Barely 2.5 years after the last ones, new Lower House elections will take place on 22 November 2023. Although for many this still seems far away, political parties are working hard to be ready for the campaign and election day. This is happening against the backdrop of a significant exodus of politicians from The Hague, and a political arena that is thus becoming more and more open. Many political protagonists of recent years are leaving, and new faces are emerging. What will the coming months until the elections look like, and what are important milestones for public affairs professionals to keep a sharp eye on?
Missed last election update, in which we discussed, among other things, declaring controversial policies? Read it here.
In the previous update, we could already mention a considerable number of names that had announced their intention to leave politics after the elections. In recent weeks, this list grew longer and longer. In total, there are now 25 MPs and 8 ministers who have announced their leave from politics. That still says little about the total number of MPs who will not return; the election results are ultimately the executioner. To illustrate: after the Balkenende II Cabinet fell in 2006 – also just before the summer – as many as 70 MPs took their leave.
One person who didn’t provide clarity yet is Pieter Omtzigt. Parties have until 28 August to register for the election. Omtzigt is therefore expected to tie the knot next week. An earlier poll by I&O research shows that his possible participation will have much impact on the expected election result.
National budget & budget debate
The publication of the CPB’s (Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis) August Estimates sets the tone for Budget Day (19 September). The August Estimate is a draft assessment of the main economic developments in the Netherlands and serves as a basis for the final Cabinet decisions on the 2024 national budget, especially when it comes to maintaining purchasing power.
Today, Friday 18 August, the Council of Ministers of the outgoing Cabinet will meet again for the first time since summer recess, discussing this Estimate. Indeed, August, in terms of the budget cycle, is traditionally dominated by the so-called ‘August Decision Making’, in which the ministerial team decides what exactly the National Budget will look like. This then goes to the Council of State for urgent advice. For the ministers, it remains difficult to set course, as the House of Representatives does not decide which topics are controversial and which are not until early September.
The process and schedule of budget debates in the House of Representatives remains somewhat uncertain for now. Starting on Budget Day, budgets for 2024 will have to be debated and agreed by the House before the end of the year. The House set the schedule for these treatments on 8 June last, but this was overtaken by the reality of a Cabinet collapse. The Tax Plan, for instance, is still scheduled two weeks before the elections (22 November): in the middle of the election recess. If we look at 2006 here, we see that the autumn recess was dropped, and only the election recess was scheduled from 1 November to 22 November. If the House plans a similar route, it would result in an extra week for the plenary sessions on the budget.
Currently, the House of Representatives’ civil service is working on a memorandum for the Presidium outlining a number of options for the planning of the budget debates. Shortly after the recess, the Presidium of the House will probably make a process proposal. In this light, it would also be wise to keep an eye on the extra procedural meeting on Central Government expenditure, where other documents concerning the budget process are also on the agenda.
Programmes, party leaders and candidate lists
The process of drafting election programmes and candidate lists has gained momentum with the fall of the government. For most election programme committees, the deadline for external input and ideas has already passed. An election programme is actually a composition of party ideals, input from society and business, not to mention official recommendations or policy options. Important sources for election programmes are therefore civil service reports published in recent years, such as the Interdepartmental Policy Research (IBO) Climate or Mapping Care Choices. The fiscal impact of policy options is set out in the recently published Fiscal Measures List. Publication of the first draft programmes is expected in early September. Each party then has its own procedure and rulebook for amendments and enactment, which can vary widely.
With the announcement of Henri Bontenbal as candidate list leader in the CDA, almost all existing parties have a (prospective) list leader. Not all have actually been endorsed by the party yet, but nowhere is an actual list leader election expected. The new faces promise a more difficult campaign trail to predict. Not all candidates are equally well-known; for instance, Frans Timmermans (Labour/Greens) has a 79% familiarity among voters, Dilan Yesilgöz (VVD – Liberal Conservatives) is currently at 75% and Henri Bontenbal (CDA – Christian Democrats) has yet to make do with 10%, according to a poll by I&O last July. In the coming weeks, the list leaders will profile themselves in the media on a variety of issues, including migration, climate and social inequality.
Places 2 to 50 on the candidate lists are slowly being filled in pencil. Selection committees book evenings and weekends full of interviews, consultations and screenings. In just under a month and a half, there should be draft lists, where it normally takes three to four months.
As mentioned in the previous update, the party congresses will take place from September, where the list leader, election programme and candidate list will be determined. The final election programmes and electoral lists will then be published in October.
The upcoming elections look set to mark a major shift in Dutch politics. The campaign, elections and coalition negotiations are characterised by many ‘new’ faces, while parties have only a few months to prepare. Moreover, initial polls show significant trends, such as strong growth for BBB (Farmer Citizens Movement) and significant losses for CDA and D66 (Social Liberals). The joint list of Labour and Greens led by Timmermans also seems to be bearing fruit for the time being.
All these elements contribute to a hectic election period, during which it can be difficult to distinguish main and minor issues. Public Matters is, of course, keeping its finger on the pulse. If you would like to know more about how we can support you in this respect, please feel free to contact us.