If the Rutte IV cabinet is on the platform next week, there will be a few surprising faces in the picture. Most new ministers already have political experience, but some come from a completely different sector such as healthcare, science or business.
were also such outsiders in earlier cabinets. Sometimes ministers or secretaries of state even became members of the political party for which they joined the cabinet just before their appointment. But why exchange a good career outside the political for a high-risk enterprise like the ministry?
Steven van Eijck became Secretary of State for Finance in 2002 in the Balkenende I Cabinet, on behalf of the Pim Fortuyn (LPF) List. Not before the LPF, he emphasizes: “I have never been a member of the LPF, and then never from any other political party.” In his portfolio, he had, among other things, tax matters and the tax authorities. For his Secretary of State, he had also engaged in this at Erasmus University, as a lecturer in fiscal economics. “Thats why it felt familiar.”
According to Van Eijck, the main reason for trading a non-political career for a cabinet post must be that you want to change something from your ideals and that you are of added value for that: “I wanted to move towards a simpler and fairer tax system. And I had a knowledge of business.”
Uri Rosenthal, from 2010 to 2012 for the VVD Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Rutte I cabinet, also emphasizes the ideal side: “You have the power to change something. But its also not the case that you can do that at the touch of a button.” According to him, some government officials look at that. “You should not take successful politicians who dance on the table as a starting point. You see plenty of careers that end in tears.” Unlike Van Eijck, Rosenthal already had political experience. He was first a member and later party chairman of the VVD in the Senate, but he was also active in science and business.
If you come from outside politics, you have to take into account the unique mores of politics, among other things. Being accountable means something completely different as a director of a hospital, for example. Youre much more responsible for what others do, Rosenthal says, “If others like officials do something wrong, it can cost you the head.”
You have to be able to cope with that, he outlines: “Its no longer like in academia that the arguments that are most convincing are winning. For the scientist, the glasses of the creative mind apply, the majority of the votes for the government.” Being right is at least equal to getting equal.
Press and social media pressure
And then there is also the pressure from the outside, from the media for example: “As a government person, you can get a microphone under your nose at any time and you are supposed to have an answer ready. Even if you already have media experience, thats different. If you are a scientist, you can choose whether to do a media performance.”
In addition to traditional media, there is also the pressure of social media today. Van Eijck: “Its really different than it was twenty years ago.” Van Eijck says the climate is hardened, on Twitter and Facebook it is sometimes of “a tear-jerking sadness”, even if no threats are made.
Government officials face security and may not always be able to walk the streets alone. Rosenthal: “You can stand up to it yourself, but you also have to wonder if that applies to your partner and your children. For example, if you have children of a vulnerable age, do you want to harm them to be taunting at school because their father or mother is in the news?”
It also plays a role that politics is a pretty uncertain existence. Your ministry can be over in a moment. Balkenende I, in which Van Eijck was sitting, fell even after 87 days. “I went in naive. I knew that a cabinet period only lasts four years, but that it would end so quickly has surprised me. I hadnt arranged anything for the period after that.”
Rosenthal was already entitled to retirement when he became a minister, so that was less of a problem for him. For many years, he was professor of public administration at Leiden University and an advisor for an agency in the field of safety and crisis management. “I had combined multiple functions all my working life. As a minister, you lose all ancillary functions.”
Yet he does not think that Ernst Kuipers or Robbert Dijkgraaf should be seriously concerned if the cabinet would fall or their party to the next formation falls by the wayside: “Their reputation is not suddenly gone, unless they do make it very bright in their ministry.”
A career as a government person also deliversregard on. He was only a short secretary of state, but then Van Eijck was appointed by the Balkenende II cabinet as special commissioner to report on youth policy. And at the moment, he is a member of the Social and Economic Council (SER), an important advisory body of the government. Van Eijck “It certainly brought me a lot.”