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‘New Rutte IV administrative culture will be difficult to create’

The Rutte IV cabinet is more or less complete. It includes more women than ever. For the first time ever, the Netherlands will have two ethnic minority ministers, and ministers without political experience but with plenty of professional expertise will also be making their debut. However, political scientist Tom Louwerse doesn’t expect Rutte IV to bring about much of the promised ‘new elan’. Three questions about the new cabinet.

A Dutch broadsheet has called Rutte IV the cabinet of emancipation. Do you agree?

‘There are a lot of women in this cabinet. In that respect it is much more balanced than previous cabinets, for the VVD in particular. They did pretty badly last time because they only had one female minister whereas now they have five of the eight. What you see is that this is being taken much more seriously, also by the right-wing parties. If you only start thinking about women in the last phase, you’re a bit late of course. You have to be active much sooner and I think that is what has happened.

‘You also see the same when it comes to ethnic minority ministers. ‘I couldn’t believe it when I read that it’s only now that the first two ministers from such a background have been appointed [Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius as Minister of Security and Justice and Franc Weerwind as Minister for Legal Protection, ed.]. So more attention has been paid to that too. I’m convinced that the parties don’t just nominate these people because of their background but mainly because they are suited to the job. It’s good that the idea of diversity can help you assemble a somewhat less one-sided government team. Whether this will translate into different policy is another matter.’

In recent months there has been a lot of talk about a new administrative culture and a cabinet with new elan. What is your take on this?

‘I think it will be difficult to create a new administrative culture like that. We have an electoral system that is very proportional. The threshold to entering the House of Representatives is low. Some parties only win one seat, but still see their opinions represented. The system is geared towards a reflection. But decisions in parliament are then made with a majority. Then it’s a matter of counting heads and finding a majority. As coalition parties want to get things done, you get thick coalition agreements in which they tick off everything so you’ve already arranged a majority. The discomfort about the current administrative culture, which the coalition dominates too much, is linked to this transition in parliament from a proportional logic to a majority logic, and that is something you can’t eliminate.’

‘Coalition parties could be more critical in their checking role in the House of Representatives. They can be very docile at times’ – Tom Louwerse

‘Coalition parties can be more critical in their checking role in the House of Representatives. They can be very docile. A critical approach doesn’t have to lead to a cabinet crisis. There is sometimes a somewhat anxious desire to keep it all together, which is typical of Rutte’s style. He wants to control that process and that often leads to backroom consultations and an uncritical attitude in coalition parties. It’s not necessary, not even in the situation where you as a coalition member have committed to the coalition agreement. People in the House who are slightly more difficult would be good.’

We will have a doctor as Minister of Health and an academic as Minister of Education, Culture and Science. Should we be pleased with these ministers from the field?

‘In recent years we’ve seen a lot of career politicians who start off as party members and become an MP and so on. They are embedded in the loyal party line. Ministers like Ernst Kuipers and Robbert Dijkgraaf don’t have that political baggage and may therefore have a more independent attitude. They can also put issues from the field on the agenda and take their own initiatives. Obviously there’s a risk as well. You have to put up with a lot. All sorts of people will say nasty things about you and no one is ever really pleased, apart from your coalition colleagues, but they have to be. They are very experienced people, of course. If you are chairman of the board of a large hospital, you have a huge amount of administrative experience. But administrative experience and political experience aren’t the same thing.’

Text: Tim Senden
Photo: ANP

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