Rutte: Caretaker Cabinet will still work on sensitive issues; Election date confirmed
The outgoing Cabinet is not yet resigned to simply stand still on important, but politically sensitive subjects such as climate policy, the approach to nitrogen emissions and immigration. Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte affirmed this during his press conference after the regular weekly Council of Ministers meeting on Friday. It was the first time since the fall of the Cabinet last week that nearly the full team of ministers was fully assembled. The ministers agreed to hold elections on Wednesday, November 22, during their last meeting ahead of their summer recess.
Rutte already said last week that the outgoing Cabinet will not exercise the usual restraint of a caretaker Cabinet when it comes to providing aid to Ukraine, the handling of the childcare benefits scandal and damage resulting from gas extraction in Groningen. A budget for next year will also have to be drawn up with greater attention to purchasing power, which is still under pressure due to high inflation.
"There are of course other major themes that cannot be ignored," said Rutte, including "difficult subjects" that may be declared controversial by the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Parliament. When considered controversial, Members of Parliament can decide to wait to consider bills on such issues until a new Cabinet has taken office.
"It may be a bit more difficult there," Rutte admitted. "But we do intend to try to find a way there too." After all, a caretaker Cabinet also has the duty "to do what is necessary for the Kingdom." The Tweede Kamer is not considered to be in a caretaker role and can draw up its own schedule, although a majority is required.
Asylum policy could be too controversial ahead of elections
Rutte would not comment on the progress of the law mandating that asylum seekers be more evenly distributed across the country, a law developed by his VVD colleague, State Secretary Eric van der Burg. It is up to the Tweede Kamer to decide if this issue is too controversial, Rutte emphasized. He did call on all governments, from central government to municipalities, including the two Houses of Parliament, to govern the country properly. As "one government," they must prevent "people in this country from lying in the grass," Rutte said.
He was referring to the hundreds of asylum seekers who were forced to sleep on the grass in Ter Apel last year because there was no space left for them in the Groningen application center. Van der Burg's law is intended to distribute asylum seekers fairly and evenly across municipalities.
At the beginning of September, the Tweede Kamer will decide which bills and portfolios of issues it still wants to consider, and which will have to wait until a new Cabinet has been formed. It is possible that the distribution law will be declared controversial. A number of municipalities have announced in recent days that they do not want to receive asylum seekers without this law in place.
Rutte said he believes that all parties involved in the Netherlands should take their responsibility to properly receive asylum seekers. He also pointed out that in a European context, "with an active contribution from the Netherlands," hard work is being done to reduce the influx of asylum seekers.
He was referring to the European Migration Pact concerning the reception and initial application procedures of asylum seekers at the external borders of Europe and the Tunisia deal, which is intended to stop dangerous crossings by asylum seekers. Both are still in the making. He also referred to the bilateral agreements that the Netherlands has made with Morocco. "That will all have an impact on the influx, I am convinced."
New elections are necessary due to the fall of the Cabinet last week, because there was no agreement on a package of migration measures.
Elections set for November 22; Parties must file by August 28
November 22 already leaked out as the expected date for the elections earlier on Friday morning. That was confirmed after the Cabinet meeting. "If you organize elections, it must be done carefully and reliably," said Interior Minister Hanke Bruins Slot. "Municipalities have an important role in this. They must be able to do it properly and the first date on which they can really do that carefully is November 22." The Electoral Council previously said elections could only be scheduled at the earliest in mid-November, and the association of municipalities, VNG, agreed that the second half of November was the earliest it could happen.
Normally, the preparation time for elections is nine months, said the outgoing minister. "Now it has to be done within 4.5 months. This takes maximum account of the preparation time that municipalities need." Rutte previously said that this is a "slow country." Internationally, the long lead time is a bit of a surprise, said Rutte.
The elections will be held on a single day, not over several days like during the coronavirus pandemic. During the general election in 2021, officials wanted to prevent too many people from voting at the same time, so that a safe physical distance could be maintained. The provincial elections earlier this year were held on a single day.
The Electoral Council said that parties wishing to participate have until August 28 to register their party name. The parties must submit their lists of candidates on October 9. "The Electoral Council considers November 22 as an election date to be a sensible choice by the Cabinet, in line with the Electoral Council's advice from Friday, July 7. In this way, there is sufficient time to jointly realize an election process that is feasible and verifiable for all parties involved," said the council's chair, Wim Kuijken.
Reporting by ANP