back his statement stating that he was too harsh on Rutte and that he does not “want to be merciless to people”, which in turn reopened the door for his party to join formation talks.
For D66 staying in what is essentially the Rutte III coalition was also not ideal. Especially since the party campaigned under the slogan “vote for new leadership”, only to return to the same coalition that disbanded in 2021 due to the discriminatory ‘allowance affair’. That is not to say D66 did not try to change the makeup of the coalition, they lobbied actively for working together with the progressive-left parties GL and PvdA. However, their efforts were ultimately shut down by the VDD and CDA only wanting to work with one of two leftist parties whilst GL and PvdA chose to stick together in the formation process resulting in a formation stalemate.
Although Rutte IV might contain the same parties as Rutte III there has been a slight power shift in light of D66’s successful election. With D66 now being the clear second largest contributor to this coalition, they have gained significant influence in order to pursue their progressive centre-left agenda points.
|Rutte III||Rutte IV|
|VDD (33), CDA (19), D66 (19), CU (5)||VDD (34), D66 (24), CDA (14), CU (5)|
The entirety of the 47-page coalition agreement can be found online. Here we will only brush upon some of the plans we deemed noteworthy from each of the seven main topics outlined in the agreement. Note that these are preliminary plans and only time will tell whether they will actually end up being realised.
1. Democratic Rule of Law
In light of the scandal-induced political trust crisis, the agreement starts by outlining how the new government aims to regain public trust. Plans include a clearer divide between parliament and cabinet, increasing the information provision to the ‘Tweede Kamer’, and increased support of local citizens’ initiatives.
2. Sustainable Country
Most notably to finance the Netherland’s sustainability push the cabinet has opted for specialised funds, created by taking out one-time loans, over systematic investment in combating climate change. The energy transition over the next ten years is to be financed by a €35 billion fund, whilst the nitrogen crisis, agriculture reform, and restoration of nature will be funded by a €25 billion fund. To aid this process the cabinet has created a new ministerial position specifically dedicated to climate and energy.
The agreement also lays out the plan to yearly build 100,000 new homes in and around existing cities, of which two-thirds will have to be cheaper than €355,000. Further plans to combat the housing crisis consist of a piecewise cancellation of rental tax for housing cooperatives and the reintroduction of the ministerial position for public housing and spatial planning whose predecessor was disbanded by Rutte I in 2010.
3. Safety and Strong Society
In the coming four years there will be €10,7 billion more invested in defence which will eventually build up to an extra 3 billion yearly structural investment. The agreement also outlines a larger focus on fighting the rampant organised crime in the Netherlands, leaning on Italy’s expertise in dealing with the mafia.
4. Social Security and Equality of Opportunity
To start in the school year 2023/2024 the student loan system will be disbanded and replaced by the restarting of basic grants with an income-related supplementary grant. For students who did not have the chance to make use of the basic grant system there will be 1 billion for student debt relief, coming in at about €1,000 per student.
Other notable plans include a 7.5% increase of the minimum wage over the next four years which will be mirrored by an equal increase to social benefits. A stepwise increase of childcare compensation up to 95% over an undisclosed period of time is also in the works.
5. Prosperous Country
Rutte IV will continue the efforts of previous VVD-led governments to stimulate the economy through investments in the start-up climate, public-private cooperation, and research and development centred companies. There will also be a structural investment of €170 million in the culture sector as well as the creation of a recovery plan in light of COVID-19’s impact on the sector. Lastly, the agreement outlines a commitment to digitalization and cybersecurity. Whilst also mentioning a dedication to online civil rights which includes a commitment to not using facial recognition without proper legal basis and controls.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the agreement outlines a commitment to strengthening pandemic preparedness; which includes planning an easily upscalable ICU capacity, the implementation of a health care reserve, and the possible appointment of a Chief Medical Officer to inform the cabinet.
Furthermore, Rutte IV aims to make working in health care more appealing. Although how this will be done is largely put in the hands of employers and there is no mention of an additional increase in health care workers wages.
In terms of international policy, it is most notable that Rutte IV takes a more pro-EU cooperation stance than previous cabinets. The agreement shows dedication to strengthening EU macro-economic policy, rule of law, and transparency of decisions.
The Netherlands will also increase the number of vulnerable refugees it takes in from the UN from 400 to 900 a year.