Social Affairs Minister expected to resign; Will not join next Cabinet
D66 politician Wouter Koolmees will temporarily resign from his position as Minister of Social Affairs and Employment if the Tweede Kamer appoints him to help lead the next phase of Cabinet formation talks. Koolmees and VVD member Johan Remkes are expected to lead the negotiations between VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie. Unnamed sources confirmed to RTL Nieuws earlier on Tuesday that the two will be nominated for the position during a debate in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Parliament.
The Tweede Kamer members have to approve the nomination, but the four parties have a majority in that house. Last week, the four parties of the previous government coalition decided that they would enter into substantive negotiations about forming a new Cabinet.
Koolmees will step down as minister if his position with the Cabinet formation is confirmed. He will not return in the next Cabinet, said D66 leader Sigrid Kaag during the parliamentary debate on the issue.
She said she chose the "best candidate" as a formateur. "He can operate autonomously and freely." She has also chosen Koolmees because there is a "rush" with the formation of a Cabinet. "The optimistic scenario is that we should be able to get there quickly with a slimmed-down coalition agreement," said Kaag.
She said the four parties already have a foundation that should allow them to build a new Cabinet, including a joint document that VVD and D66 wrote this summer and the results of the work undertaken by prior formation pathfinders Herman Tjeenk Willink and Mariëtte Hamer. Johan Remkes succeeded the latter.
The D66 leader mentioned education, climate, tackling inequality, European policy, and nitrogen emissions as important topics for the formation. "We want a progressive policy." She warned that it will not be easy to create a new Cabinet with VVD, CDA, and ChristenUnie. However, she said that citizens are better served by a party that takes responsibility than one that calls for new elections with a year.
The Cabinet formation was deadlocked for months following the March elections, as the two largest parties could not reach an agreement. D66 did not want to continue with ChristenUnie, and instead looked to GroenLinks and PvdA. The left-wing parties only wanted to join a coalition if both were involved together. But, the VVD and the CDA did not want to join a coalition with more than one left-wing party. In the end, D66 blinked in the stand-off and opened the door to working with ChristenUnie.
Koolmees was briefly appointed as a Cabinet formation scout in the spring, with his VVD colleague Tamara van Ark. They succeeded VVD member Annemarie Jorritsma and D66 member Kajsa Ollongren, the first scouts to resign their positions after notes of their conversations were captured in a photograph taken by an ANP photographer.
Van Ark and Koolmees resigned following the political unrest that developed because of the photo. VVD leader Mark Rutte ran into serious problems because he had possibly spoken about trying to arrange a new position for MP Pieter Omtzigt. The former CDA member spoke critically about the Cabinet on a number of issues. Rutte had previously denied having such a conversation.
The Tweede Kamer wanted to get rid of Van Ark and Koolmees because of the appearance they were too close to the Cabinet. There was a need for an authoritative, independent informer with a greater distance from the political picture at the time. That was Herman Tjeenk Willink, who was later succeeded by his PvdA party colleague Mariëtte Hamer. When the latter was finished, Johan Remkes took over as informateur.
Reporting by ANP