An exceptional debate today in the House of Representatives: Parliament talks to directors about the minutes of the Council of Ministers published. This concerns, in particular, confidence in the cabinet and the current culture of governance, which, for example, leads to the Court being unable to perform its control function properly.
In the minutes, critical MPs were perceived by directors as difficult. For example, demissionary Prime Minister Mark Rutte complained about CDAer Pieter Omtzigt who brought the payment affair to roll. But also Helma Lodders (VVD) and Renske Leijten (SP) were described as “activistic”. There were even attempts to sensitize them; they had to keep quiet.
According to the opposition, it has become clear that the Cabinet paid more attention to its own image than to solving problems of victims in the payment affair. As a result, the Chamber did not receive all the information requested from the Cabinet. According to experts, this has violated the constitution, which lays down the right of information of the Court.
And recently, especially demissionary Prime Minister Mark Rutte received a lot of criticism about his way of governance, and the minutes show that parties participated in it broadly.
“ Its a mess,” says Professor of State Law Wim Voermans. He therefore refers to the overdue maintenance of the information management. It resulted in “panic football” in the then Secretary of State Menno Snel, who was responsible for the House for answers. “Even though he wanted to give information, he couldnt do it. And then its prize-shooting for the Chamber. Every time they asked, he couldnt give more information.”
The way in which the cabinet handled the provision of information about the payment affair is counter-constitutional according to Voermans. “They actually said: we protect civil servants, but also all the pieces. We close the curtain for the whole internal deliberation. Thats a huge step to make.”
Voermans also notes that many similar incidents have occurred over the past ten years, but that the consequences for those responsible were small. “Over the past ten years, there have been 43 information incidents and only 10% of ministers had to resign. In the past, poor information was a mortal sin, but it hasnt been the case for a long time.”
Yet the Dutch administrative culture has been a problem for much longer, say former MPs to Nieuwsuur. “In the past, it was also tried to diminish the minded parliamentary groups from the cabinet,” says Jacques Wallage, former group chairman of the PvdA in the House of Representatives. “For example, as chairman of the group in 1994, I heard from ministers very often: hey, could you not even keep that and that member of your parliament a little inboard? Because we have a lot of problems with that.”
Henk Kamp, former MP and minister in various cabinets on behalf of the VVD, puts his hand in his own bosom. “I didnt do everything right either. I had contact with MPs of opposition groups, but more with MPs from coalition groups and my own group. That is why I am also partly responsible for this culture.”
Although the problems have only worsened, the former Green Left Group chairman Bram van Ojik notes. Because of the fragmented Chamber, the coalition is larger, so the coalition parties are less sure of their cause. “That is why everything is accompanied by more and more excitement, big words and profiling urge. This is often at the expense of the quality of the debate, and that is now problematic.”
Jet Bussemaker also recognizes that changes are now needed. Although the former minister (PvdA) thinks that total transparency is not desirable. “If you cant speak freely in a Council of Ministers, you cant make any more compromises.”
“ I would like to go more to a learning culture, says Bussemaker. “A culture in which you discuss with each other that something is going wrong. So the question now is: how can we quickly put the finger on the sore spot? And can we create a culture together in which we make improvements and continue to learn every day?”
According to Kamp, opposition parties must be less negative. “The attitude of the opposition is looking to put the cabinet away as fools. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to be constructively critical, like Pieter Omtzigt.” In addition, according to Kamp, the cabinet should be less close to the coalition fractions. “Within the coalitions too much is aligned. This takes such forms that there is an inadequate critical attitude in the House of Representatives of the coalition fractions.”
Van Ojik thinks that a better culture begins with the conclusion of a coalition agreement. “The political groups should not commit themselves so much to a coalition agreement. As a result,the MPs, in both opposition and coalition parties, are free to follow the Cabinet as critically as possible.”
And the Cabinet must accept that the MPs of the coalition fractions also have a duty to control the government, says Wallage. “They should not be hypersensitive. In some strange way, the debate is so rough that, on the one hand, people consider it normal for Members of Parliament to go in with a straight leg, as Mr Wilders does every day. On the other hand, ministers should not have long toes, but accept that they are even staff.”