Member of Parliament Liane den Haan got cakes with coffee and rooibos tea. At PvdA and GroenLinks, sandwiches and milk were ready for Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) and Minister of Finance Sigrid Kaag (D66).
Together, Rutte and Kaag visited opposition groups this week and sought support for the so-called Spring Memorandum in June and the new budget later this year. But have they accumulated more than just calories?
Rutte said at his weekly press conference Friday afternoon that he had heard “a lot.” “And the atmosphere was pleasant.” There was no further agreement, no. “But the goal was not to make appointments in the back rooms.”
It will almost certainly not be easy to get enough support for the budget in the Senate, where the Route IV cabinet does not have a majority. The opposition consists of many parties, in which the government sees a strong profiling urge. Getting a few of the parties to support the government for as long as it has sometimes been possible before is unlikely.
And there are huge financial gaps due to huge expenses. Following pressure from the Senate, more money must be spent on youth care, and the national pension will still increase with the planned increase in the minimum wage. More money goes to the defense. And the cabinet must compensate savers who have wrongfully paid too much wealth tax in box 3. All in all, it would be a deficit of between 10 and 15 billion euros.
There is no hurry, Rutte said on his tour of the opposition. The government must send the spring memorandum to the Folketing before 1 June, but the money for all expenses must not be settled until September on the budget day. And there is already mutual agreement on two thirds of the economic solution between the governing parties VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie.
To the annoyance of especially the PvdA and GroenLinks, Rutte and Kaag did not want to say anything private about the coalition agreements. It’s a tactic: the ruling parties know that the opposition will always demand more than the four of them have already come up with. Rutte and Kaag first wanted to hear what the opposition’s wishes are – they think it is appropriate in a ‘new political culture’ where the coalition does not fix everything.
In the Senate, Route IV (with only 32 seats) could find support from the PvdA and GroenLinks (a total of 14 seats). Or on JA21 (7 seats), possibly supplemented with support from SGP (2).
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JA21 bets high, it’s tactics too. The party wants more purchasing power for the middle groups, compensating everyone in box 3, more money for nuclear energy and a stricter asylum policy. The latter is difficult for the coalition parties D66 and ChristenUnie and is unlikely now that Ter Apel application center is flooded.
In return for their support, the PvdA and GroenLinks do not want a little bit of this or a little bit of that, but a left-wing turn that should make the Netherlands less unequal. For example: more wealth tax, higher minimum wage, affordable energy prices for low incomes.
But the negotiations did not get to the sandwiches at all. Rutte and Kaag remained reluctant, Jesse Klaver and Attje Kuiken listed a few well-known points from their election programs, it did not go much further.
For example, the opposition tour seemed to be primarily a public display of ‘listening’. For some party leaders, it was the first time they met Kaag – he passed the BBB fraction on Wednesday and was almost on CDA when Rutte called back: “We have to be here, Sigrid. Hi Caroline!”
On Friday, Rutte said the talks were not only good for the plans: “The mutual relations have also been deepened.”
The big question is: how close is the cabinet to the large holes? Rutte even mentioned higher taxes for businesses and the wealthy to improve the purchasing power of people with little money. On the table are also the 35 billion euros for the energy transition and the 25 billion euros for the nitrogen crisis. If the two funds, with borrowed money, are made smaller, it would not immediately provide money, but it would provide space in the budget once.
Rutte and Kaag have listed the opposition’s proposals. The government can now agree on what plans, for example in the form of opposition proposals, can be supported in the House of Representatives. And perhaps not by all coalition parties, but by a few who, in turn, would fit into the new ‘culture’ where governing parties would hold on less to each other.
In the coalition, they can hardly imagine that the opposition will vote against plans that fulfill at least part of their wishes, which may undermine the entire budget.
Next week, just like last week, the opposition will request a parliamentary debate on the tour of Rutte and Kaag. They will almost certainly make a big point out of it if the four coalition parties stop this again. At VVD, D66, CDA, ChristenUnie, people think like Rutte: There is still a good time.