Rutte and Kaag are looking for the back rooms

The new management culture that the Rutte IV cabinet has proposed, and which has never really been defined, but which is often mentioned in combination with promises such as ‘more transparency and openness’ and ‘fewer back rooms’, has been very little in the House of Representatives in these weeks.

In the first round of talks with the opposition parties on the Spring Memorandum, which starts on Monday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) and Minister of Finance Sigrid Kaag (D66) are looking for more back rooms than in previous years. Already in the weeks before the break, the coalition parties from the House of Representatives and the top of the cabinet discussed what they think the budget should look like. Next week, the duo asked the sixteen faction leaders from the opposition parties. In the beginning of the May holidays, Tuesday, April 26, they received an email. ”Sigrid Kaag and Mark Rutte are happy to visit you in the House of Representatives for a discussion in connection with the spring decision-making process. They intend to discuss the budget with all opposition groups separately to take into account any wishes and points of attention. “

Also read: ‘New management culture’: what became of Rutte’s good intentions?

The consultations on the spring memorandum take place in the midst of great economic uncertainty – rising inflation, war in Ukraine, a tight labor market. In addition, the cabinet faces financial setbacks and additional expenses. At the end of last year, the Supreme Court banned the way the state taxes wealth; rich savers must be compensated for billions. The Senate, where the cabinet does not have a majority, canceled two proposed cuts (in youth care and in the national pension). In March, the government already decided to take measures worth almost 3 billion euros to compensate for declining purchasing power. The House of Representatives instructed the Cabinet to increase the defense budget further and faster. Politically sensitive is the question of how the extra billions to be spent should be financed: with higher taxes for citizens or businesses, with cuts elsewhere or with rising government debt?

Who with whom and where

In recent weeks, it was clear from Friday’s press conferences after the Council of Ministers that Rutte and Kaag were still trying to figure out how the talks with the opposition should take shape and who should lead them on behalf of the government: together separately, with all parties, in the Ministry or in the House of Representatives, during the May holidays or afterwards. One thing was clear: the talks would take place behind closed doors. That is, Rutte said, “inevitably.” “And then, of course, it’s up to the opposition parties whether they want to participate or not.”

It sounds a bit careless, but the government needs the opposition. The coalition parties VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie do not have a majority in the Senate – because they lack the six seats. And that is why – in addition to the government’s desire to find ‘the widest possible support’ – it is necessary to involve at least part of the opposition in the decision-making process. It has never happened before that the government is already currently looking for the opposition. Last week, Sigrid Kaag called it “an exercise in changing the political culture, how we work together. And that it is not a coalition versus an opposition, but hopefully a coalition from the starting blocks with different forms of support.”

Also read: Basic election: the government will renegotiate with the coalition parties

This new form of cooperation between the opposition can not yet count on much enthusiasm. It reminds Jesse Klaver, party leader for GroenLinks, that the coalition can help gain a majority in the Senate, about last year’s formation process. “They come up with plans and we can come up with something afterwards.” He would rather talk to the Cabinet from the start. “Then there really is a collaboration between the coalition and the opposition.”

It is unclear to the opposition parties how much the coalition factions have already crossed paths with each other and how much they can still add. In any case, PvdA and GroenLinks will lead the conversation with Rutte and Kaag together. The two sides, which have worked more intensively together since last year’s formation, will also have a common commitment in the negotiations.

Rattles and arranges

It is also a little uncomfortable for the rest of the opposition. Caroline van der Plas from the one-man faction BBB, who is not represented in the Senate, considered saying no, “because it seemed to me to rattle and arrange, as Kaag himself says, she is against”. In addition, she says, Kaag has “never” invited her for an interview. In the end, Van der Plas decided to accept the invitation – Kaag and Rutte visit her on Tuesday. “That way I can give my spearheads.” The BBB leader, for example, will talk about the nitrogen dossier and will make the Vestscheld tunnel tax-free – the turnover in 2020 was just under 30 million euros.

On April 26, RTL brought the news that the government has already decided to abandon the planned cuts in youth care (by half a billion euros). It was one of the two major criticisms of the opposition to the Rutte IV coalition agreement. Although the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport hurried to invalidate the RTL message, GroenLinks leader Klaver reacted immediately. “Good news for everyone in youth care!” he tweeted. “It’s good that this cut is off the table.” Piano acknowledges that it was a strategic tweet to hold the cabinet to it.

Like his PvdA colleague Attje Kuiken, Klaver will only talk to Rutte and Kaag when it comes to the whole package of new budget policy, to prevent the cabinet from shopping around with different parties per sub-topic to gain a majority. Still, as early as last week, GroenLinks tried to monetize a youth care component in the decision-making process through the media.

Sylvana Simons from BIJ1 addresses the consultation with “slight mistrust and reluctance”. Because she believes that decisions about the budget must be made in the public debate. She calls it “serious” that the government plans are in fact already coordinated with the coalition parties.

Lobby Mail

In addition to the cabinet, opposition leaders are also being bombarded with mail from the ‘lobby’ these days. Interest groups from various organizations knock on the door to explain their ideas on new government policies. Chairman Jacco Vonhof from MKB Nederland says that he has consulted with most of the party leaders from the House of Representatives. He is trying to convey his main message over a cup of coffee or via email or app traffic: no tax increase for businesses and entrepreneurs, as it was already rumored to have been leaked via NOS. It’s such a shame, Vonhof says in a statement, “that politicians are so quick to look to business to cover major setbacks.”

Joost Eerdmans from JA21 has planted this seed. In response to the question of what he will give Rutte and Kaag next Wednesday, he states: “No further tax increases for companies and entrepreneurs in the near future.” JA21, a split from the Forum of Democracy, could help the Cabinet to a seven-seat ‘seven-seat’ majority in the Senate.

The employer lobby is not heard by all parties. Esther Ouwehand (Party for the Animals): “They know we’re not sensitive to their lobby, so I suppose they’re focusing on other parties.”

Also hear this section of The Hague Case: Are we really becoming ‘collectively poorer’?

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