Second Balkenende cabinet
65th Cabinet of the Netherlands
|Date formed||22 May 2003|
|Date dissolved||30 June 2006
(Replaced on 7 July 2006)
|People and organisations|
|Head of government||Jan Pieter Balkenende|
|Head of state||Beatrix of the Netherlands|
|Member parties||Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)
People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
Democrats 66 (D66)
|Outgoing formation||2006 (demissionary)|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The second cabinet of Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands formed on 27 May 2003. It consisted of three political parties: People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), and Democrats 66 (D66), which was the smallest of the three.
On 29 June 2006, D66 dropped its support for the coalition. The next day, Prime Minister Balkenende offered the resignation of the cabinet to Queen Beatrix. Based on advice from the parliament, the Queen suggested a CDA-VVD minority government should be formed. The third Balkenende cabinet was installed on 7 July 2006.
On 24 January 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 did not have sufficient seats in the House of Representatives to continue in government without the support of a third party. Another coalition with Pim Fortuyn List would be likely to be unpopular with voters after the events of the first Balkenende cabinet, and D66 was unwilling to join such a coalition. A government supported by the orthodox Protestant Reformed Political Party (Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij, SGP) and the Christian democratic ChristianUnion (ChristenUnie, CU) was opposed by the VVD.
A long negotiation between CDA and the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) followed. The PvdA and CDA had come out of the elections as equal partners. The negotiations were troubled by the invasion of 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 was based on a very slim majority in parliament of 78 seats out of 150. When VVD MP Geert Wilders left his party on 2 September 2004 (continuing as a one-man party), the narrow majority of the second Balkenende cabinet slimmed down even further to 77 seats in the House of Representatives.
The cabinet program is based around the slogan: Mee doen, Meer Werk, Minder Regels (Participation, More Jobs, and Fewer Rules). 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).
Migration and 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 Rita Verdonk as a minister especially for this issue. 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 Kok cabinet by the current mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen. Controversially, 26,000 asylum-seekers who had lived in the Netherlands for over five years but who had not been granted asylum were deported. Furthermore, partners of Dutch citizens are only allowed to immigrate into the Netherlands if the Dutch partner earns more than 120 percent of the minimum income. This income requirement has been decreased back to 100% of the minimum wage in 2010 as a result of the judgement of the EU Court in the Chakroun case.
Since 2006, family migrants from 'non-Western' countries who want 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, in a Dutch Embassy or Consulates in the country of origin. Once in the Netherlands, migrants were obliged to pass a second test before receiving a permanent residence permit or being allowed to naturalise. 'Oudkomers', i.e. foreigners who have lived in the Netherlands for a long time, were obliged by the Dutch government to take the exam as well.
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.
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 second Kok cabinet, was rejected in second reading by the Senate. 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 have preserved proportional representation but have done so with supplemental 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.
Opposition to policy
The cabinet is facing opposition, from the official opposition in parliament, from 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 organized 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 promising 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 Verhofstadt II, have criticized the style of the Dutch cabinet, calling the prime minister Balkenende "Petty Bourgeois".
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.
The cabinet consists of 16 ministers and ten state secretaries (junior ministers). These positions are divided among the coalition members according to their size in parliament:
- The CDA supplies eight ministers and five junior ministers
- The VVD supplies six ministers and four junior ministers
- D66 supplies two ministers and one junior minister.
|State Secretary for European Affairs (Foreign Secretary)
|State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science(VVD)||Annette Nijs*; Mark Rutte|
|State Secretary for Culture and ICT
Ministry of Education, Culture and Science(D66)
|Medy van der Laan (resigned on 30 June 2006)|
|State Secretary of Finance (CDA)||Joop Wijn*|
|State Secretary for Defence (CDA)||Cees van der Knaap*|
|State Secretary for Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (CDA)||Pieter van Geel*|
|State Secretary for Transport, Public Works and Water Management (VVD)||Melanie Schultz van Haegen*|
|State Secretary for Economic Affairs (CDA)||Karien van Gennip|
|State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment (VVD)||Mark Rutte*; Henk van Hoof|
|State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport (CDA)||Clémence Ross-Van Dorp*|
In December 2003, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jaap 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 State Secretary for Higher Education Nijs and Minister of Education Van der Hoeven caused the departure of Nijs. This in turn caused a reshuffle: State Secretary for Social Affairs Rutte became State Secretary for Higher Education and Henk van Hoof (a state secretary in previous cabinets) became State Secretary for Social Affairs.
In March 2004 Minister for 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 considered 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 party led by Boris Dittrich refused to agree to a military ISAF mission in Uruzgan. When opposition party PVDA decided to change their vote and support the mission D66 backed down and Dittrich resigned as parliamentary leader.
State Secretary 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 alderman of The Hague Bruno Bruins, but the cabinet fell before he could be installed.
2006 cabinet crisis
Hirsi Ali, VVD member and Member or parliament at the time, had signed a statement in which she expressed regret that she had misinformed Minister Verdonk regarding her name. On 28 June, Hirsi Ali made it known that her statement was coerced. In a parliamentary debate on 28 June 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 to retain her passport. However, in a crucial moment during the debate, member of parliament Van Beek asked the Prime Minister about the purpose of the apology. The Prime Minister answered that "it was a statement that the Minister for Integration and Immigration had to be able to live with". This was interpreted widely as a political deal-making by Verdonk at the expense of Hirsi Ali and not just a legality.
