Now that the first (television) debates have been held and the House of Representatives election recess has officially begun, the election campaign has “officially” started. A lot has happened in recent weeks since the last election update, and a lot more is about to happen in the coming weeks until the election. Read all about it below.
Turbulent budget decision-making
The House of Representatives decided to deal with a number of budgets before the start of the election recess, including those of Economic Affairs and Climate Change and the Interior and Kingdom Relations. One of the budgets to be dealt with was the 2024 Tax Plan Package. Despite repeated critical comments from the House in previous years, it was again a huge task this year to deal with 17 separate bills, especially with the increased time pressure due to the elections.
The upcoming elections also affected the atmosphere and opportunities during the legislative deliberations in the Finance Committee and the plenary session last week. Once again the national budget was changed for several billions, and once again this happened without a positive verdict from the cabinet, represented in by caretaker State Secretary for Finance Marnix van Rij. For example, the 30% ruling for expats was made more restrictive in phases through an amendment by Pieter Omtzigt (NSC – Social Conservatives). All this was done in a clever election frame: the proceeds went directly to “the unlucky generation’’, the students. The question remains whether the measure will generate enough money to really freeze the interest on student loans of this generation.
Now that part of the budgets and the Tax Plan have been debated and approved in amended form by the House of Representatives, stakeholders are turning their eyes to the Senate. Thus, the Senate’s consideration of the Tax Plan will begin on Nov. 7 with a technical briefing, followed by the submission of written questions on Nov. 14. Where the Senate used to be a relatively neutral, power there is also increasingly being used for political purposes. The dynamics are very different from those in the House of Representatives, which provides opportunities to re-present and explain certain concerns in a different context, especially if they are more technical or legal in nature.
Campaign has officially started
Almost all parties have now published their election programs, held election congresses and finalized their candidate lists. Especially the program of New Social Contract (NSC – Social Conservatives) led to much speculation in recent weeks, because until now actually quite little was clear about the character of Omtzigt’s newly formed party. At the presentation of the election program, it became clear that NSC focuses primarily on restoring reciprocity between government and society, and that the party takes strict positions on migration. Further focus points will undoubtedly be highlighted in the coming weeks. After all, now that all formalities have been completed, the focus of the parties and candidate MPs can be fully focused on the campaign.
On October 22, the first party leader debate on TV took place on College Tour, with Dilan Yesilgöz (VVD – Conservative Liberals), Frans Timmermans (GL/PvdA – Greens/Labour), Pieter Omtzigt (NSC – Social Conservatives) and Caroline van der Plas (BBB – Farmer Citizen Party) appearing together on a stage for the first time. Although the debate looked somewhat awkward and had difficulty finding depth, some important differences were already highlighted, such as on nuclear energy, and – after some encouragement – first hints were given about possible coalition partners after the elections. The next few weeks are campaign weeks for party leaders and spokespeople on key issues such as climate and migration. It is imperative for stakeholders to bring order out of the chaos. It is difficult to meet list leaders and MPs individually, so understanding which debates are important for which sector is important. Besides a (possible) quick chat afterwards, you’ll get more insight into similarities, differences, compromises and possible coalitions. Being on location is better than analyzing from an easy chair, after all.
Changes in formation process
The period after the elections, the so-called formation phase, will also be very interesting. The past formation periods were long and did not go smoothly. With the low point being the formation of 2021, which lasted 299 days and was characterized by chaos and unrest. Things must change, the House decided. A parliamentary advisory committee, House Chair Vera Bergkamp, the Council of State and a number of individual MPs – all came up with advice and proposals for improving the formation process. Last week the House voted on all these proposals, resulting in some major changes for the formation process. With these changes, it is hoped that future formations will be smoother, more transparent and, above all, faster.
First, from now on, only one so-called ‘scout’ (verkenner) will be appointed, by the largest party. It must be someone with ‘distance from day-to-day politics’ and his appointment must have broad support in the House. The House will also agree on clear terms for the ‘informer’ (informateur), for example six or eight weeks. After the term has expired there will be a parliamentary debate. Furthermore, it will be possible for the House to hear prospective members of cabinet. Hearings are already common practice at the European Parliament for example, such as recently with Dutch ex-minister Wopke Hoekstra before he could become Eurocommissioner. In that hearing, the House can test the “quality and integrity” of prospective members of cabinet. For stakeholders, industries and businesses, this is a moment to draw attention to what they consider important in, for example, a new climate minister or in the field of business policy. Advice from official preparatory committees or scientific institutes can in future be tested in advance with the various ministers.
Anticipating possible coalitions during the College Tour debate does not seem entirely unjustified given the latest polls. For several weeks now, the VVD, GL/PvdA and NSC are seen as “the big three,” as they are all virtually tied with between 25 and 30 seats. Behind them follow the PVV (Right Wing Conservatives – 19 seats) and BBB (11 seats). This is particularly striking with BBB, given that they virtually had 30 seats a few months back. The drop seems to be mainly caused by the rise of NSC. The biggest losses still seem to go to current governing parties D66 (Liberal Democrats) and CDA (Christian Democrats). D66 stands at 6 seats (a loss of 18), CDA currently stands at 4 (a loss of 11).
Still, much remains unclear heading into the upcoming elections, the playing field lies more “open than ever,” according to experts. In the final campaign weeks, therefore, there are still plenty of opportunities for all parties: some 20 percent of voters are still completely hovering, while nearly 60 percent have a preferred party but are also considering other parties. Especially for Omtzigt, this offers opportunities: of the voters who do not yet have a preference, some 40 percent are considering a vote for NSC.
At the request of House Chair Vera Bergkamp, the leaders of the largest parties will report to her not the morning after the election but a day later, to allow for a little more rest. The largest party will then appoint a so-called ‘scout’ (verkenner) who will have to get to work right away, his report has to be on the House Chair’s desk on December 5 – on the same day that old MPs say goodbye. On December 6, the new MPs are sworn in; they debate the results of the election, the explorer’s report and the formation the following day.
With just under a month to go until the elections, the playing field seems completely open. In the coming weeks, the various parties and candidates will campaign and debate with each other in full force. Some highlights are a self-organized conversation between Omtzigt (NSC) and Timmermans (GL/PvdA), the RTL election debates where the largest parties from the polls are invited and the traditional NOS final debate the evening before the elections. In the coming weeks it will become clear what the parliamentary landscape will look like in the coming years.
Public Matters is closely following the elections and the formation process. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, we are happy to help your company.