Former informator Herman Tjeenk Willink is very critical of the course of the formation. The negotiating parties are in an impasse after months of consultations. “In the long run, this undermines the credibility of politics,” says Tjeenk Willink in an interview with Nieuwsuur.
“All sorts of major issues need to be solved. The relevant question is: how do we get out of this situation that everyone is so unhappy about?”
After the March election, the House of Representatives appointed Tjeenk Willink as a computer officer, a role he played five times earlier. In his final report, he wrote at the end of April that the substantive formation could begin. He advocated a coalition agreement on the outline.
Four months later, there‘s still no new cabinet. Yesterday, VVD and CDA blocked a coalition with GroenLinks and PvdA. And D66 doesn’t want to continue with the current coalition with ChristenUnie.
Tjeenk Willinks successor Mariëtte Hamer failed to form a majority cabinet. “It didn‘t surprised me,” says Tjeenk Willink. “You’ve seen it coming from miles away for a long time. At the same time, it also gives a sense of consolation, in a sense deputy shame.”
Tjeenk Willink attributes the impasse in the formation to the “inward” of politics. “The differences between the parties are bridgeable, money is not a problem at the moment. And yet the negotiators don‘t come to talk about the content. Despite saying ‘we should not talk about who with whom, but about the content‘, it’s just about who with whom.”
“A wonderful paradox,” he calls it. “It undermines the credibility of democracy, politics, parliament, when there are major problems to solve.”
Legal Order Hollow
In 2018, former politician and former top official Tjeenk Willink wrote a book about confidence in politics. He replenished that book with new chapters over the past few months, including the current formation. He sees the impasse as an example “of the eradication of the democratic legal order”.
According to him, parties are too busy with themselves and each other, and too little with the outside world and with the problems in society. Cause: Political parties have lost their vision and stable supporters in recent decades. “It‘s uncertainty about the position of your party which makes your landmark the other and not so much the problem that needs to be solved.”
Tjeenk Willink said not only parties, but also the government as a whole lost bond with society. “The government expects everything from the citizen but what the citizen of the government should expect has become unclear. And that makes it uncertain, that creates mistrust while your whole system is built on trust.”
As an example, he mentions the payment scandal, in which the Tax Administration wrongly regarded many people as a fraudster. “Most people are right, but the government assumes mistrust. Then you’ll get distrust back.”
How did it get this far? Tjeenk Willink points to three principles of government action over the past few decades. “Economic growth as the main criterion for success with government as a cost item, government as a company and the citizen as a customer. Those criteria led us to a dead road.”
During his weeks as an informator, Tjeenk Willink saw a broad desire to change this government culture and to empower the government‘s counterforces, such as parliament, judges and execution organizations. “And in my final report, I did not just write that down well, but also said ‘do you know what that means, what the consequences are? ‘ It’s easier said than done.”
Meanwhile, the call for a different governance culture and more dualism seems to play a role in the formation. “A few months ago, everyone cried with conviction: we want the content first, we want a different culture of governance. But for whatever reason, they have gradually been pushed in the direction that everyone finds unsatisfactory.”
“Worrying,” says Tjeenk Willink. He is more optimistic about the chances of a new cabinet, if needed with a minority in the Chamber. Or with a much wider coalition. “Why not start asking parties that are not mutually exclusive: are you willing, on a certain basis, to deliver good people for a new cabinet?”
Take a look at the interview with Tjeenk Willink in Nieuwsuur below: