The most involved ministers and advisers will meet again this afternoon in the Catshuis, Prime Minister Rutte‘s office residence in The Hague. Those conversations about the coronacrisis are a lot firmer than in the spring. How come it’s crackling now? And what are the consequences of that?
“ You should never talk about each other, you should talk to each other.” Mark Rutte delivered this message on Friday night in the CCITT program Conversation with the Prime Minister. It can be seen as a hint to his colleagues who were staged anonymously in a number of media last week. It was written about “slapping quarrel” in the Catshuis (RTL), angry allegations by Rutte (AD) and – even more personally – the “moron” and “fact-free delusions” of Hugo de Jonge who turns the test policy “a mess” (De Cceit).
Of course, it “crackles” within the cabinet about the best corona approach, recognizing Rutte for some time now. “For 3.5 years, this coalition has been thinking differently about everything,” he said to questions about this “slapping quarrel”. There are all different parties, with different ideas and “in the end you come to joint conclusions”.
Yet more is going on than having violent discussions to achieve a better coronation policy, emphasises CCEIT reporter Ron Fresen. Unlike the first coronawave in March, the Cabinet is now struggling with multiple complications.
There is growing opposition to the three ‘white coats’ in the cabinet; Mark Rutte and the two care ministers Hugo de Jonge and Tamara van Ark. In the spring virus wave, they, together with Van Ark‘s predecessor Martin van Rijn respectively, had plenty of room to give the relief of care and reduce the number of coronapatics top priority. “There was a recent annoyance among other ministers that the summer months have not been used enough to get the test capacity in order,” says Fresen. “The rapid tests could also have been there much earlier. This also creates the room for more economic activity”.
The well-known trio of the three W’s – Wopke Hoekstra van Financiën, Eric Wiebes van Economische zaken and Wouter Koolmees of Social Affairs – leads this resistance.
Ministers on the brake
RIVM director Jaap van Dissel always gets the first word from Rutte at the Sunday meeting in the Catshuis, with an explanation of the figures on the spread of the virus. Now he is increasingly being heard by ministers who then translate the conclusions to their own interests.
“ The care ministers who hear the stories from hospitals all day long say that more measures need to be taken quickly,” says Fresen. “The ministers who hear the stories of entrepreneurs, cafe owners and fairground operators who are at risk of bankruptcy all day long, then step on the brakes.”
Rutte has now also had to involve many more directors in his corona consultations. Education ministers, for example, were not amused when they were told through the media that the Catshuis had discussed the temporary closure of schools. That is why corona has recently been discussed in the weekly Council of Ministers. “But everyone wants something to say there, of course,” says Fresen. “Ministers stand up for their interests much more strongly, and that does not make making decisions easier.”
Ultimately a compromise
The last Catshuis meeting held on Sunday 1 November is a good example of this. To allow the young fathers, such as De Jonge, Hoekstra and Koolmees, still time with their children, the consultation is always scheduled from 14.00 to about 16.00.
That Sunday, Rutte only cycled out the fence at half past seven after a battle over the course that lasted hours. The “white jackets” would have wanted to set a curfew and close shops and secondary schools. The three W‘s and Minister Grapperhaus of Justice found this far too violent and went back to hell.
The compromise has been chosen to close museums, cinemas, theatres and libraries for two weeks. Fresen: “It was visibly a compromise, which then caused a lot of criticism and hoon, because it was mainly for the stage, but did not do much for the virus.”
An additional complication for Rutte is the tension within the CDA Squadron in the cabinet about the leadership of De Jonge. Fresen hears it lacks natural authority over the other CDA directors. His own party mates are also very keen on De Jonges faltering test policy.
In addition, the conflicting interests of care and the economy return to the CDA. “You saw that well when CDA minister De Jonge unexpectedly said in a press conference that the catering closure would last until mid-December. CDA Secretary of State Keijzer for Economic Affairs said on TV that same evening that such a thing had not really been decided.”
Frustration at D66
It doesn’t help that the thirdgovernment party D66 feels sideled, emphasizes Fresen. Apart from D66 Minister Great Tit, none of the D66 ministers plays a prominent role in the coronacrisis. Sigrid Kaag, the new leader of the party, barely gets a profile.
“ As a result, the D66 campaign is faltering on all sides,” says Fresen. “This frustration causes the party to be more inclined to openly lose government policy.” For example, group chairman Rob Jetten openly fought against the introduction of a curfew and the closure of libraries.
Despite all these additional complications, Rutte manages to keep the corona machine running, notes Fresen. “It crackles, there are conflicting interests, but everyone in the cabinet also realises that decisions need to be made in this crisis and that they must always look out.”
Rutte‘s maneuverability ensures that the momentum remains in it, those involved say to DeccEit. He is prepared to admit mistakes, such as that bad compromise at the beginning of November and the deviation from the roadmap. “And then on again”, Rutte always says.
Most ministers recognize themselves in the stories of the quarrels, but they do not worry too much about it either, hears Fresen. “With the Second Chamber elections approaching, it will not be any less. But as long as the party’s interest does not exceed the national interest, there is not too much going on.”
So soon there will be the Catshuis Consultation again. Those involved hope that they will then be able to reflect more on the perspective for society and entrepreneurs in particular. If everything goes well, everyone can go home a little after 4:00. To do something with the family.