Coalition not possible with PVV, VVD, BBB & NSC for now; NSC concerned over PVV stances
The final report on the latest round of talks between four political parties negotiating over the formation of a new Cabinet in the Netherlands determined that the parties, PVV, VVD, BBB and NSC, will not be able to reach a deal for the time being. The report, presented by Ronald Plasterk, stated the previous weeks showed progress early on, but past political posturing from the PVV and its leader, Geert Wilders, demonstrated to NSC leader Pieter Omtzigt that their parties were simply too far apart from each other when it came to fundamental rights and the democratic rule of law.
That was a key reason why Omtzigt's party will not join a Cabinet with the PVV, but could potentially support a coalition government that does not have a majority of support in Parliament. The report suggested the door would still be open to the NSC depending on how formation talks develop.
Plasterk was initially appointed after the November parliamentary election to determine which parties could potentially work together to form a Cabinet. After a short first round, he was reappointed by the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Parliament, to advance the conversation between the PVV, VVD, BBB, and NSC. From the start, VVD leader and current Justice Minister Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius said her party would not join a Cabinet, but her members would support a center-right minority Cabinet. The NSC leader also seemed hesitant, signalling his preference for another form of Cabinet government which could get legislation passed with a wider variety of political support per issue.
This second round, however, required Plasterk to first secure commitments between the parties to demonstrate that they see eye-to-eye on even the most foundational issues of governance. "I am pleased to inform you that the first part of my assignment, to determine whether there is a common baseline for safeguarding the Constitution, fundamental rights and the democratic constitutional state, can be answered with a 'yes,'" Plasterk wrote in a letter to the Tweede Kamer on Monday. He said this already happened by January 10.
Plasterk said there were still "major differences" between the parties, even though "people were often thinking in the same direction." However, any remaining chance the four parties could come together during this round was wiped out when Omtzigt decided to no longer attend negotiations last week. Omtzigt told party members last week that he decided to walk away from talks because the state of financial affairs at the various ministries was too tenuous. It would have meant making "empty promises" to the citizenry. Plasterk said Omtzigt was repeatedly asked to rejoin talks, but NSC either declined or did not respond.
In his report, the discussion moderator said that the PVV and NSC do not share the same opinion about the fundamental rights and the constitutional rule of law in the Netherlands. As such, the NSC will not join a Cabinet led by the PVV, the largest party in the Tweede Kamer. Like the VVD, the NSC party members could offer tacit support for a minority Cabinet.
Despite the previous agreements between the parties, at the end of the day, Omtzigt remained skeptical due to past statements by Wilder, past positions by the PVV, and the PVV's election manifesto. "The Netherlands is not an Islamic country: no Islamic schools, Qurans or mosques," the manifesto stated.
That said, Plasterk did note that the four parties remained in agreement during their negotiations over the protections guaranteed in all of the first 23 articles of the Constitution, which together comprise the chapter on fundamental rights. This includes protections from religious discrimination, despite the PVV having historically positioned itself as the anti-Islam party even during the ongoing negotiations. The chapter also includes guarantees that any changes to Dutch citizenship and naturalization procedures can only be regulated by an Act of Parliament, whereas the PVV wants an outright ban on dual citizenship.
Plasterk seemed to take issue with the NSC, pointing out that the PVV withdrew five proposals put forward in Parliament, and will "amend or withdraw other initiative bills" because the country's highest administrative court, the Council of State, thinks the proposals would contravene Dutch law. He also said the four parties in talks agreed that "all religions in the Netherlands, such as Christianity and Islam, fall under the freedom of religion, as guaranteed in Article 6 of the Constitution," adding that the Constitution also guarantees the right so criticize religions and beliefs.
"It is of the utmost importance for our country that a Cabinet is quickly established that does justice to the election results, including the major shifts that have taken place," Plasterk wrote. While he had the space in his assignment to invite other parties for talks, he did not do so even after Omtzigt walked away. "I can imagine that this could be useful in a next round," he said.
Plasterk also noted that the assignment from the Tweede Kamer instructed the discussion leader to avoid topics about how a potential Cabinet could take shape. A Cabinet with majority support in the Tweede Kamer is the norm, but is not the only possibility. A minority Cabinet with support from an additional party from the sidelines was last formed in 2010 when Prime Minister Mark Rutte's first Cabinet was launched between his VVD and the CDA, with tolerance from the PVV.
Additionally, an extra-parliamentary Cabinet happens when a non-binding government program wins over enough political factions where a majority of parliamentarians commit agree that they will not support an immediate vote of no confidence, and will instead wait and see how the situation develops.
An extra-parliamentary Cabinet formed mainly from people who are not politicians is dubbed a zakenkabinetten, or a "business Cabinet." Although this has not been seen since before World War II, Omtzigt has said he prefers either this form of Cabinet or some other type of extra-parliamentary government.