As a result, a motion of no confidence was initiated by opposition party GroenLinks against Minister Verdonk. Coalition party D66 supported this motion with strong words, stating that either the minister had to go, or D66 would leave the cabinet. However, the motion did not get a majority vote. On 29 June, 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.
The apparent dissent between the D66 cabinet ministers opinion (that Verdonk did not have to go) and the D66 parliamentary group opinion (that Verdonk had to go) 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, Brinkhorst announced that he and Pechtold had resigned and supported their parliamentary group in this issue. The apparent difference was merely based on legality: Since the CDA and VVD ministers did not want to dismiss Verdonk, 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 parliamentary group.
Shortly after, Prime Minister Balkenende announced that all remaining members of the cabinet would offer their resignations (portfolios) to Queen Beatrix. At the end of that day, it was expected that new elections would be called for October 2006 at the earliest.
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. On his first day as parliamentary leader of the VVD, Mark Rutte was 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 keeping Verdonk as minister.
The newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad (FD) on 30 June commented that it was highly unusual for a cabinet to resign after surviving the 29 June 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. On the same day, the Volkskrant commented  that D66 never was a strong supporter of 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 skin" according to this paper. NRC Handelsblad's main editorial praised D66 and put the blame on Balkenende for not being able to limit the damage to a single minister. The paper questioned whether the CDA should maintain him as their political leader.
The timing of the cabinet collapse was poorly chosen for the two remaining coalition parties: 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 starting to deliver results. It was felt that CDA and VVD had not been able to benefit from it to its full potential. The polls had already showed improved voter support for VVD and CDA compared to the record-low results the year before. The 29 June Nova poll allotted 38 seats to the CDA, 31 seats to the VVD, and 3 seats to D66; a majority requires 76 seats.
With the collapse of the cabinet some of its initiatives became jeopardized: economic liberalization for gas utility companies, new rules for competition regulators, and liberalizations in the subsidized housing market. A demissionary cabinet would not have been able to tackle these issues but a minority government still could.
On 30 June 2006, the Prime Minister met with Queen Beatrix offering the resignation of the two D66 ministers and offering their portfolios to the other ministers. He expressed his preference for a minority government, a so-called rompkabinet. 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 were imminent for them: the Dutch military NATO mission to Uruzgan, Afghanistan, and the decision on the 2007 budget to be made in September 2006. The main opposition leaders were in favor of a demissionary cabinet (without authority for new policies), and elections as soon as possible.
In an interview with NRC Handelsblad on 1 July, Alexander Pechtold 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 by Pim Fortuyn List (LPF). According to Pechtold this explained the reluctance of VVD and CDA ministers to offer constructive solutions at the height of the crisis. The LPF expressed their support for a minority cabinet on numerous occasions, adding the irony that after the first Balkende cabinet failed in 2003 because of the destructive attitude of LPF, the same LPF was ready to replace D66.
2006 Information round
Also on 1 July, Queen Beatrix 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, which would have to seek support from one or more opposition parties for every decision. At this stage, general elections were planned to take place in November 2006. According to Lubbers the prospective third Balkenende cabinet should be based on the coalition agreement of 2003 and the more recent Easter Accord.
Lubbers' information task was expected to take until 7 July with elections set at 22 November 2006. However, Lubbers was able to present his final conclusions to the Queen already on 5 July. Balkenende was then appointed as the so-called formateur with the actual task of forming a new cabinet. He appointed new ministers and presented a formal cabinet statement to parliament on 7 July 2006.
- "Dutch Coalition Government Falls After D66 Withdraws". Bloomberg. 29 June 2006.
- Bonjour, 2010, Waarom het Nederlands beleids inzake inburgering in het buitenland strenger is dan het Franse;Bonjour, 2010, French and Dutch policies of civic integration abroad
- 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?
- "Dittrich opgevolgd door Van der Laan" (in Dutch). NOS News. 3 February 2006.
- "Dutch coalition under threat in row over Hirsi Ali". MSN Moneyline. 29 June 2006.
- "D66 withdraws support from coalition; confusion reigns". Expatica. 29 June 2006.
- (Dutch) Official House of Representatives transcript of this session www.tweedekamer.nl Link, warning: large file
- "Voltallig kabinet in crisisberaad" (in Dutch). NOS News. 29 June 2006.
- "Dutch coalition falls after resignation of D66 ministers". Expatica. 29 June 2006.
- "D66 laat kabinet vallen" (in Dutch). De Volkskrant. 29 June 2006.
- "CDA en VVD leggen schuld bij D66" (in Dutch). NOS News. 29 June 2006.
- Het Financieele Dagblad 30 June 2006
- Volkskrant 30 June 2006
- Geen regie in Torentje, 30 June 2006, NRC Handelsblad
- "Balkenende biedt ontslag kabinet aan" (in Dutch). Nu.nl. 30 June 2006.
- "CDA en VVD adviseren rompkabinet" (in Dutch). NOS News. 30 June 2006.
- (Dutch) Pechtold: CDA en VVD wilden verder zonder D66, 1 July 2006, www.nu.nl Link
- (Dutch) Lubbers werkt aan Balkenende III Juli 2 2006 www.nos.nl Link
- "Lubbers: verkiezingen 22 november" (in Dutch). NOS News. 3 July 2006.
- "Balkenende vormt zijn derde kabinet" (in Dutch). NOS News. 5 July 2006.
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